No. 7 Georgia hosts Kentucky with no more room for error
By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia's path to the College Football Playoff has no more room for error.
A crushing loss to Auburn left the No. 7 Bulldogs down but not out.
Another defeat Saturday against the resurgent Kentucky Wildcats would surely be a knockout blow.
"We have moved on," said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, deflecting any attempts to dwell on last weekend's 40-17 debacle against the Tigers. "We have to go get ready for Kentucky and that is really where our focus is."
After two giddy weeks atop the CFP rankings, the Bulldogs (9-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) plummeted six spots in the latest standings. Yet there's every reason to believe they would wind up in the top four - and, therefore, a playoff spot - if they win their next three games.
Georgia closes the regular season against rival Georgia Tech and has already claimed a spot in the SEC championship game, where the Bulldogs will face either No. 1 Alabama or get a rematch against No. 6 Auburn.
"I just feel like we have so much ahead of us," Bulldogs defensive back Aaron Davis said. "We've just got to go out there and take care of business, in order for those things to be possible for us."
The Wildcats (7-3, 4-3) are feeling pretty good about themselves.
They have their best 10-game record since 2007 after a dominating 44-21 victory at Vanderbilt, and an upset of Georgia would leave Kentucky with a winning season in the SEC for the first time in 40 years.
"I hope it sustains the confidence that we've had," Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. "They understand what it takes to play consistent football across the board in this league for 12 or 13 weeks. It's very difficult, but that's what we're striving for."
Two of Kentucky's losses were by a total of four points, so Stoops' team is just a couple of plays away from being 9-1.
That certainly gnaws at him.
"We as coaches never want to look back," Stoops said, "but don't think for a minute that there isn't a human side of me that asks `What if?' I remember bad beats for 20 years, so I'll never forget bad beats and you always try to learn and grow from them."
Stoops expects the Bulldogs to bounce back from their ugly loss.
"Sometimes things aren't as drastic as they look. You know, a few plays here and there and things change," he said. "Georgia is a fantastic football team and there is no doubt, just like we have responded, that they will be back at it."
Here are some other things to watch for when Georgia hosts Kentucky, looking for its eighth straight win in the series:
RUNNING BACK U: Led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia's running game had been one of the best in the nation. But the Bulldogs were totally shut down by Auburn, which limited them to 46 yards on 32 carries. Chubb (11 carries, 27 yards) and Michel (nine carries, 21 yards) both had their worst games of the season. They'll be looking to bounce back against a Kentucky defense that ranks fourth in the SEC (121.6 yards per game) but has surrendered more than 200 yards three times.
THOUSAND-YARD BENNY: Kentucky sophomore Benny Snell Jr. has already become the first player in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He figures to get plenty of chances against the Bulldogs, especially out of the wildcat formation that Auburn used with great success. "We did not stop the run real well last week," Smart said. "We are getting an opportunity this week to play a team that is hell-bent on running the ball."
EYES ON FROMM: It will be interesting to see how Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm responds to the first loss of his college career. He completed only 13 of 28 passes while facing enormous pressure from the Auburn defense, which sacked him four times, hurried him on six other throws and pretty much spent the entire game in the youngster's face. Kentucky's "Blitz Brothers" - Josh Allen and Denzil Ware - will be looking to rattle Fromm as much as possible, hoping he's a bit gun shy after the beating he took against the Tigers.
BIG PLAY DEFENDERS: Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith has 82 tackles - 24 more than anyone else on the team - to go along with 2.5 sacks and 10 quarterback pressures. Kentucky safety Mike Edwards leads his team in tackles (80) and is tied for the SEC lead with four interceptions.
JUST FOR KICKS: Both teams have strong kicking games. Austin MacGinnis is Kentucky's career scoring leader and has connected on 18 of 23 field goal attempts this season, with all of his misses coming from at least 48 yards out. Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship is 12 of 14 and perfect from inside 40 yards.
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Updated November 17, 2017