Georgia coach Mark Richt leads the team onto the field before the Bulldogs’ 43-0 homecoming victory against Vanderbilt last Saturday.
The Wildcats rank second in the SEC in scoring (35.3 points per game) and passing offense (270.6 yards per game) and No. 3 in total offense (429.3 yards per game). Georgia has scored a combined 84 points the past two games. While do-everything athlete Randall Cobb (40 catches, team-high nine touchdowns) is the headliner for the Wildcats’ offense, senior Chris Matthews actually leads the SEC in touchdown catches with six. Matthews had 12 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina a week ago. Matthews is tied for fourth in the conference with 33 catches and is fourth in receiving yards with 482. Tailback Derrick Locke, the conference’s third-leading rusher, is out with a shoulder stinger. Quarterback Mike Hartline is coming off a career game against South Carolina, completing 32 of 42 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. Georgia got its running game on track last week with Washaun Ealey rushing for a season-high 123 yards and a touchdown. Tailback Caleb King will serve the second game of a two-game suspension. Receiver Kris Durham continues to be a threat in the passing game. He leads Georgia with 22 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns after his second 100-yard receiving game of the year last week. Quarterback Aaron Murray remains the nation’s No. 1 freshman in passing efficiency. He is completing 61.9 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Kentucky junior linebacker Danny Trevathan leads the SEC with 70 tackles. Georgia senior linebacker Akeem Dent isn’t far behind in fourth with 62. The Wildcats rank 89th in the nation in scoring defense, while Georgia is now up to 20th in that category at 17.4 points per game. The Wildcats have given up an SEC-high 27 touchdowns, but they shut out South Carolina in the second half while rallying from a 28-10 deficit. Georgia will get a chance to pile up the yards against the SEC’s second-worst rushing defense (176.0) after facing the worst, Vanderbilt, last week. Georgia has seven interceptions, the fourth most in the SEC behind Alabama, Florida and LSU. Bulldogs redshirt sophomore cornerback Sanders Commings leads Georgia with two interceptions and is fourth on the team with 24 tackles. Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston, the SEC’s sack leader with 6 1⁄2, will go up against a Kentucky offense that leads the conference with only six sacks allowed.
Kentucky’s Ryan Tydlacka and Georgia’s Drew Butler rank 15th and 16th nationally in punting, respectively, but the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in net punting at 40.2 yards and Kentucky is 10th at 35.5. Kentucky’s Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb are fifth and 10th in the SEC on kickoff returns. Cobb is fourth in punt returns, with one returned for a touchdown. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin is ninth on kickoff returns. Kentucky’s Craig McIntosh has made 7 of 9 field-goal attempts, including a long of 50. Georgia’s Blair Walsh still has the league’s top field-goal percentage at 86.7 percent, despite missing one last week. Georgia and Kentucky are 1-2 in the SEC in kickoff coverage. The Wildcats have 14 touchbacks. Georgia has 10.
Georgia’s Mark Richt has gotten his team to respond to the first four-game losing streak in his career by winning the last two games. The Bulldogs have practiced more physically during the turnaround with the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense going up against each other. Richt is 93-31 in 91⁄2 seasons. Kentucky first-year coach Joker Phillips earned his first SEC win last week with a 31-28 win against South Carolina. The 4-3 Wildcats are two wins away from being bowl-eligible for the fifth straight season.
Kentucky is coming off a victory over a top-10 ranked South Carolina team and had a down-to-the-wire loss to No. 4 Auburn the week before. Georgia enjoyed blowout wins at home the past two weeks. The Bulldogs have yet to win away from Sanford Stadium this season, losing at South Carolina, Mississippi State and Colorado. They are also 0-2 in night games. Both teams have three conference losses and have plenty to play for because the winner of this game marches on in the SEC East race. There was some controversy in Kentucky this week when Randall Cobb tweeted his unhappiness with some Wildcats fans, but he apologized two days later.
Georgia seems to have redirected a sinking season, but it has yet to win a tight game that goes down to the wire. Georgia lost close games to Arkansas and Colorado, but all three of its wins have been in blowout fashion.
Kentucky’s last two games haven’t been decided until the end. Expect this one — like the last two Georgia-Kentucky games — to be another close game. The thinking here is the improvements that Georgia’s defense has made will pay off with a third straight SEC win.
► PHOTO GALLERY: Kentucky football prepares for Georgia