Dogfight: Kentucky, Georgia meet to determine the best team in SEC East

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats are 2-0 against ranked teams this season and win over No. 6 Georgia Saturday would send the Wildcats to the SEC title game. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. (Kentucky Today/Bill Thiry)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky hasn’t beaten Georgia in nine years and owns just three victories in the last 27 tries against the Bulldogs.

Although wins over Georgia in 1996, 2006 and 2009 were monumental, none would compare if the Wildcats break an eight-game losing streak to Bulldogs Saturday at Kroger Field. A win would give the 11th-ranked Wildcats (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) their first SEC East title and a ticket to the league championship game for the first time in school history.

“It’s one of your goals at the beginning of the year, so obviously, it’s a big game but once again, our approach can’t change,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “The situation changes. That what’s I always say, situational, what’s the situation? The fact is that we’re playing for the East. What are the football keys and what’s our motivational piece? That approach won’t change. The situation changes every week, home, away, division game, non-conference.”

Stoops said naturally the “excitement is going to be there” in a sold-out Kroger Field and the sixth-year Kentucky coach embraces the challenge. Stoops is 0-5 overall against the Bulldogs but the Wildcats came close defeating Georgia, which edged Kentucky 27-24 on Rodringo Blankenship’s 25-yard field goal at the buzzer, two years ago in Lexington.

“I always feel like the fans, they’re fans, they deserve that and we love that,” he said. “We need that. We need this energy. That’s how you recruit at another level. That’s how you take your program to another level when you have energy that is going to be here every week and that helps everybody.”

Stoops and the Wildcats will need all the support it can garner going against a Georgia team that consistently is ranked among the league leaders in rushing, The Bulldogs gained 381 yards rushing in a 42-13 win over the Wildcats last year in Athens.

Things have changed for the better for the Wildcats through the first eight games this season. Kentucky ranks first nationally in scoring defense (13 points per game) and forced Missouri into eight three-and-outs in the second half of a 15-14 triumph over the Tigers last week in Columbia. Kentucky also is the only team in FBS that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a single game this year.

Although improved on the defensive side of the ball, Kentucky faces a challenge Georgia’s offense is averaging 38.6 points per game and racked up 429 yards of offense in a 36-17 win over Florida last week. The Bulldogs also forced three turnovers, covering them into 10 points. 

Although atonally recognized as one of the top defensive teams in the nation, Stoops said his team’s defense still has a chip on their shoulders.

“You always have to prove it (and) you always have to go do it,” Stoops said. “You have to go play. Nothing is ever given to you and you have to go earn it each and every week and they’ve responded. We still have some big games left, starting this week, and how we respond and how we play, prove it every seven days, so the defense will have to prove it again this week but I really love their attitude and their competitiveness and their desire and their determination to be great, to work to be great, what they do to put themselves in a position to be good. That’s what I like. Sometimes the outcome we can’t control but we can certainly control our preparation and the way we go about our business and I really like that.”

Although it took a dramatic comeback for the Wildcats to overcome Missouri last weekend, Hobbs said the Wildcats took another step forward.

“I do feel like that something changed a bit Saturday —  that growth, another step, however you want to say it (and) I don’t know how to put it into words, but I just felt like that truly everybody said that somehow, someway they’re going to their part to help us win this game and certainly some guys stepped up in a really big way, but everybody did,” Stoops said. “Everybody in there made a difference. I definitely think we evolved another step.” 

Kentucky’s linebacker corps, anchored by Josh Allen, took a hit this week when Stoops announced linebacker Jordan Jones suffered broken hand. Kash Daniel, also a linebacker, played with a broken hand last week. 

“We’re going to have the Q-tip brothers out there,” Stoops said. “(Jordan) also got a broken hand and (we’re) just getting banged up. A few of our guys are getting to that point.”

“It’s different, but it doesn’t restrict me as a football player,” added Daniel, who had three tackles and a pass breakup versus the Tigers. “I’m still playing the same way I am. Obviously tackling was a challenge. As a tackler, though, you’re used to wrapping up, but I don’t have the freedom of my wrist or fingers, so roll tackles are going to be huge.”

Backups DeAndre Square and Chris Oates likely will receive more playing time at two of the three linebacker slots against the Bulldogs.  

Stoops expects big contributions from his team in every phase in order to capture the school’s SEC East title.

We’re going to need to play our best football game of the year this week against a very good Georgia team,” he said.

Gametracker: Georgia at Kentucky, 3:30 CBS. TV/Radio: UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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