Kickoff will soon be upon us. I've already given you the lowdown on the passing game and the running game, and I'm not the only one, so let's not waste any time getting to the rest of it. You know the drill . . . around here, instead of an increment of insight or a dash of data, we like to provide you with Too Much Information.
Odds and Ends
- Georgia and Kentucky are fairly evenly matched in the kicking game. The Wildcats manage 23.3 yards per kickoff return, as compared to the Bulldogs' 22.0, whereas the Red and Black average 37.9 yards per punt, as against the 36.7 managed by the Blue and White. The Bluegrass State Felines stand atop the S.E.C. in kickoffs, having tallied twice as many touchbacks (20) as the next-best team (which is not the 'Dawgs, who registered their first touchback of the season last Saturday), but U.K. also has the league's spottiest extra point kicking, having missed three points after touchdowns. The Classic City Canines have the better punt return team, gaining 13.8 yards per return, compared to Kentucky's 8.4.
- Over the course of the season, Georgia has gotten progressively better with each passing quarter, scoring 62 points in the first period, 82 in the second, 83 in the third, and 95 in the fourth. The 74 total points allowed by the 'Dawgs in the second stanza are the most they have surrendered in any quarter, whereas the 74 points tallied by the Wildcats in the second period are the fewest they have amassed in any quarter.
- The 'Dawgs and the 'Cats have comparable numbers of takeaways---Kentucky has 18 to Georgia's 16---but there is a wide gap separating the two teams in terms of giveaways: U.K. has turned the ball over 20 times, losing a dozen fumbles, while the Red and Black have surrendered just four fumbles and eleven total turnovers. As noted by Senator Blutarsky, the 'Dawgs are becoming more opportunistic when it comes to giveaway/takeaway.
- The Red and Black rank first in the conference in red zone offense with 28 touchdowns and nine field goals in 39 trips inside the opposition's 20 yard line. Kentucky has been perfectly balanced in the red zone, scoring 16 rushing touchdowns and 16 passing touchdowns inside the 20 . . . while also surrendering 12 rushing touchdowns and 12 passing touchdowns in their own red zone. The Wildcats have twice turned the ball over on downs in the shadow of the other team's goal posts. Georgia has twice taken over on downs inside its own 20 yard line.
- The Kentucky offense ranks second in the S.E.C. in third down conversions gained (50.3%), but the Georgia defense ranks second in the S.E.C. in third down conversions allowed (33.1%).
- The 'Cats have earned more first downs than any other S.E.C. squad (250), but they also have allowed more first downs (220) than any conference squad other than Ole Miss.
- How good a job is Stacy Searels doing? The 'Dawgs have allowed 12 sacks all season. The 'Cats have surrendered 24.
Even though Kentucky averages 37.7 points per game (fourth in the S.E.C.) and Georgia manages just 32.8 ticks on the scoreboard per contest (sixth in the S.E.C.), the two teams' season-long statistics are deceiving.
The Wildcats opened the season on a tear, leaping out to a 5-0 start while ringing up 46.6 points per outing. The Blue and White have gone 2-3 since, however, while being held to a comparatively meager 28.8 points per game.
Meanwhile, the 'Dawgs have tallied 43.7 points per contest over the course of the last three weeks and the Georgia offense is hitting on all cylinders heading into this weekend's showdown against an opponent against whom the Red and Black have scored 43 or more points four times during the Mark Richt era.
Kentucky ranks tenth in the league in total defense and eleventh in the league in scoring defense, surrendering 388.0 yards and 28.1 points per outing. Only Mississippi has surrendered more touchdowns than the 36 allowed by the 'Cats. During their last five contests, the Blue and White have spotted 34.2 points per game to the opposition.
Georgia, on the other hand, ranks fourth in the conference in scoring defense (22.2 points per game) and in total defense (328.4 yards per game). The Classic City Canines have held the Bluegrass State Felines to 24 or fewer points in five straight series meetings.
The Bottom Line
Assuming you don't buy the company line that Rafael Little won't play---and I, like Quinton McDawg, ain't buying it; after Omar Haugabook pulled a fast one on us, I'm adopting a "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" approach to reports of opposing players' injuries---you have to expect to see a lot of yards and a lot of points in both directions over the course of a hard-fought battle on Saturday.
In mid-October, this game scared me to death, but, over the course of the last month, Kentucky has stumbled and Georgia has regrouped. While the Wildcats remain a formidable foe, there is a reason why this game worried me so little in the preseason . . . not because I did not respect the Blue and White (which I did and do), but because I believed then and believe now that, after playing the worst game of his life in Lexington last year, Matthew Stafford will be fully focused on Kentucky.
Georgia has never lost to U.K. in consecutive seasons and the Blue and White have won in Athens just thrice, most recently in 1977. (The three Red and Black squads which were beaten by the Wildcats between the hedges finished with records of 3-6-1, 7-4-1, and 5-6, respectively.) The Wildcats will get their yards and their points, but the peaking Bulldogs, led by their emotional leader, will find a way to get it done.
My Prediction: Georgia 45, Kentucky 31.