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Kentucky a Saturday favorite liable to get knocked off by the underdog.
SEC Country is now riding a streak of three correct upset picks: Arkansas over Ole Miss in Week 7, and then Kentucky over Mississippi State and Missouri. For some reason, Vegas keeps favoring some of the conference’s worst teams over the Wildcats. Blame the bookies, folks, not me.
Here’s why Kentucky, a 2.5-point home underdog, can beat a pretty underwhelming Georgia team on Saturday.
3. More to play for
Now a winner in five of its last six games, Kentucky has been steadily gaining steam after taking rough losses to Southern Miss and Florida out of the gate. The offense scored a combined 95 points in the last three games, while an improving defense has taken a tangible step forward on third downs. Opponents are 30-for-81 in those situations since Week 4, and that includes No. 1 Alabama (9-for-14).
The Wildcats’ recent surge has them in sole possession of second place in the SEC East and one win away from making their first bowl game of the Mark Stoops era. The chance to do so in Commonwealth Stadium — against an SEC opponent that has beaten them six years in a row, no less — has to have the players fired up.
And if Florida crashes and burns in November, as it did last season, who knows? Maybe Kentucky can earn its first SEC title game berth.
2. Emergence of a freshman star
That would be tailback Benjamin Snell, who has rushed for 661 yards and 8 touchdowns in six games this season. Nick Chubb, for comparison, has 603 yards and 5 touchdowns in seven games (we’re excluding the one-carry game against Tennessee, when he was hurt).
Snell has been the hard-nosed workhorse this offense was missing. His yardage has come in tough spots — between the tackles, third-and-short, on the goal line — and with 77 carries in Kentucky’s last three games, it’s been a heavy load. Combined with home-run threat Stanley “Boom” Williams, who’s averaging 7.5 yards per carry, the Wildcats have a two-headed tailback monster.
Here’s an eye-opening stat: Kentucky is 5-0 this year when it runs the ball 40-plus times, and 0-3 when it doesn’t. Williams is dynamite, but without Snell doing the heavy lifting, ‘Boom’ is much tougher to ignite.
1. Georgia is not a good football team
No disrespect to the Wildcats, but the real reason I’ve picked them three weeks in a row has been their competition. Georgia, while not as flawed as Missouri or Mississippi State, is frankly very fortunate to be 4-4.
On the Bulldogs’ resume this season:
- Beating Nicholls State, a 4-4 team with losses to Sam Houston and McNeese State, by two points at home
- Beating 2-6 Missouri by one point, on a 4th-and-15 touchdown pass
- Getting blown out by five-loss Ole Miss, 45-14
- Losing to Vanderbilt at home
- Mustering just 21 yards rushing in Saturday’s loss to Florida, even with a healthy Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
The offensive line has been the real sore spot, missing assignments in pass protection and generating precious little push for Chubb and Michel. Special teams miscues have been an issue all season. The Bulldogs are 8-for-13 on field goals. They have the lowest punting average in the SEC and they are one of the nation’s worst at covering kickoffs (opponents average 26.35 yards per return).
The defense, while solid, has bent at inopportune times. The Hail Mary against Tennessee is the big one. As a team, it has given up 6 fourth-down conversions in 10 tries. And the red zone defense has been quite poor; opponents score touchdowns 73 percent of the time, which is the worst mark in the SEC.
I could go on. Suffice it to say, the Bulldogs are not much better than the likes of Missouri, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and South Carolina — even though the program name might lead you to believe they are. This’ll be another close one for Kentucky, but Jeff Badet should reel off a couple big plays, Snell will get more tough yardage and the defense will hold its own.
Prediction: Kentucky 28, Georgia 23