With my thanks to Paul Westerdawg for calling attention to my statistical breakdown of all facets of the Kentucky game---from the offense to the defense to the special teams---I now pick up where I left off and bring you the final stray strands of data which go into my prediction of tomorrow afternoon's outcome:
The Feel Good Stat of the Week
I was tempted to reiterate the fact that a Kentucky offense with the S.E.C.'s second-lowest third-down conversion percentage (34.0%) will be going up against a Georgia defense that allows the league's second-lowest third-down conversion percentage (28.2%), but a more telling datum concerns U.K.'s schedule.
Sure, Kentucky beat Texas State, but Scott Bakula was banged up a little, Sinbad was out with a groin pull, and Kathy Ireland was playing on a badly sprained ankle.
The Wildcats are 4-4 and most likely bowl-bound, but how accomplished are the Blue and White? In their four losses, the 'Cats have been outscored 158-52 (for an average final margin of 40-13) by teams with a combined record of 26-6, while their four victories have come by a cumulative score of 151-88 (for an average of 38-22) against squads whose collective ledger comes to 12-22 . . . with five of those four teams' dozen wins coming against sub-Division I-A competition.
Kentucky sometimes has been competitive with bowl-caliber teams, but the Wildcats' best win came against Central Michigan. Granted, the Red and Black have not exactly played the nation's toughest schedule (though it turns out that Western Kentucky was just a season away from qualifying as a Division I-A opponent), but, even in a down year, I have to think the Bulldogs are better than the Chippewas.
The Bottom Line
Like every loyal citizen of Bulldog Nation, I am fearful that 2006 will turn out to be the first football season since 1973 in which Georgia loses both to Vanderbilt and to Kentucky.
If that happens, of course, I will take some solace in the fact that the '73 'Dawgs ended their season on a three-game run of victories, beating both Auburn and Georgia Tech before winning the Peach Bowl against an A.C.C. opponent. Still, I would rather not have that cold comfort with which to console myself.
All things being equal, I'd really rather not relive 1973 . . . although the cheaper gas prices of the oil crisis would be welcome. (Photograph from U.S. Senate.)
What I would prefer would be a 10th consecutive Georgia victory over Kentucky, tying the Bulldogs' longest winning streak over the Wildcats from 1978 to 1987. Accordingly, I am pleased to note that the 'Dawgs have an all-time record of 22-6 in Lexington, including a 6-1 ledger in their last seven trips to the Bluegrass State. Mark Richt, who has gone 21-2 on opponents' home fields during his tenure in the Classic City, is the man you want on your sideline when yours is the visiting team.
The Bulldogs have scored at least 28 points in each of the last eight series meetings with the Wildcats and Coach Richt's offenses have been particularly successful against the Blue and White. In the first five years of the Mark Richt era, the 'Dawgs have averaged 46.4 points per game against the 'Cats and have scored 57.0 points per game---no, that is not a typo---against U.K. in the Commonwealth.
That level of offensive production is significant because, when the Wildcats have beaten the Red and Black, they have done so in a very specific way. Georgia has lost to Kentucky 10 times in 59 series meetings and, in those 10 games, the 'Dawgs were held scoreless three times, were limited to six points once, were conceded only seven points twice, and were permitted just 10 points on two other occasions.
It's called defense, Shallow Hal; look into it. (Photograph from E.S.P.N.)
The Bulldogs have never lost to Kentucky in any game in which Georgia scored more than 24 points and the Wildcats have gotten the better of the Classic City Canines only once in contests in which the Red and Black tallied more than 17 ticks on the scoreboard.
Given the glaring deficiencies of the U.K. defense, this is the game for the 'Dawgs to get it together on offense and put some points on the board. Undoubtedly, the 'Cats will get their licks in, as well, so I expect this outing to be reminiscent of the Georgia-Kentucky games of the mid-1990s, when six straight series meetings between 1993 and 1998 were decided by margins of 10 or fewer points.
Coach Richt's first five Bulldog squads all beat U.K. by at least two touchdowns. I do not expect that trend to continue, but, if it turns out to be another nailbiter, I am secure in the knowledge that the 'Dawgs are 14-6-2 in games against Kentucky which were decided by a touchdown or less.
My Prediction: Georgia 34, Kentucky 28.