Georgia turnaround offers ray of hope for Kentucky football

Bulldogs not only survived losing first two, but now thriving

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 19, 2011 

  • SEC standings

    EAST

    Conf. All

    Georgia 6-1 8-2

    South Carolina 6-2 8-2

    Florida 3-5 5-5

    Vanderbilt 2-5 5-5

    Kentucky 1-5 4-6

    Tennessee 0-6 4-6

    WEST

    LSU 6-0 10-0

    Alabama 6-1 9-1

    Arkansas 5-1 9-1

    Auburn 4-3 6-4

    Mississippi St. 1-5 5-5

    Mississippi 0-6 2-8

    Saturday's games

    Citadel at South Carolina, noon

    Kentucky at Georgia, 12:21 p.m.

    Furman at Florida, 1 p.m.

    Georgia Southern at Alabama, 1 p.m.

    Samford at Auburn, 1 p.m.

    Mississippi State at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m.

    LSU at Mississippi, 7 p.m.

    Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 7 p.m.

Maybe Kentucky can learn a few things from its opponent this afternoon.

Georgia was 0-2 to start the season. The Bulldogs' head coach was on the hot seat. The future was looking cloudy in Athens.

But storms pass.

Now the No. 13 Bulldogs are one of the hottest teams in the country, having won eight straight games. They are one win over UK from advancing to the Southeastern Conference championship game.

How did they turn it around?

"We never lost confidence in ourselves, our teammates or our coaches," quarterback Aaron Murray said this week. "We've just been chipping away, chipping away and we gained confidence."

That's the formula UK would like to use as it tries to defy the naysayers and oddsmakers by bouncing back from a 30-point loss to Vanderbilt with a win at Georgia (8-2, 6-1 SEC).

"We've just got to continue to stay focused," Coach Joker Phillips said when asked what the team had to do to win this weekend. "We've got to make some plays."

If UK could pull off the big upset Saturday, it would be one win over Tennessee away from getting back to its sixth straight bowl game.

"These two games are huge," offensive lineman Billy Joe Murphy said, "not only for this team but for this program. We've got to see it that way, and I think we do."

The players said the Cats aren't as bad as they showed in the loss at Vanderbilt.

Tight end Nick Melillo said it's about making plays and not worrying about the outside factors.

"We have to go out there and get in a rhythm," he said of the offense. "We need to get second-and-short and third-and-manageable and make plays to keep drives going because we've shown when we can go out there and make plays and keep drives going, we're a good offense.

"We just have to keep the defense off the field, so they can rest. They've shown when they can rest, they're a pretty good defense."

UK is still searching for consistency, Murphy said.

"The whole key is consistency," Murphy said. "We haven't been very consistent. ... We've shown we can play well. We've shown we can play really, really bad."

Georgia has had a way of making teams play really, really badly this season. The latest victim was No. 24 Auburn, which was throttled 45-7.

The cards are stacked against the Cats (4-6, 1-5 SEC), who are starting a true freshman quarterback in Maxwell Smith against a complex defense led by Jarvis Jones, third in the nation in sacks and Bacarri Rambo, second in the nation in interceptions with seven.

Georgia's defense ranks fourth nationally, allowing 273.3 yards a game.

The Bulldogs' offense has been potent, too, behind arguably the SEC's best quarterback in Murray and a huge offensive line.

UK's best hope for an upset is by doing what it did to win at Athens in 2009: force UGA to turn over the ball.

The Cats scored 14 points off Georgia miscues in that win, their first there since 1977.

Kentucky hopes with each positive play Saturday it can do what Georgia did early in the season: build confidence.

Players say they haven't given up on the season even if others have.

"They're good but we can beat them," Murphy said of the Bulldogs. "They're not world beaters. They've won seven or eight games in a row, but they've lost games just like anybody else has."

Vanderbilt (4-5)

results

Home games in all caps. (All times p.m., unless otherwise noted.)

Date Opponent Result

Sept. 3 ELONW, 45-14

Sept. 10 CONNECTICUT W, 24-21

Sept. 17 MISSISSIPPI W, 30-7

Sept. 24 at South Carolina L, 21-3

Oct. 8 at Alabama L, 34-0

Oct. 15 GEORGIA L, 33-28

Oct. 22 ARMY W, 44-21

Oct. 29 ARKANSAS L, 31-28

Nov. 5 at Florida L, 26-21

Date Opponent Time

Nov. 12 KENTUCKY 12:21

Nov. 19 at Tennessee 7

Nov. 26 at Wake Forest TBA

score by quarters

Teams 1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Tot

Vanderbilt 44 66 54 59 0 223

Opponents 23 72 60 53 0 208

team statistics

Vanderbilt Opponents

First downs 223 208

Rush att.-yds 314-1,422 345-1,197

Comp.-att.-int. 129-241-12 154-267-15

Yards passing 1,518 1,868

TDs rushing 17 9

TDs passing 9 11

Field goals-att. 4-8 11-16

Yards per play 5.3 5.0

Fumbles-lost 16-8 24-8

3rd-down conv. 35-118 57-139

4th-down conv. 10-13 5-12

offense

rushing

Player Att Yds Avg Lg TD

Stacy 110 756 6.9 77 6

Rodgers 68 276 4.1 40 4

Totals 314 1,422 4.5 77 17

passing

Player Cmp Att Int Yds TD

Rodgers 68 113 5 959 5

Totals 129 241 12 1,518 9

receiving

Player Rec Yds Avg. Lg TD

Matthews 23 438 19.0 48 3

Totals 129 1,518 11.8 48 9

defense

tackling

Player Total Sacks

Marve 65 1

Totals 624 18

interceptions

Player Int Yds Avg TD

Hayward 5 96 19.2 1

Totals 15 267 17.8 3

special teams

field goals

Player FGM-FGA Pct. Lg Blk

Spear 4-7 57.1 37 0

punting

Player No. Yds Avg. Lg Blk

Kent 46 192 41.7 67 1

punt returns

Player No. Yds Avg. Lg TD

Krause 13 50 3.8 18 0

Totals 21 143 6.8 24 0

kick returns

Player No. Yds Avg. Lg TD

Hal 25 611 24.4 96 1

Totals 41 922 22.5 96 1

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