Good things have come in threes for Georgia this year as the Bulldogs won their third straight game with a 44-31 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.
It was the Bulldogs’ first victory on the road and its first against a team with comparable ability.
Georgia didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but it made game-winning plays.
It forced early turnovers that gave the Bulldogs a quick double-digit advantage and took Kentucky’s crowd out of the game.
Washaun Ealey continued his resurgence and Aaron Murray continued to play error-free.
But the win had a dark side as Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline ripped Georgia’s defense open, especially in the second half.
Georgia picked up a quality win, and the ill will from last month’s four-game losing streak has faded, at least for the time being.
So the Bulldogs head into next week’s rivalry game against Florida with momentum and in their best frame of mind since the season opener.
Ealey must have done some serious introspection during his benching early this season because he’s running like he’s got something to prove.
Ealey was the man of the match with 157 yards and a school-record five rushing touchdowns. He had 123 yards and a touchdown last week against Vanderbilt and stepped into the void left by Caleb King’s two-game suspension nicely.
Ealey’s own season-opening suspension and his fight with fumbleitis left critics wondering what happened to the back that seemed to have so much potential.
Ealey has found his elixir and returned to form, which is exactly what Georgia needs in the last month of the season.
Georgia’s defense has the dubious ability to bewilder opponents and itself with equal effectiveness.
Georgia forced four turnovers and sacked Hartline three times. Justin Houston had 2 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to headline the effort.
But Hartline torched Georgia for 353 passing yards and four touchdowns. Kentucky converted a head-scratching 9 of 15 (60 percent) of its third downs. And the Wildcats did that without their leading rusher, Derrick Locke, who was out with a shoulder injury.
What’s most disturbing is that Kentucky needed at least 8 yards on eight of those conversions.
Third-and-long has been either feast or famine for the team with the Southeastern Conference’s leading sack artist.
If they’re not getting to the quarterback or forcing turnovers, the Bulldogs are giving up big plays.
Kentucky has been noted for its notoriously slow starts and maintained their form against Georgia.
The Wildcats fumbled on their third offensive snap, leading to Georgia’s first touchdown. They fumbled on their first play after Brandon Boykin’s 100-yard kickoff return. They also turned the ball over on downs, which set up another Georgia touchdown.
All those miscues came in the first quarter. Kentucky added another fumble in the second quarter that led to a touchdown and Georgia took a 28-3 lead.
Mistakes that gave Georgia a short field hurt because the Bulldogs had trouble stopping Kentucky in the second half and the Wildcats might have won if they hadn’t dug themselves into such a deep hole.
The importance of the early miscues and Boykin’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown wasn’t lost on Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.
"In the first half, you turn the ball over three times," Phillips said. "We turned the ball over on downs and they score 21 of their 28 points on 67 yards. Then you have a kickoff return and at half our defense has only given up 96 yards total and 28 points."
Resurgent Georgia has regrouped in time to face its nemesis Florida. The Bulldogs (4-4, 3-3 in the SEC) are on a three-game winning streak while the Gators (4-3, 2-3) come off of a bye week after having lost three straight.
• Roger Clarkson is a sports writer for the Banner-Herald. E-mail: email@example.com.