ATHENS, Ga. — With that humbling loss to No. 2 Alabama behind them, the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs now turn their attention to Kentucky. But for the Bulldogs, it’s not really about Kentucky.
It’s still about Alabama.
After losing 41-24 in Tuscaloosa, Georgia wants another shot at the Crimson Tide. And the Bulldogs will get that opportunity if they can win out.
The first of those six games comes Saturday in Lexington against the Wildcats 2-3. The Bulldogs (3-1) were posted as two-touchdown favorites on Monday.
But what happens after Saturday’s noon kickoff (SEC Network) will have more to do with shoring up weak spots Alabama exposed than it will Georgia doing what it has to do to score a victory over Kentucky.
“That’s in the back of our mind,” sophomore safety Lewis Cine said of the Alabama loss. “That’s why we want to play them again. We want to get to that place (Atlanta) and play them again. It’s a very bitter taste, a very bitter taste. But from here on out we’re gonna play as hard as we can. We’re going to play every team as hard as we can.”
Georgia will be favored in all of its remaining games. The biggest hump comes a week from Saturday when it faces No. 10 Florida (2-1) in Jacksonville. Otherwise, more double-digit lines await with matchups against Missouri, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt down the stretch.
The Bulldogs have won the last three SEC East championships. This iwill be the third straight year they’ll have overcome a midseason loss to get there.
“We’re definitely confident,” running back Zamir White said of Georgia’s ability to win out. “But we know that we’ve got to work hard and come back with that locked-in mindset, ready to go and be ready for war.”
First things first, and that’s Kentucky. The Wildcats are a difficult team to figure out. They have looked alternately dominant and overmatched. Two weeks ago they scored a decisive 34-7 victory over Tennessee, their first in Knoxville in 36 years. Then they turned around and fell to meekly to Missouri this past Saturday, generating only 145 yards of offense to the Tigers’ 421.
By transitive law, Georgia should dominate Kentucky. Of course, Kirby Smart doesn’t do transitive law. The Bulldogs’ fifth-year coach had a decidedly serious, no-nonsense tone when discussing this Saturday’s matchup.
“I will tell you this, Kentucky is as physical a front that we have played,” Smart said Monday. “It showed last year. They were really physical up front. They always have been. They build their defense around that. They do a great job across the offensive and defensive lines. That’s what makes them tough to play.”
Indeed, but there is much to favor about the Bulldogs:
— Georgia is coming off an open date while Kentucky found itself in a slugfest;
— The team’s focus of the last eight days has been on shoring those up areas of weakness exposed by Alabama.
— And, finally, it’s Kentucky football. Georgia has remained almost oblivious to the Wildcats’ rise under coach Mark Stoops, winning the last 10 matchups in a row, eight of those by double-digit margins.
But then there were those deficiencies exposed in Tuscaloosa. On offense, the Bulldogs moved the ball well enough (414 yards) but were undone by three turnovers. And Georgia’s defense, which was being touted as the best in college football this year, was torched for 564 yards.
What was particularly alarming for the Bulldogs was the explosive plays it gave up to Alabama’s passing game. Quarterback Mac Jones’ three touchdown passes went for 17, 40 and 90 yards. DeVonta Smith added another 40-yard catch and he and fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle combined for 338 yards receiving and three scores.
Nine days later, Georgia’s defensive backs were still fuming about it.
“Angry? No,” said Cine, a sophomore safety from Cedar Hill, Texas. “… Mistakes were made on our part. We’re going to correct it and, God willing, we’ll play them again.”
Therein lies the motivation for the Bulldogs going forward. They know they need play significantly better the rest of the way to assure a rematch with Alabama. That starts with Kentucky.
“We know we’re going to get everyone’s nest and they’re going to get our best,” Cine said. “We have a goal ahead of us and we’re going to work toward that goal. Day in and day out we’re going to keep progressing until we get our goal.”
©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)