Five things you need to know from Kentucky football’s 30-13 loss to the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs:
1. Kentucky made Georgia throw — and paid. Since Kirby Smart became Georgia coach in 2016, the Bulldogs had punished Kentucky in the run game. In the Bulldogs’ five games vs UK before 2021, the Dawgs had averaged 275.4 yards rushing and had at least one back rush for over 100 yards in every game.
So it made sense for the UK defensive brain trust to enter Saturday’s game with a plan to force Georgia to the air.
In a sign of how well-balanced Kirby Smart’s No. 1 Bulldogs are, Stetson Bennett and the Georgia tight ends made the Cats pay.
Bennett, once a walk-on and ostensibly the Dawgs backup quarterback, turned in a poised, polished performance. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Georgia tight ends were responsible for eight of Georgia’s catches for 158 yards. Freshman Brock Bowers, the breakout star of Georgia’s 2021 offense, caught five passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Darnell Washington caught two passes for 37 yards, while John FitzPatrick had one reception for 20 yards.
UK held Georgia under 200 yards rushing (166) for the first time in the Smart coaching era.
It didn’t matter.
2. The Big Blue Wall met its match. As stellar as Georgia’s defensive metrics were entering the game, I thought UK’s veteran offensive line could open holes to run — at least a little bit — on anyone.
That turned out not to be the case.
Georgia dominated Kentucky at the line of scrimmage, holding the Cats to 51 net yards rushing on 27 carries.
UK star running back Christopher Rodriguez — one of two backs to rush for over 100 yards (108 yards on 20 carries) vs. Georgia in 2020 — was limited to 7 yards on seven carries.
Kentucky’s leading rusher, Kavosiey Smoke, had 14 yards on five carries.
Everything UK does offensively is predicated on the Cats’ ability to run the ball.
Given the extent to which Georgia took the Wildcats rushing attack away, Kentucky had no chance to win the game.
3. Will Levis played well. Given the level of defense the Kentucky quarterback was facing, Levis did a good job.
The Penn State transfer completed 32 of 42 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Kentucky also had at least four dropped passes in the game.
Levis was not able to hurt Georgia with the deep ball, but for the second straight game, he did not turn the ball over and was accurate in where he placed his throws.
Given how he has played the past two weeks against LSU and Georgia, Levis could be sitting on a big second half of the season following next week’s open date.
4. No breakthroughs for Mark Stoops this week. With the loss, Stoops failed to join Bear Bryant, Charlie Bradshaw and Rich Brooks as UK head men with victories over No. 1-ranked opponents.
Stoops is now 1-14 against top-10 foes as UK head coach (the win came earlier this season over then-No. 10 Florida).
Stoops is now 55-51 as Kentucky head coach and still needs six more victories to pass Bear Bryant (60-23-5) as the winningest head man in UK history.
The current Wildcats coach is now two defeats from passing Bill Curry (26-52) for the most losses suffered by a Kentucky head man.
5. Cats denied a new SEC East distinction. With the defeat, Kentucky has now lost 12 straight to Georgia.
Had the Wildcats claimed victory, UK would have won its most recent contest with every SEC East rival for the first time since the conference split into divisions in 1992.
Kentucky also failed in its bid to become only the fifth team in school history to begin a season with seven straight wins.
For its battle with No. 1 Georgia for the SEC East lead, Kentucky wore silver chrome helmets, white jerseys with blue numbers and letters and white pants.
Since the start of the 2015 season, UK is now 2-2 in silver chrome helmets with all-white uniforms.
An early look ahead to the Kentucky Wildcats’ next football game:
The opponent: After an open date (Oct. 23), Kentucky (6-1, 4-1 SEC) will face Mississippi State (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday, Oct. 30, at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
Game time and television information for UK vs. MSU will be announced by the SEC office on Monday.
Coach Mike Leach’s Bulldogs hosted and lost to No. 5 Alabama, 49-9, on Saturday.
Before facing Kentucky, MSU will play at Vanderbilt on Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. (EDT).
Series history: Is tied, as Kentucky and Mississippi State have played 48 times with each team winning 24 times.
After State won seven in a row over UK from 2009 through 2015, the Wildcats have taken three of the last five.
Most recent meeting: Kentucky intercepted a whopping six passes and held Mike Leach’s version of the Air Raid offense without a touchdown for the first time in the coach’s then-19-plus years as a head man in a 24-2 win over Mississippi State on Oct. 10, 2020, at Kroger Field.
Interestingly, five of the six UK picks came from linebackers or defensive linemen — Jamin Davis, D’Eryk Jackson, Josh Paschal, Boogie Watson and Jordan Wright (a pick-six). Cornerback Kelvin Joseph had the only interception by a Kentucky defensive back.
Thanks to its ball-hawking defense, UK won going away in spite of the Wildcats gaining only 157 yards of total offense, a measly 84 on the ground, against a stout MSU defense.
Know your foe:
1. In the Mark Stoops coaching era, Starkville has consistently been one of UK’s most challenging road trips.
Stoops is 0-4 in Davis Wade Stadium. His first Kentucky team in 2013 played MSU tough in Starkville on a Thursday night before falling 28-22.
Since then, Stoops has never come close to winning at Mississippi State, falling 42-16 (2015), 45-7 (2017) and 28-13 (2019).
UK has not won at MSU since a 14-13 Cats victory in 2008 — the first game current Green Bay Packers wideout Randall Cobb started at quarterback for Kentucky and the only one (out of four career starts) he would win as a Wildcats QB.
2. As UK head coach, Stoops is 5-6 in games that immediately follow open dates. After starting 2-5 in such contests, the Kentucky head man has won three of the past four such games.
3. In Mike Leach’s second season as MSU head man, the Bulldogs’ offense version of “The Air Raid” offense has been so-so.
Entering the games of Oct. 16, Mississippi State — as one would expect — led the SEC in passing, averaging 372.4 yards a game.
However, MSU was last in the league in rushing, producing a paltry 56.2 yards a game. Going into the Alabama contest, Mississippi State was ninth in the SEC in total offense (428.6 yards a game) and 11th in points a game (27.8).