Here is what I’m NOT worried about for Saturday’s tilt against the Gentlemen from the Commonwealth:
1) We dropped the ball. Then again, so did Kentucky. After another example of bad hands by our receiving corps, you’d think it would be a cause for concern. But remember Isaiah McKenzie against South Carolina a few years ago? And even the SEC Championship game last year? Other than Matt Landers (sorry bro), we bounce back and always get those cases of dropsies out of our system quick. I’m expecting Jermaine Burton to join the good hands team, and to get those T-rex arms extended.
2) Kentucky just doesn’t have a great wideout, they have no Lynn Bowden, they really have no passing threat to worry about. They have one player with more than 7 receptions through 5 games (senior WR Josh Ali). They have one receiver averaging more than 18 yards per game (also Ali).
In 2018, with the SEC East on the line, Georgia snuffed out any attempts by Kentucky great Benny Snell to run to victory. So it was left to Terry Wilson, the same UK QB who has started every game this season, to pass them to the end zone. He didn’t then, with record-setting and NFL draft studs both in the backfield and on the defensive line. With no such talent around him this time, he won’t do it now.
There is a rumour that Wilson has been held out of practice with an injury, so… <insert back-up quarterback and wail of despair here>. There have been calls from the Kentucky faithful in recent weeks to supplant Terry Wilson with sophomore Joey Gatewood, a big strapping kid from Jacksonville. I’m not sure what Gatewood’s chops are, as he’s only played in 3 games this season: rushing 8 times and throwing only 5 passes. But after Wilson’s 3 of 9 for 35 yard performance versus Mizzou, Head Coach Mark Stoops could be forgiven for looking at other options.
(Frantically searches internet and sees Gatewood was a dual threat QB transfer from…. AUBURN!!! Should I be worried? Nah, the kid got out while the getting was good. If he was a true threat, Auburn would’ve come up with creative scholarship opportunities and financial aid packages designed to induce their prototypical student-athlete.)
3) Kentucky is a rushing team. And yes, against Bama we gave up a rushing touchdown to an opposing running back for the first time in 2 years. But just because Kentucky can’t pass doesn’t mean that they run well. UK throws for just 123 yards a contest. They run almost twice as often as pass, but they are no Army. Their quarterback, Terry Wilson, is the second leading rusher. Sure, sophomore Chris Rodriguez has over 5.5 yards a carry, but is only averaging 61 yards a game. They haven’t reached 100 yards in 2 of their last 3 contests, and this seems correlated to the recently injured Kavoisey Smoke, their most explosive runner.
And this Wildcat rushing attack (team name, not scheme name) is going against a Georgia defense that is only giving up 65 yards on the ground. And that includes Alabama and their 147 yards. But last I checked, there is no Najee Harris toting the rock for Kentucky, so I firmly believe we see a regression to the mean.
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I AM worried about:
1) We gotta stay healthy in the backfield. James Cook got dinged up against Arkansas. Zamir White wasn’t 100% thanks to a dog pile early against Tennessee. Kendall Milton had a nagging lower body injury earlier, and even Kenny McIntosh has suffered a mild injury. None of these are season-ending, but we’ve already had our bye week and we have a stretch run that requires a deep, and healthy, running back room. The talent is there – we just need to have them all healthy so that we can keep putting out fresh legs and continue to execute the balanced Todd Monken offense. Also, it doesn’t look like we are going to get to the Benz in December solely from the inexperienced quarterbacks and young receiving corps, so let’s keep those carriers upright and alright.
2) Feed the beast. The beast in this particular situation, is our star receivers. When your defensive line has as many receiving touchdowns as your most prolific receiver, you might consider adjusting your focus. Speaking of Kearis Jackson, he all but disappeared against the Tide. Only 2 catches. Is it possible that Alabama shut down Jackson with constant man coverage? I mean, Pickens did have his best game with 5 catches, so does that mean Alabama turned the coverage spotlight onto KJ? Jermaine Burton had 4 snags, as did James Cook out of the slot/motion.
I know we had open receivers a lot of the night against the Tide, and I know Stetson Bennett had a… ahem… off night throwing. Yet Georgia was pass heavy in the 2nd half as we tried to play catchup, and I can’t see that Jackson was even targeted more than once the last 30 minutes. His first reception was in the first 4 minutes of the game, and his second wasn’t until 8 minutes left and a lot of hope had dissipated. Kearis is a proven weapon for the Bulldogs and we have to get him involved. Sure we have young weapons, but Jackson and Pickens are the hands we must ride to win.
3) Break my stride. Stetson Bennett is a gamer, and has as big a heart as anyone. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him, to the best of his abilities. Arm accuracy doesn’t seem to be an issue, yet there is a difference between completing a pass and hitting a receiver in stride, on his route.
Time after time, I see a big completion (many to aforementioned Kearis Jackson) but one that requires the receiver to reach back or even fall down in an effort to secure the completion. One of the reasons Alabama’s receivers are so successful is their yards after the catch. This production requires that a quarterback hits the receiver in stride, at speed, and allows the receiver to make plays in space. Not make plays from your backside or having teammates pick you up immediately after the completion. I’d like to see some of the deep crosses, or skinny posts, where the receiver (or Tight End, heaven help us!) gets the ball in their breadbasket while their wheels are still turning and they can get those valuable yards after the ball is secured.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about between the Bulldogs of Georgia and the Wildcats of Kentucky.
And as always…