No. 1 Georgia topped Kentucky 16-6 in an old-school slugfest in Lexington, Kentucky. With the win, the Bulldogs kept their perfect season alive for the second straight year at 8-0 in SEC play.
Georgia clung to a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but its defense held Kentucky on a 38-yard field goal attempt. A bad snap forced Matt Ruffolo to kick through the laces, and he flicked it wide to keep it two-score with 4:17 left. The offense was the punch the Dawgs needed to win, but make no mistake, it needed that offense.
Kentucky quarterback Will Lewis led his team on a 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter after his defense stopped Georgia on fourth-and-goal in what was ultimately an offensively-challenged outing for both teams. This is the first time any team has put together a drive since Kirby took over the SmartDogs.
Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny made three field goals in the first half to take a 9-0 lead. However, a slow start by the Dawgs offense was quickly turned into a strong performance by the return of star running back Kenny McIntosh. The versatile star scored Georgia’s only touchdown midway through the third quarter to build a 16-point lead. The senior finished with 143 yards rushing and 19 more receptions, a big reason Georgia kept Kentucky at arm’s length.
Georgia’s defense’s ability to bend but not break was a significant factor. Kentucky’s first drive stopped Kentucky on fourth-and-1 from the 32-yard line to end the game, and Lewis was picked off at the goal line to end the Wildcats’ second possession. Those two stops set the tone for Docs.
What were the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s game?
Kenny McIntosh was the MVP
The Bulldogs senior was once again the most valuable player on the field for both teams, and Georgia could have been in big trouble without him. His 9-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter on Georgia’s fifth drive came after three of those field goals and a fumble on quarterback Stetson Bennett IV’s first drive of the second half. Basically, McIntosh kicked a neutral Georgia offense into gear.
It wasn’t necessarily a high gear, but it was enough to get it rolling in the right direction. In the end, that clutch run was all Georgia needed to get the win. The Dawgs had seven rushes of 10 or more yards on the afternoon, including five from McIntosh.
McIntosh has been an unsung hero of sorts for this team. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken was needed to replace James Cook, a versatile player out of the backfield on last year’s national championship team. It’s important that he continues this type of performance moving forward. Now coach Kirby Smart knows that when things don’t go his way for his team, he can turn it over to his veteran running back and carry him on his shoulders.
First two possessions told the story
The game wasn’t officially over until Lewis’ fourth-down pass fell harmlessly to the ground over the middle. However, the Wildcats’ first two possessions actually cost them the game.
Lewis, wide receiver Barrion Brown and Chris Rodriguez Jr. sliced through Georgia’s defense before that nasty fourth-and-1 stop. It was an empty possession, but it at least gave Lewis and the rest of the offense confidence that they could go toe-to-toe with this defense.
The following drive is the same story. Rodriguez pounded the middle of the Bulldogs’ defensive line, Lewis made the play, and they were 2-of-2 on third downs on a 13-play drive before a gut punch with Ringo’s interception at the goal line. The Wildcats were in catch-up mode from that point on, and the Wildcats froze in the frigid Lexington air with what felt like any home field advantage.
Georgia’s OL was stellar
McIntosh had a fantastic performance, but his offensive line deserves a ton of credit for his display. They didn’t allow a single touchdown that afternoon and tore through the Wildcats defense like a sea of red on a touchdown run. And it’s not just that drive. McIntosh was not touched until he was out of bounds of scrimmage the entire game, setting the tone against a Kentucky defense that was no match for his physicality.
Bennett didn’t offer much help through the air, and Georgia managed 247 yards rushing and 5.4 yards per rush. The offense was one-dimensional by necessity, and no thanks to the work done in the trenches.
Bennett’s Heisman chances are gone
To further cement his case, the senior quarterback at least had a chance to garner enough votes to earn an invitation to New York City in mid-December as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He had a national stage late in the season to make an impact on voters considering other players lighting up the stat sheets on a weekly basis.
However, he did not benefit. He went 13 of 19 for 116 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. After that, it was clear that Monken and the offensive staff were calling the game without Bennett needing to be a difference maker. It worked Saturday, but it’s not something Heisman voters will take kindly to
Does it matter in the end? No. Bennett’s only goal this year is to win national titles, and that goal remains alive.
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