The joy of six will have to wait for Kentucky.
Georgia made sure of it, marching 67 yards in nine plays in the waning seconds to win it 27-24 on a short field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship on Saturday night.
The 25-yarder as the clock ticked down to zero silenced a rowdy crowd of 62,507 at Commonwealth Stadium, wanting to witness the Cats’ six years of bowl game futility end and perhaps see Kentucky claim the top spot in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
Instead they saw the Bulldogs (5-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) halt their own two-game losing streak and win their seventh in a row over Kentucky.
“We had some good times and tonight was a hard loss and it was teed up,” Coach Mark Stoops said of the environment and the chances to break old records and set new bars.
“I appreciated that support because it was a great environment and you wanted to deliver, and again, a game comes down to a few plays.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Cats, who next will try to gain bowl eligibility at Tennessee on Saturday. The week after that, the Cats have a matchup with winless Austin Peay on Nov. 19.
Kentucky and Georgia traded points in the fourth quarter and found themselves knotted at 24 with 2:47 to go before Georgia’s Blankenship hit the game-winner, one of four field goals for the redshirt freshman on the night.
After plenty of drama resulted in several empty back-and-forths between the teams in the second half, Georgia finally did what Georgia is known to do: It ran the ball, going up 24-21 on a 26-yard run by Sony Michel, followed by a two-point conversion from Eason to Isaac Nauta.
Kentucky responded with a 14-play drive — 10 on runs by Benny Snell — that went 6:25 and resulted in an Austin MacGinnis 25-yard field goal to tie it 24-24 with 2:47 to go.
The Cats were hoping for more points to put an exclamation point on that drive, but a Stephen Johnson pass in the corner to Dorian Baker didn’t connect.
“We had a chance to throw it in and it didn’t happen,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of the play. “We had a pretty good drive there to have a chance to win the game and we didn’t finish.
“You’ve got to finish that drive. We didn’t finish a lot of drives and that’s disappointing.”
The Bulldogs outgained Kentucky 460-308, including 215-186 on the ground. Michel led the way with 127 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Nick Chubb added 85 yards on 21 carries.
In a lot of ways, the game-deciding plays happened well before the Blankenship field goal split the uprights. They included a series of turnovers in the second half:
A fumbled pass by Garrett Johnson that Georgia turned into a field goal.
A bobbled Jeff Badet catch that landed in the arms Georgia’s Deandre Baker.
Another Stephen Johnson fumble shortly thereafter that UK center Jon Toth managed to pounce on.
Kentucky now has turned the ball over 22 times this season, resulting in 86 points for opponents. The miscues equaled only three points Saturday, but they caused their own kind of damage.
“The turnovers were the difference, or a big part of it,” Stoops said. “That can’t happen because it was putting the defense in some bad spots. Those possessions really hurt.”
When Kentucky running back Boom Williams thinks about the plays that changed the game, he goes back to “some routine plays that we normally make,” he said. “You have to make those routine plays to put yourself in position. We didn’t make those plays and it ended up coming back to hurt us in the end.”
Georgia opened the scoring, 7-0, behind a big play from Jacob Eason on third-and-11 and the nearly full stadium roaring. The freshman quarterback found speedy Isaiah McKenzie for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Cats (5-4, 4-3) answered with a five-play drive that included a little more trickery out of the Wildcat formation, a key 30-yard run from Williams and a 3-yard power run for Snell, who had 114 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Williams added 77 yards and a score of his own.
On the next play, Georgia answered immediately with a pretty, 51-yard pass from Eason to Javon Wims, but the Bulldogs couldn’t fully capitalize, instead settling for a 25-yard field goal to go up 10-7.
Special teams did its part next when Marcus McWilson’s monster hit on a punt return caused McKenzie to cough up the ball, which J.D. Harmon immediately pounced on.
Starting at their own 38-yard line, the Cats found the end zone on a pretty play where Williams ran off two tight ends on the left side and carried two members of the Georgia secondary into the end zone to put UK up 14-10 in the second quarter.
Blankenship hit his second field goal of the night, this time from 42 yards out, to pull the Bulldogs within a point, 14-13 with 3:53 to go in the first half.
Both teams had a chance to make a play or two that could’ve put more points on the board in the final minutes of the first half, but they were unable. UK went into the locker room up 14-13.
UK’s defense opened the second half with a huge play, with Josh Allen forcing a Chubb fumble, which was grabbed up by Chris Westry at the Georgia 33-yard line.
The Cats’ defense was led by Mike Edwards’ career-high 13 tackles. Jordan Jones added 10 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss as well as a pass breakup. Allen added eight tackles.
The defense played well at times, but couldn’t make the stops at the end, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.
“That was a tough drive at the end, gave up too many easy throws and we didn’t stop them in the run game there at the end,” he said.
Next up for Kentucky is a trip to Tennessee for a noon kickoff on Saturday. The Vols halted a three-game slide with a 55-0 win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday. Tennessee has won four in a row over UK, and the Cats haven’t won in Knoxville since 1984.
“It sucks to lose; no one likes to lose,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to get ready, watch this film, be ready to take coaching and be ready to play a good Tennessee team.”
The Kentucky team that fell in the final seconds drew the praise of Georgia Coach Kirby Smart.
“I know a lot of people talk about them being Kentucky, but that’s a good football team,” he said. “They’re an extremely physical football team. ... Make no qualms about it, that’s a good team.”
The Bulldogs didn’t quit, though. And that pleased their coach.
“They never quit,” Smart said. “They fight as hard as any group I’ve ever been around and they just challenge each other. … I’m proud of them.”
Kentucky at Tennessee
Noon Saturday (SEC Network)