The Kentucky Wildcats began their second drive of the night at their own 20 yard line. The home team’s opening possession in Lexington had ended with a Justin Houston sack that resulted in a Mike Hartline fumble. Four plays later, Washaun Ealey redeemed his reputation as the goat of the previous year’s clash between the two SEC East teams by scampering into the end zone for a touchdown. These elements---a Houston sack, a Kentucky turnover, an Ealey touchdown---would become the themes of the evening.
There was too much fight in the Blue and White for Randall Cobb and his coevals to go quietly in their critical battle with the Georgia Bulldogs in Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats, like their guests, had rebounded from an 0-3 start in conference play, taking the still-undefeated Auburn Tigers to the wire and upsetting the division-leading South Carolina Gamecocks to post Kentucky’s biggest gridiron win in decades.
The ‘Cats answered with a 16-play drive on which they converted third and long four times. (This, too, would be a theme.) On the home team’s third third-and-eight of the drive, however, Hartline’s pass to Chris Matthews was incomplete, so Craig McIntosh was sent into the game. The Wildcat placekicker connected on the 41-yard field goal that made it 7-3 on the scoreboard.
It was shaping up to be the back-and-forth shootout everyone anticipated, and Kentucky had to like the stat lines the Blue and White were on their way to producing. The Wildcats would hold commanding leads in first downs (22-13), total yards (423-290), and time of possession (32:05-27:55) while converting nine of 15 third downs and two of four fourth downs.
In short, it was looking good for the home team for one play and 17 seconds. That was the time it took for Brandon Boykin to return the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown that made it 14-3. While the two teams would score a combined nine times thereafter, the Bulldogs would maintain a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game. Georgia led by 18 at the break, by 17 after three quarters, and by 13 at the end of the game.
The Wildcats never doubted their ability to come back, and justifiably so: one week earlier, against a better team in the same venue, Kentucky had been down 28-10 at the half, only to respond with seven points in the third quarter and 14 more in the final period. The Blue and White had done so against South Carolina, and they repeated that performance against Georgia. The difference, of course, was that Kentucky had held the Gamecocks scoreless, while the Bulldogs scored 16 second-half points of their own en route to their third straight outburst of more than 40 points. That particular feat was last achieved by the Red and Black during their dominant run in the second half of the 2007 season.
While the defensive lapses ought to give the ‘Dawgs pause, the ‘Cats are a second-half team, and this game much more closely resembled the 2008 Georgia-Alabama game (in which the second-half scoring made a would-be blowout look closer than it was without the outcome ever being in doubt) than the 2010 Kentucky-South Carolina game. At the end of the night, a Bulldog team that opened the autumn by losing three straight SEC games in which the Classic City Canines never led won its third straight SEC game in which the Athenians never trailed.
All the usual caveats still apply---Kentucky, for all its recent resurgence, remains a 1-4 team in conference play---but, even if all Georgia does the rest of the way is beat teams of questionable quality, the Bulldogs should win three of their last four against the Florida Gators (who are trailing a three-game losing streak), the Idaho State Bengals (who play in Division I-AA), and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (who lost yesterday to Clemson, after having previously been beaten by Kansas).
Let’s not sell the ‘Dawgs short, though. Seven Georgia drives ended in points, including second-half marches of 70, 46, and 67 yards. The Red and Black were much more efficient than their hosts, advancing 9.4 yards per pass and 4.5 yards per rush. The Wildcats, by contrast, managed only 7.7 yards per throw and 2.3 yards per carry. In a well-managed game, Aaron Murray completed nine of his twelve aerials for 113 yards and only ran the ball three times. A.J. Green was his usual reliable self, picking up 86 yards on a half-dozen catches, but the star of the show was Washaun Ealey, who rumbled for 157 yards on 28 carries in the course of tying Robert Edwards’s 15-year-old school record by scoring five touchdowns to tally 30 points in 60 minutes of play.
There were more than a few areas in need of improvement, but, ultimately, the Red and Black won the turnover battle, conceded just 28 yards on penalties, and topped 40 ticks on the scoreboard on the way to a double-digit win over a surging conference opponent on the road. As UK partisan Glenn Logan put it:
Georgia played solid SEC football, and had one spectacular play that added up to a convincing victory. Georgia took almost perfect advantage of every Kentucky mistake, of which there were very many. Some may say that Kentucky beat themselves. Not me. Georgia did what they were supposed to do -- when presented with opportunities, they put the ball in the end zone.
That’s about the size of it. Historically, Georgia has never lost a shootout to Kentucky on the gridiron, and that streak remains intact. Now it’s time to get ready to extend two more streaks: the Bulldogs’ run of consecutive wins and the Gators’ string of successive losses.