All right, let’s start with the good news.
The Bulldogs started strong by leaping out to a 14-0 lead on the road, converted 40 per cent of their third downs, averaged almost five yards per rush, rolled up 520 yards of total offense despite holding the ball for barely 25 minutes of clock time, incurred only five penalties for 58 yards, and scored 42 points on a Kentucky defense that had given up more than 24 just once all season long.
Matthew Stafford had statistically his best day as a Bulldog, completing 17 of his 27 pass attempts for 376 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Knowshon Rockwell Moreno averaged 5.6 yards per carry, rushed for 123 yards while hauling in three passes for 40 yards, and found the end zone three times. Mohamed Massaquoi snagged eight passes for 191 yards and a touchdown, A.J. Green went up and grabbed the game-winner in the back of the end zone, and Michael Moore once again proved reliable in the clutch with two catches for 68 yards.
Also, the Bulldogs won.
That brings us to the bad news.
The Wildcats, who are as injury-riddled as the ‘Dawgs (if not more so), held the ball for nearly 35 minutes, converted eight of 17 third downs (usually in short yardage situations) and two of three fourth-down tries, and scored 38 points, all with a wide receiver at quarterback. Randall Cobb---no, not Randall "Tex" Cobb; we’re playing S.E.C. football here, not searching for Nathan Arizona’s baby---ran the ball 18 times for 82 yards and three touchdowns while hooking up on 12 of his 20 passes for 105 yards and, mercifully, one crucial interception.
Of course, the fact that the ‘Cats did all this to the ‘Dawgs while amassing only 331 yards of total offense is more than a little telling. Due to the increasingly ludicrous offense-boosting kickoff rules, the Blue and White began their first scoring drive from their own 40 yard line after Blair Walsh’s kickoff went out of bounds. The second quarter possession on which Kentucky tied the game began at the home team’s 33 yard line when the Red and Black turned the ball over on downs.
The Wildcats’ third quarter field goal was set up by Tony Dixon’s 28-yard kickoff return out to the U.K. 35 to begin the second half. The home team took the lead when Danny Trevathan blocked Brian Mimbs’s punt to give the Bluegrass State Felines custody of the pigskin at the Georgia nine yard line. Mimbs’s next punt went just 18 yards, setting up Kentucky at the Bulldogs’ 29 yard line. The ‘Cats scored three plays later.
I’m not picking on Mimbs, I’m just saying. (Associated Press photograph by Mary Ann Chastain.)
After Georgia scored to reclaim a 35-31 lead, Winston Guy broke a 96-yard kickoff return to set up another three-play touchdown drive. The Red and Black’s next two drives appeared promising until Massaquoi fumbled in U.K. territory, but both turnovers could be classified as what appellate courts call "harmless error": Kentucky took over on Georgia’s 49 yard line and the Wildcats’ 38 yard line, respectively, yet those two first and tens turned into a fourth and 15 at the Kentucky 46 and a fourth and eleven at the Georgia 35, producing no points.
From there, Massaquoi atoned for his earlier miscues by taking Stafford’s first pass on the Bulldogs’ final drive for 78 yards to the U.K. seven yard line. A foolish (albeit apparently accidental) facemask penalty on what otherwise would have been a game-sealing fourth down stop by the Georgia D gave the Wildcats new life, which Demarcus Dobbs proceeded to snuff out with the pick that at long last ended all doubts as to the final outcome in the final minute.
Kentucky moved the football more than they should have, but they seldom had to move it much. As was the case in Jacksonville last weekend, the initial blame for the opposition’s unsightly point tally must be laid at the feet of the offense that gave the ball away and the special teams that set the other team up with good field position. There is plenty for which to blame the defense, but, when a new U.K. quarterback who hasn’t put a lot on film is set up with field position ranging from good to great in his home stadium all afternoon, even a solid defensive effort is going to be made to look bad.
Consequently, I’m more concerned about the kicking game than I am about the defense. The Wildcats began three of their five first-half drives at or in back of their own 30 yard line; that trio of possessions produced no points and, on average, lasted four plays apiece and generated fewer than 20 yards each.
Kentucky never had to drive the length of the field. The Wildcats’ longest drive was 67 yards. Only two of their 13 possessions went for more than 50 yards. Just four U.K. offensive series covered as many as 35 yards of real estate. Had the Blue and White started in the neighborhood of their own 25 or worse as often as the ‘Dawgs did, Georgia would have won the game by at least two touchdowns.
As I noted earlier, the last two Saturdays have borne a disconcerting resemblance to the middle years of the 1990s, when beatdowns by the St. John’s River and shootouts in the Bluegrass State were the norm. I have to admit that it starts to look more like the rule than the exception when three straight opponents hang 38 or more points on the Bulldogs, but a couple of asterisks have to be appended to those tallies: Alabama hung 41 points on Georgia at home and every one of them accurately reflected the prowess of the opposing offense. The last three games were played in Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, and Lexington, and, in every one of them, the numbers artificially were inflated by garbage time yardage after the game was decided (at L.S.U.) or by offensive and special teams miscues (against Florida and at Kentucky).
There are problems in need of correcting; maybe there even are changes that need to be made among the members of Mark Richt’s coaching staff. Right now, though, we in Bulldog Nation have more immediately concerns. The Red and Black are 8-2, with two games remaining in which they may earn a New Year’s Day bowl berth, a top ten ranking, and a sixth ten-win season in a seven-year span.
Considering all of our lofty preseason expectations, that might not sound like much for which to play. I suspect a similar sentiment was heard in Tallahassee near the end of the 1992 season that was Florida State’s sixth straight ten-win campaign with nary a national championship to show for it . . . until the ‘Noles, with Mark Richt as their quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator, proceeded to finish No. 1 in the nation twice in the next seven years.
Forget about all that for now, though. Next Saturday, the Bulldogs will renew the Deep South’s oldest football rivalry when they travel to the so-called Loveliest Village to face an Auburn team that was tied with Tennessee-Martin---not Tennessee, but Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin---with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Now, as ever, there is nothing wrong with being a Georgia Bulldog that beating Auburn can’t fix.
Go ’Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!