LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) —Georgia is good and is the best team in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs proved it yet again Saturday night.
The Bulldogs clinched the SEC East with a 34-17 victory over No. 11 Kentucky, sending Georgia into the SEC championship game for the second straight season. Sixth-ranked Georgia (8-1, 6-1) defeated Auburn 28-7 in last year’s conference final before losing to conference foe Alabama in the national championship game. The Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1) will face the winner of the Alabama-LSU encounter in the SEC championship game.
Georgia has been there and done that. Kentucky was a first-timer on the big stage and it showed, especially in the first half.
“They beat us in all phases,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “(They) really played a good football game. There are many things we will take from this. We can learn an awful lot.”
Georgia’s final tally was the highest amassed against the Wildcats this season. Kentucky’s top-two linebackers — Jordan Jones and Kash Daniel — were limited and played with a club wrapped around their hands, limiting the defensive production of Stoops’ top two defensive players.
“(It was) definitely was not our best effort,” Stoops said. “Not for lack of trying, but our team really had a good week of preparation and were excited to play. We did not execute at times. At times we got outmanned. We missed more tackles than I could remember. (We) didn’t execute a few things.”
Kentucky (7-2, 5-2) needed a fourth-quarter rally to get past Missouri last week, but the task was even harder this time around. Kentucky’s Josh Allen scooped up a pair of fumbles in the first half, both of which prevented a potential score by the Bulldogs, with the other leading to a field goal for the Wildcats’ lone score of the first half as Georgia led 14-3 at the break.
Georgia ended any hopes of a rally by the Wildcats for the second straight week by scoring on its first two possessions of the second half. The proverbial dagger was D’Andre Swift’s 83-yard touchdown run that gave Georgia a 28-3 advantage with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“The long run, really, that one really broke it open,” Stoops said.
Just as they did last season, the Bulldogs ran, ran and ran for more and the Wildcats failed to stop the one-two punch of Swift and sidekick Elijah Holyfield. Swift finished with 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns, followed by Holyfield with 115 yards on 18 attempts and one touchdown.
Georgia collected 331 yards rushing, compared to 381 last season against the Wildcats.
Stoops admitted the team’s second loss of the season wasn’t easy to swallow but added the team has a lot of play for in the final three weeks of the season.
“Any time you invest as much as we do into these games and put ourselves in that position, it’s going to hurt,” he said. “You know, that’s what I told the team. We invested a lot, and I understand that. But we can’t, one, make this loss turn into two.”
Despite the loss, Kentucky still owns a tie-breaker over Florida and South Carolina for second place in the East and can clinch a runner-up finish in the division with a win over Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville.
In case the Wildcats need any incentive following the letdown against the Bulldogs, the Wildcats haven’t beaten the Volunteers in Knoxville since a 17-12 victory in 1984, a losing streak that spans 34 straight games.
Daniel said it will take at least 24 hours for the Wildcats to regroup and look ahead to Tennessee.
“You’ve got to put it behind you,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Kentucky running back Benny Snell said the team was down but isn’t worried about the future.
“We’ve got to get up,” he said. “This is the best that we’ve ever been and we’re doing great things.”
In order to avoid a total letdown during the next three weeks, Stoops will depend on his team’s upperclassmen leadership to help carry the load.
“We got beat tonight, and we have to regroup and go about our business,” Stoops said. “We have strong leaders in there and I anticipate that we’ll be ready to go.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.