Staff predictions for UK-UGA
It's the big one.
It's Kentucky and Georgia. No. 9 and No. 6. The SEC East is on the line. A trip to Atlanta is at stake. One team's playoff hopes will live for at least one more week.
Cats Illustrated writers share their takes on the game and offer final predictions.
Is there anything working in UK's favor that would lead a person to feel good about the Cats' chances?
Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor: The Cats have firmly established that they have a defense strong enough to compete in any game they play this season. The confidence and momentum on that side of the ball are sky high, so I think UK goes into this game believing it can win on its home turf. At one point in the not-so-distant past, this was a game the Cats were hoping to win; now it's one they are expecting to win.
Warren Taylor, Staff Writer: Kentucky's momentum going into this game is off the charts. The game-winning drive against Missouri revitalized Terry Wilson. He oozed confidence when he spoke with the media on Tuesday and was relaxed for what felt like the first time in ages. Having a confident, relaxed QB1 going into the biggest game of the season is vital. Throw in the best defense in college football, a running game strong enough to exploit Georgia's cracks in the middle of their front seven and what is poised to be the best crowd at Kroger Field all season and the Cats have every right to feel good going into this weekend's showdown.
Justin Rowland, Publisher: This is not a "strength on strength" game as Kentucky-A&M and Kentucky-Mizzou was. Those teams were more prepared to slow down Kentucky's running game. UGA's run defense is a bit suspect and I think the Cats can establish the run up the middle. Kentucky's pass defense has shut down the vertical game and Jake Fromm has struggled in that area.
What are the biggest reasons Kentucky fans should be concerned about this game?
Drummond: Georgia's roster speaks for itself. The Bulldogs are loaded with a "Who's Who" of former 4- and 5-star recruits. They are also really well coached with Kirby Smart, one of the best defensive minds in the country. It's a tough matchup for a UK offense that has struggled to move the ball consistently in recent weeks. If Terry Wilson cannot keep the defense honest by making some plays in the passing game from the start, it could be a long day for the Cats. If Georgia succeeds in making UK one-dimensional, it will win the game.
Taylor: Georgia's balanced offense and the uncertainty regarding Kentucky's passing game are two reasons for concern going into this game, but my main worry involves the young man on Georgia's sideline wearing goggles and the number 98. The Dawgs' Rodrigo Blankenship 13-of-15 kicking field goals this fall. He's only missed once on a kick over 40 yards. His accuracy and power is usually the kind of difference maker that wins close football games. With UK's kicking position in flux, Blankenship is the Dawgs' ace in the hold in the battle for the SEC East.
Rowland: Kentucky's rush defense has been very good this year but they have not faced a test like the one they will see from UGA's offensive line and stable of backs. It is going to be very difficult for Kentucky pass against Georgia's secondary, which is one of the very best in college football. Maybe most importantly, Georgia's return game is dynamic and the Bulldogs have a kicking edge. UK also has to be on guard against becoming overwhelmed by the atmosphere and emotions early in the game.
Who is your pick for Kentucky's MVP in this game?
Drummond: This game seems made for Benny Snell Jr. Georgia has been susceptible to the run of late (170 yards and 4.6 per carry to Florida last week; 275 yards, 5.4 yards per carry to LSU on Oct. 13) so look for Eddie Gran to call on his workhorse to deliver as many carries as he can handle. This could be the defining performance of an incredible career.
Taylor: Benny Snell. After a rare sub-100 yard performance against Texas A&M, Snell responded with a colossal effort versus Vanderbilt two weeks ago. I wager he will have the same kind of rebound performance against Georgia after a frustrating performance in Missouri last week.
Rowland: Josh Allen. He may be the best defensive player in college football and he has played very well in every single Kentucky game this year. He will be the best player on the field for either team on Saturday. Kentucky has to force turnovers, and that begins with Allen generating pressure up front.
What's your prediction for the game's score and why?
Drummond: Kentucky 20, Georgia 19. It just feels like the stars have aligned for these Cats. Last week cemented that belief for me when the Cats came back to beat Mizzou with no time remaining on the clock, taking advantage of breaks that this program just hasn't received in the past. Points will be tough to come by, but UK pulls off its second consecutive win by the narrowest of margins in the biggest college football game ever played in Lexington.
Taylor: Georgia 20, Kentucky 17. I think Kentucky will play an excellent game on Saturday. The offense will put in a balanced performance and the defense will give UGA headache after headache. In the end, the kicking game will be the difference. Blankenship will put one through the uprights at a crucial juncture and break the Big Blue Nation's heart.
Rowland: Georgia 27, Kentucky 21. I made this pick when asked to share my thoughts on the game for UGASports.com's readers earlier in the week and while I have wavered, admittedly, I feel compelled to remain consistent. I could see it going either way. But UGA is UK's biggest test yet and the big difference in my mind is the UGA offense has more balance.