LEXINGTON, Ky.— Hardly anything went right for Georgia two weekends ago in a four-touchdown drubbing at South Carolina and the No. 13 Bulldogs didn’t look much like a title contender for much of Saturday night against lowly Kentucky.
Guess what? Georgia still will head to its annual trip to Jacksonville Saturday with things having fallen together rather nicely around the Bulldogs.
Georgia controls its own destiny in the SEC East race now before its shot at unbeaten Florida.
The Bulldogs ensured that was the case thanks to a big night from quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdowns in a less-than-impressive 29-24 victory before 54,553 at Commonwealth Stadium on a night Murray set Georgia’s career record for touchdown passes.
“It got a little scary at points, but all that matters is we got the W at the end of the day,” Murray said. “We definitely didn’t play as well as we wanted to in all facets of the game, but it’s tough to go anywhere in the SEC. You saw South Carolina come here three or four weeks ago and have a tough time as well.”
Beating the Wildcats was expected to be the easy part Saturday given the Wildcats’ struggles this season. It was anything but.
“You know what? I’m happy with the victory,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said more than 10 minutes into his postgame news conference. “What are we now? 6-1. That’s a good thing.”
The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) trailed for much of the first half, by a point in the third quarter and allowed the Wildcats to go 75 yards on a touchdown drive that ended on a three-yard scoring run from Raymond Sanders with 3:59 left to pull within five. Georgia’s Connor Norman then recovered an onsides kick and the Bulldogs ran down the clock.
The big piece of the puzzle on the day was put in place before the Bulldogs kicked off when the Gators blasted South Carolina 44-11 in Gainesville.
Richt and the Bulldogs were openly rooting for the Gators (7-0, 6-0) to beat South Carolina (6-2, 4-2).
Now they resume their role as fierce rivals.
The Bulldogs will be underdogs to the No. 3 Gators and will probably need to step up their game in a big way after fighting to get by a team that lost for the sixth straight time and had lost by an average of 28.5 points in SEC play.
“That’s why you play on Saturdays,” Richt said of the challenge against the Gators.
Georgia was favored by 25 ½ against the Wildcats, but their issues on defense and special teams remain. On a night Murray moved past David Greene on Georgia’s career touchdown passing list, the Wildcats gashed Georgia for 206 rushing yards despite entering the game ranked last in the SEC and 106th in the nation.
The Wildcats (1-7, 0-5) hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter in 20 games since the last regular season game of the 2010 season against Tennessee, but Jonathan George had 42 of Kentucky’s 68 rushing yards on the opening drive. The Wildcats brought in backup quarterback Morgan Newton, who threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Boyd.
Kentucky led 14-7 after the Wildcats dipped into its back of tricks to set up its second touchdown.
Quarterback Jared Whitlow threw a backwards pass to Demarco Robinson, who tossed a pass across to Whitlow that was tipped by nose guard John Jenkins but caught and taken for 33 yards. Two plays later, Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 11:54 left in the second quarter.
“I didn’t think we got off to the start we wanted to,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Give them credit. Abry (Jones) went down on like the third play (reaggravating a left ankle injury) and that dinged our rotation a little bit throughout the game. … We found a way to win the game, and, hey. move on.”
Georgia got on the scoreboard when Murray hit Tavarres King (9 catches, 188 yards, two touchdowns) on a 66-yard touchdown. Murray used a pump fake and King got behind sophomores Miles Simpson and Asheley Lowery with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the Bulldogs’ second scoring drive in the second quarter, Murray looked a little gimpy after he was tackled on one play, but he connected with King for 48 yards and moved past David Greene on career touchdown list with a 1-yard pass to King. He finished the game with 75.
Marshall Morgan, who missed an extra point, made a 27-yard field goal that caromed off the left upright and went through to give Georgia a 16-14 halftime lead.
Murray hit Chris Conley on a 22-yard touchdown for a 22-17 lead and Georgia tacked on another touchdown after a drive was kept alive when Kentucky’s Mike Douglas ran into punter Collin Barber, giving the Bulldogs the ball at its own 25.
Murray led Georgia down field and hit tight end Arthur Lynch on a 10-yard touchdown to make it 29-17 to give the Bulldogs enough cushion to escape Lexington without being an upset victim.
“I think against Florida,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said, “we’ll play a hell of a lot better because that’s our last shot at getting anywhere for the season.”