Coming into the 2021 season, most college football fans probably didn’t predict that the Kentucky vs. Georgia matchup would be for first place in the SEC East. But as Saturday approaches, all eyes are on Athens as these two teams prepare to battle it out. As you might infer from the betting line, the experts aren’t giving Kentucky much of a chance. FanDuel has them as a 23.5 point underdog. But, as we witnessed last Saturday in College Station, massive upsets can actually happen.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) celebrates a touchdown during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against LSU in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
The one area of this game in which Georgia holds a distinct advantage is on defense, which means Kentucky’s offensive line will have to find ways to give Will Levis enough time in the pocket. As Mark Stoops discussed on Monday, the Dawgs’ defense is playing at a ridiculous level this season.
“They put a lot of pressure on you because they’re good. Lining up in their base defense and playing, they’re good. Then you start mixing in any kind of pressures or different looks. The big thing for Will will be him having some time. The protection being good, guys getting open, it will be a challenge for everybody. They give up 200 yards a game or something ridiculous. They’re No. 1 in our league by like 100-and-some yards, giving up 50-some a game rushing. They are playing at a ridiculous level defensively.”
So, in order for Levis to control the offense, he’ll have to rely on the rushing attack, which combined for 251 yards against LSU. This was the type of outing that the Wildcats needed, especially since they got another running back, Kavosiey Smoke, in the flow. That will only benefit them in Athens. But Smoke earned this playing time through his practice habits and gaining the trust of his coaches, according to Stoops.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, center, slaps hands with rapper Waka Flocka Flame, left, after winning an NCAA college football game against Florida in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb) ((AP Photo/Michael Clubb))
“I felt like Kavosiey (Smoke) was starting to take it to another level. Again, it comes with his approach through the week. As coaches get more and more confident in players when they are consistent and they are consistently doing good things. Sometimes young players don’t understand that, ‘What do I have to do?’ You have to do things right, all the time. It’s a pretty big deal for us when they don’t. It doesn’t mean anybody is perfect. Guys are going to make mistakes. But some guys have earned your trust through the course of thousands of reps.”
On defense, Kentucky has already taken a hit, due to an injury Octavious Oxendine sustained late in the game against LSU. He is now out for the season. This is a big blow to the defensive line, especially given how much Georgia runs the football. There’s no way of sugar coating it, especially with Marquan McCall already dealing with his own injury. This Georgia running back group has already rushed for 1,183 yards through six games, which doesn’t bode well for the Wildcats.
The one area that Kentucky could cause problems for Georgia will be Will Levis’ playmaking ability outside the pocket. His ability to scramble when the pocket collapses has garnered success at times this season. So, as the Dawgs bring the house, Levis will rely on Wan’Dale Robinson to find the open space deep, but it will be a challenge in the play-action game.
There’s no denying the Georgia offense will cause the Wildcats trouble, no matter who the starting QB for the Dawgs is. We’ve seen Stetson Bennett cause problems for multiple teams this season, and he has a rushing attack he can rely on.
Kentucky wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
This is the biggest test Kentucky will face this season, so how they respond coming out of the gates will determine this game. If the Wildcats are going to be in this one when the 4th quarter begins, they have to keep Georgia from stomping them in the 1st quarter. If you remember the last big game in Athens, Arkansas was done by the end of the first half because Georgia had capitalized on all their mistakes.
If Kentucky wants a shot on Saturday, they’ll need to punch the Dawgs in the mouth, straight out of the gate.