There had been much talk this season about knocking down doors at Kentucky.
And while the No. 9 Cats have burst through their share of them already this season, a win over No. 6 Georgia proved to be a one-ton vault with a code that Kentucky just couldn’t crack.
On a day when UK was going to have to play its best if it wanted to crash the Southeastern Conference championship game party for the first time in school history, few things went its way.
Kentucky, which was tied for first nationally in scoring defense allowing just 13 points per game, didn’t have the game it needed as Georgia racked up 444 yards to top UK 34-17 on Saturday at Kroger Field.
In front of a sold-out 63,543 fans, the largest crowd in the newly named stadium’s brief history, the Bulldogs topped the Cats for a ninth straight time behind running backs D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield.
The duo ran for a combined 271 yards and three touchdowns against a Kentucky run defense that came into the game allowing just 108.5 yards per contest. Swift led the way with 156 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
UK Coach Mark Stoops warned on Monday that Swift and Holyfield were more of the same for the Bulldogs, who starred Nick Chubb and Sony Michel last season.
“When you think of Georgia, you know they have talented running backs and certainly with Holyfield and Swift, they’re very good runners,” Stoops said. “Physical, run you over. Their line is really, really good, really talented, physical.
“Their backs will run down hill and they can run around you. Swift is electric and Holyfield is so darn tough and gets tough yards, talented. They’re good. Just like you would expect when you’re playing these guys.”
Kentucky’s coach was a truth teller and Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) was stellar, gaining more yardage against UK than any other opponent this season on its way to a second straight league championship game on Dec. 1..
Quarterback Jake Fromm completed 14 of 20 passes for 113 yards and a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Isaac Nauta that put the Bulldogs on the board first, 7-0, early in the first quarter.
Nauta’s score capped a quick, four-play drive that was set up by a 65-yard punt return by Mecole Hardman.
Kentucky’s defense helped set up the Cats (7-2, 5-2) first score of the game when Josh Allen pounced on a high snap turned fumble to Fromm. UK went 50 yards downfield in 15 plays, but the drive stalled thanks to familiar foes: a penalty and a sack of Wilson.
So the Cats had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Chance Poore to make it 7-3 Georgia with eight minutes left in the first half.
Swift extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 14-3 with 2:28 left before the break with his 20-yard touchdown run where he made at least one UK defender whiff. Two others failed to bring him down.
The Cats got lucky at the end of the first half when another bobbled snap ended up with Allen on top of it at the UK 29-yard line. UK ran time out of the first half with one 3-yard play and then went back to the locker room to regroup.
In the third quarter, Holyfield added a 4-yard touchdown run and Swift had an 83-yarder to give the Bulldogs a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
A few minutes later, Benny Snell added a 9-yard touchdown run of his own, which put him over 1,000 yards for the season. The junior running back is the first player in UK history to run for 1,000 or more yards in three seasons.
Snell ended the night with 20 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Terry Wilson completed 23 of 29 passes for 226 yards and a quirky touchdown to A.J. Rose with nine minutes to play.
Kentucky was outgained 444-310 overall and 331-84 on the ground.
Next up for Kentucky is a game at Tennessee where the Cats will be without leading tackler Darius West for the first half after the senior safety was ejected for targeting call.
Another ejected UK player, offensive lineman Bunchy Stallings, will be able to play the full game at Tennessee despite being tossed in the second half for grabbing an official.