LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky enters Saturday’s matchup having won five of its last six games while Georgia has lost four of its last six.
It’s a flip in the traditional SEC East script as the Wildcats (5-3, 4-2) are trying to keep their SEC title game chances alive while the Bulldogs (4-4, 2-4) need two more wins to make a bowl game. It’s not a familiar place for either program nine weeks into the season.
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium. Here are five questions for Kentucky heading into the divisional clash.
1. How many carries will Benny Snell and Boom Williams get?
Benny Snell, the freshman bruiser, had 38 carries for 192 yards and two scores last weekend at Missouri. After not recording a carry in his first two games, Snell’s usage has ballooned over recent weeks. His workload against Missouri was the most for a Kentucky running back since Derick Logan had 41 in a 1996 game against Mississippi State
Coach Mark Stoops hinted on his radio show Monday night that Snell could carry the ball even more and the freshman back has showed no signs of slowing.
Georgia has been strong against the run, allowing just 109 rushing yards per game. The Bulldogs will be tasked with stopping junior Boom Williams along with Snell. Williams rushed for 182 yards on 19 carries of his own last week and is third in the SEC with 102 rushing yards per game.
Only Auburn has a more productive SEC backfield in Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson than Kentucky does in Snell and Williams.
2. Will Kentucky’s turnover terrors continue?
Kentucky is winning despite consistently losing in the turnover battle.
The Wildcats are last in the SEC by a mile with a -11 turnover margin while the Bulldogs are tied for the top mark in the conference with a +6 turnover margin. Kentucky has 20 turnovers lost to Georgia’s 10.
Georgia holds the definite advantage in what figures to be a key worry for Kentucky on Saturday. Look for the Bulldogs to put as much pressure as possible on quarterback Stephen Johnson. Ball security issues have plagued the Kentucky quarterback since taking over as starter in Week 4.
3. Can Kentucky stop Nick Chubb and the Georgia run game?
Kentucky’s run game has been a revelation this season, but it’s always been the strength of Georgia teams. Veteran running back Nick Chubb still patrols the Georgia backfield, and although his numbers are down quite a bit, Chubb is still averaging 75 yards per game.
Sony Michel and Brian Herrien join Chubb in the rushing attack. All three backs rank in the top-20 in the SEC in yards per game.
Kentucky’s run defense ranks 9th in the conference as the Wildcats are allowing almost 200 rushing yards per game. The Wildcats will be in run-first mode behind Snell and Williams and the Bulldogs should be doing the same with their trio of rushers.
4. Will Commonwealth Stadium be full?
It hasn’t been all season, but that might change given what Kentucky will be playing for Saturday.
Stoops called on fans at his Monday press conference to fill the 61,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium.
“Our fan base, there’s been a lot of loyal fans to us,” Stoops said. “We just need more. We need more people in there to fill it up. I’d love to see it filled.”
A crowd of 57,230 came to the home opener against Southern Miss — the biggest attendance of the season for Kentucky. Stoops and his players have turned an ugly 0-2 start into a season where Kentucky has an outside shot to play in the SEC Championship game. Saturday will show if the fan base is back behind the program.
5. Can the Wildcats overcome history to stay in SEC East contention?
The last time Kentucky reached five SEC wins was 1977.
To again match that mark, Kentucky will have to overcome a long history of losses to Georgia. The Bulldogs lead the overall series 55-12 with two ties. Kentucky doesn’t have a win over Georgia in Stoops’ tenure and 2009 was the last time the Wildcats topped the Bulldogs.
If Kentucky finds its way past Georgia, the Wildcats clinch at least a second-place mark in the SEC East while keeping a bit of hope for winning the division if Florida cooperates in the way of losses. Stoops’ least favorite thing to talk about is SEC East speculation. It could be over by Saturday night, or it could take a step in becoming a reality.