On this Saturday, Kentucky will be playing a meaningful November football game against the University of Georgia for the second year in a row. Unlike last season, there won’t be divisional implications but this time UK will be playing for their first winning season in the SEC since the 70s while Georgia is in the thick of the Playoff race.
The Dawgs again have one of the most talented rosters in the country and Kirby Smart is in the running for many coach of the year honors. It will be a tall task for UK in their first game of the season on CBS.
Running Back Depth
Herschel Walker, Todd Gurley, Knowshon Moreno, Garrison Hearst, Thomas Brown. You could make a case that Athens is home to Running Back U and this year’s crop is carrying on the tradition. You know Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as both are seniors who are each in the top five in the Georgia all-time rushing yards race. However, it doesn’t stop with them as the Dawgs have one of the best running back corps in the FBS.
After only putting up only 191.2 rushing yards in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s first season, the Bulldogs have bounced back strong as they are averaging 256 yards per game this fall. Chubb and Michel lead the way as they’ve combined for 19 touchdowns and are putting up 170 yards per game together, but the emergence of D’Andre Swift gives this ground game an extra gear.
The true freshman from Philadelphia was a big signing day win and he’s been spectacular as a rookie. The 215-pound back is averaging over seven yards per carry and gives a nice burst off the bench. It doesn’t stop with Swift, however, as Elijah Holyfield (Evander’s son) is averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
UK’s front seven will have their hands full.
Dawgs Stop the Run
Georgia employs a 3-4 scheme that has some big size inside, jumbo athletes who can really move at outside linebacker, and two physical inside linebackers who love to play downhill. With this group, they are tailor-made to stop the run. After a slow start in Smart’s first season, the Dawgs have been tremendous against the run this fall.
UGA is giving up only 3.4 yards per carry, 103.8 rushing yards per game, and only five rushing touchdowns. S&P+ currently ranks this as the sixth best rush defense in the country as only four of 10 opponents have rushed for at least 100 yards. The Dawgs have 42 non-sack tackles for loss and that plays a big part in the success of their run defense.
In the last few games, Georgia’s run fits haven’t been great as both Florida and Auburn ran for at least 180 yards against the Bulldogs. Last year, Kentucky ran for 186 yards against Georgia and it’s hard to envision them hanging around if they don’t get over 150 rushing yards.
Explosive Plays in the Passing Game
With the injury to Jacob Eason in the opener, Georgia made the move to true freshman Jake Fromm behind center and the Warner Robins native has played very well as he is now 8-1 as a starter. The young gun has reminded some in Athens of Aaron Murray and he’s impressed as a rookie.
The coaching staff doesn’t ask him to do much as this offense is centered around the rushing attack. As a matter of fact, Fromm has only attempted 20 or more passes four times this season. For the year, he has thrown 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Some will call Fromm a game manager but the Dogs are not afraid to toss it deep.
For the season, the freshman is averaging an impressive 9.2 yards per attempt. In four contests, Fromm has reached double-digits in yards per attempt numbers including throwing for a career high 326 yards against Mizzou. However, Fromm has only thrown over 200 yards twice on the year.
Where he really does his damage is down the field as he has 21 pass plays of 25 yards or more. Nearly 20% of Fromm’s completions have been on big plays in the passing game and a ton of these completions come off of play-action fakes. This will be another challenge for UK’s secondary.
Limited Pass Rush
When you see Georgia take the field on defense, they’ll have some physical specimen that play along the line of scrimmage. Both Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter look like the double-digit sack guys on the edge. Tackle Trenton Thompson and end Jonathan Ledbetter are both big and athletic and look like they can influence the pocket. You would have to think this is one of the best sack units in college football.
Not so fast, my friend.
Through 10 games, Georgia has only produced 19 sacks. That ranks 12th in the SEC. Carter leads the group with 4.5 but after that no single player as more than 2.5. Creating a pass rush has been very difficult for this group and that will be something to keep an eye on on Saturday,
It is important to know that this really hasn’t hurt their pass defense as they are only giving up 173.7 pass yards per game.
Talent on the Perimeter
There is no doubt that Kirby Smart is pulling in some major talent into Athens as the Bulldogs have immediately jumped into the ring with Alabama and Ohio State as one of the best recruiting staffs in the country.
On the perimeter, you’re starting to see immediate results from this talent. Sophomore Mecole Hardman was one of Smart’s biggest wins on Signing Day in 2016 and he’s proven to be a big time player. Hardman is an excellent return man and has recorded three receiving scores and one rushing touchdown. This is a big-time athlete.
Mark Richt, however, didn’t leave this roster dry. Leading receiver Terry Godwin was a five-star prospect coming out of high school while second leading receiver Javon Wims was four-star player out of junior college. These are the two players Fromm will look to when the Bulldogs go deep as each is averaging at least 17 yards per catch.
As usual, talent is not a problem in Athens.
Excellent Special Teams
The third phase has played at a really high level for the Bulldogs in 2017. Rodrigo Blankenship is one of the most consistent kickers in the SEC as he is perfect on extra points, is 12 of 14 on field goals, and 73% of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. Punter Cameron Nizialek is averaging over 44 yards per attempt and gets great hang time that makes returns nearly impossible.
It doesn’t stop with the kickers, however, as Mecole Hardman is one of the best returners in the SEC. The Bulldogs are excellent in the special teams department.
Dominant Without a Streak
This series does not have have the streaks associates with the Florida and Tennessee series, but this matchup has been just as one-sided. The Bulldogs currently lead the series 56-12-2 and have won seven in a row. Since Kentucky beat Georgia in Athens in 2009, only one game has been decided by one possession.
From a Vegas perspective, Kentucky is 0-4 against the spread against Georgia since Mark Stoops arrived in 2013. Twice the Wildcats allowed 59 points or more while only scoring more than 20 points twice. Kentucky is 6-2 ATS in its last eight road games while Georgia is 2-5 against the spread in its last seven home games.