LEXINGTON, Ky. — Georgia led in most stat categories, but until the very end, Kentucky seemed in control to seal its fourth straight victory and vault atop the SEC East.
But the Bulldogs notched a field goal as the finals seconds ticked from the clock. Time was up on the Wildcats’ winning stretch and more time stands in between coach Mark Stoops’ squad and the elusive sixth win that would signal Kentucky’s first bowl bid since 2010.
Here’s how we graded Kentucky’s 27-24 loss to Georgia.
Kentucky ranks last in the SEC in turnovers lost and turnover margin. It won the overall battle with 2 turnovers to Georgia’s 3, but the 2 couldn’t have been more costly for Kentucky.
The Wildcats scored with just more than 9 minutes left in the third quarter to go up 21-13. Their next two possessions were disastrous. Quarterback Stephen Johnson hit an open Garrett Johnson for a potential big gain. The receiver fumbled and Georgia recovered.
Johnson responded well on the next possession finding Jeff Badet, his favorite big-play target, in stride down the middle of the field. The ball was placed perfectly but bounced off Badet’s hands and into the hands of a Georgia defender. The Wildcats had tempted fate with turnovers for much of the season but Saturday saw the problem finally cost Kentucky.
I mean, I can’t even… pic.twitter.com/cXC0MtYWFL
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 6, 2016
The Badet play could’ve turned into a lengthy touchdown toss for Johnson who finished his day with 103 passing yards on 10 of 20 throwing. Kentucky’s run game fueled the offense yet again. Benny Snell rushed for 114 yards and 2 scores. He carried the ball 9 straight times on Kentucky’s tying fourth-quarter drive. Boom Williams rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown.
The numbers were solid considering the stout Georgia defense Kentucky faced, but the turnovers overshadowed much of the success.
Georgia’s offense piled up 460 yards, 87 more than its season average, but the Kentucky defense held Georgia to 2 touchdowns on the Bulldogs’ 14 drives.
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship made 4 field goals as Kentucky’s defense was in full bend-don’t-break mode.
Georgia’s offensive line won the battle up front as a big Bulldog push sprung Sony Michel to 127 yards on almost 7 yards per attempt. Nick Chubb got going early but was largely shut down in the second half. Chubb still finished with 85 yards on 21 carries. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason was good through the air with 245 yards and a score.
Sophomores Jordan Jones and Mike Edwards have been Kentucky’s best defenders this season. That was reinforced Saturday. Edwards had 13 tackles and Jones added 10 with 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Special teams: B-
It was a mix of good and bad.
The good: Punting was improved as Grant McKinniss averaged 40 yards on his 7 attempts, including a 59-yard long. The finest moment from the punting unit came when Georgia muffed a punt and Kentucky recovered. Senior safety Marcus McWilson was in the middle of the disruption. Austin MacGinnis made his only field goal, a 25-yard attempt to tie the game on Kentucky’s final drive.
The bad: MacGinnis was good from 44 yards early in the fourth quarter but the kick was negated by a penalty on tight end C.J. Conrad. Kentucky was knocked out of field goal range and took a delay of game penalty to give McKinniss more room to pin Georgia deep. The ball sailed into the end zone, netting just 21 yards. Three points proved to be the difference.
Stoops said after the game Kentucky lacked its usual “edge” Saturday night.
“I just didn’t like, just a certain look in our eye,” Stoops said after the game. “I think our players wanted it to happen, I don’t know, I just got to do a better job of getting them to play with that mentality, with that edge and that urgency that it takes.”
Kentucky was playing for a first-place spot in the SEC East. Commonwealth Stadium held its biggest crowd of the season. It’s not fair to pin all the motivation problems on the coaching staff, but how in the world was Kentucky not amped given the circumstances?
It shouldn’t have been hard for Kentucky to go all-in Saturday night. Stoops blamed himself for not getting his players ready mentally. Sure, he deserves partial blame. As does everyone else on the Kentucky sideline.
Kentucky could’ve reached many milestones against Georgia: First five-win SEC season since 1977, first win against Georgia since 2009, first six-win season since 2010.
Two of the three are still within reach, but Saturday was a small step backward.