ATHENS, Ga. — Injuries and suspensions meant the deck was stacked against Kentucky early.
And then the Cats got decked.
Georgia handed UK its worst loss of the season, 59-17, and its 15th straight Southeastern Conference defeat on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.
“This definitely seemed like the worst of them all,” said quarterback Maxwell Smith, who was called into action early in the game when starter Jalen Whitlow went down with a recurring shoulder injury. “You know, just turnovers we had, dumb things we were doing. It just felt the worst. It just didn’t feel good at all.”
The Bulldogs won the game but may have lost one of the best players in school history when four-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray went out with a left knee injury on a sack by Za’Darius Smith in the first quarter.
But by then, on his Senior Night, Murray had done his damage, throwing for four touchdowns and 183 yards to give the Bulldogs a 28-7 lead just 17 minutes into the game.
“They came in with an attitude and they took it to us from the opening kickoff,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said.
The Cats (2-9, 0-7 SEC) entered the game down three players with the suspensions of defensive end Jason Hatcher, cornerback Cody Quinn and third-best wide receiver Demarco Robinson, who didn’t make the trip after an unspecified violation of team rules.
Robinson’s suspension was announced as “indefinite” by the school on Thursday. Hatcher and Quinn probably will return for the Cats’ season finale against Tennessee on Saturday.
UK also opened without starting safety Eric Dixon, who had to miss the first half after a targeting call against Vanderbilt last week.
Kentucky’s secondary also was making due without Nate Willis, who was injured. That made things easy for Murray, who came into his Senior Night already owning four SEC records that he collected this season.
“I don’t think it would’ve made much of a difference,” Stoops said when asked about the missing players. “Hopefully, we would’ve been a little bit more competitive and a variety of things, our packages and things. It hurt us a little bit, but there’s no excuse. We were beat from start to finish.” Murray wasted no time grabbing another league milestone.
With 137 yards and three touchdown passes in the first quarter, Murray became the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 or more yards in four seasons.
Georgia, which beat Kentucky for a fourth straight time, needed slightly less than a minute and just three plays to go 59 yards and score on Murray’s 9-yard pass to McGowan to open the game.
On its first three series, Kentucky went a combined seven plays for minus-8 yards before Whitlow went out.
Smith was called into service and finished 10-for-16 passing for 149 yards and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Javess Blue.
With 7:28 to go in the first quarter, Murray found Todd Gurley for a 16-yard touchdown pass to cap an 11-play, 76-yard drive.
After Whitlow’s fumble and injury at the Cats’ 15-yard line, the Bulldogs needed just two plays for Murray to find a wide-open Arthur Lynch for a 1-yard touchdown to give Georgia 21-0 advantage.
After managing negative-8 yards up until then, Kentucky’s Dyshawn Mobley broke free and went 69 yards for the touchdown, the first of the sophomore’s career.
He was the bright spot for a Kentucky offense that managed just 211 total yards, compared to Georgia’s 602 . The Cats’ offense had familiar problems, including going 3-for-12 on third downs. The Bulldogs converted on five of their nine attempts on third down.
Georgia extended its lead two minutes into the second quarter when Murray found his tight end again and Lynch took it 8 yards for the score. It was Murray’s fourth touchdown of the game, just 17 minutes in.
Murray also had four passing TDs against the Cats in the win in Lexington last season. But the probable first-round NFL Draft pick didn’t have a chance to keep adding to his SEC records when he was sacked by Smith midway through the second quarter.
Murray’s backup, Hutson Mason, who had gone 11-for-16 for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception in two previous games this season, needed just 53 seconds to lead the Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3) down the field for a five-play, 57-yard drive.
He threw for 199 yards and a touchdown in relief of Murray.
Kentucky’s third quarter was not one Neal Brown wants to relive anytime soon.
“The third quarter was about as bad as anything I’ve been a part of,” UK’s offensive coordinator said. UK had eight rush attempts for negative-14 yards in that quarter, which also included two UK turnovers. “I was as disappointed as about any team I’ve ever been a part of in the third quarter.”
Stoops, Brown and their players struggled to figure out what happened, what went wrong and why.
“I don’t know,” Brown said. “It didn’t feel like we had the same fight. Obviously the performance wasn’t very good.”
UK’s head coach called it a “tough night” all around.
“None of us like to go through nights like this,” he said. “We’ve been competitive. We’ve been fighting and tonight’s a night that I’m not real proud of and I told the team that.”
With 12 seconds left in the half, Mason found Gurley for a 24-yard pass give Georgia a 35-10 advantage.
UK got the ball back with 10 seconds to play. Jojo Kemp ran for short yardage, then was carried off the field with an ankle injury. He returned in the third quarter, but was gimpy.
At halftime, the Bulldogs had 350 yards of offense to 106 for the Cats.
Kentucky’s second half was one disaster after another.
The Cats opened the half by going three plays for minus-14 yards. Then Landon Foster’s punt was tipped at the line of scrimmage to give UGA the ball back at the UK 39-yard line.
The Bulldogs needed only five plays and 1:23 to go up 42-10 on Mason’s 1-yard sneak.
On UK’s next possession, Raymond Sanders was stripped by safety Josh Harvey Clemons on the first play.
Two plays later, it was J.J. Green’s turn to run in a score from 6yards out and give the Bulldogs a 49-10 lead.
Kentucky was able to move the ball on its next series, going 53 yards down the field, but when the Cats went for it on fourth down at the Georgia 6-yard line, UK was flagged for a false start and then Smith was sacked for a loss and fumbled.
Playing multiple positions, freshman Blake McClain led UK with a career-high 12 tackles, including seven solo. Ashely Lowery added 10 tackles.