The first words out of Kirby Smart’s mouth during his postgame press conference were complimentary of a Kentucky program to whom his Georgia team handed a 34-17 loss, the Wildcats’ second of the season and an outcome that decided the SEC East Division race in the Bulldogs’ favor.
“I give a lot of credit to Mark Stoops to his program and his team,” Smart said. “What he’s done here, to create this type of atmosphere and to have a game of this magnitude in Lexington, Kentucky says that the SEC is a tough place to play and there’s some good coaches in this league.”
Smart thinks UK is on track to be an SEC East challenger for the foreseeable future.
“I think they’ve got a great coaching staff,” Smart said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Eddie Gran, he’s one of the most physical offensive coordinators in the league. He believe in running the ball and being tough and physical. Their defensive coordinator does a tremendous job. If they continue to recruit at a high level, they’ll do well. They get a lot of really good football players in here out of Ohio.”
UK trailed 7-0 early after a Georgia punt return set the Bulldogs up in the red zone. The Wildcats at one point were down 28-3. Georgia was the first team to score more than 20 points against the Kentucky defense, which gave up a season-high 444 yards to the Bulldogs, including 331 on the ground.
D’Andre Swift (156 yards and two touchdowns) and Elijah Holyfield (115 yards, one TD) racked up the bulk of Georgia’s rushing totals. UK star Benny Snell during the game became the first Kentucky running back to have three 1,000-yard rushing seasons but for the second straight game (and fifth time this season) was held under 100 yards on the ground.
“It’s was definitely a point proven because there was a lot of talk about them and not a lot of talk about us,” said Holyfield, who noted that he wasn’t surprised that Georgia was able to have success in the run game. “We were waiting for a big gap. A lot of the talk was about ‘their team had the best back in the SEC’ and we felt a little chip on our shoulder about that, too, because we think we’re pretty good.”
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm thought UK was physical but some unforced errors kept his team from looking even better than it did on Saturday.
“They’re tall, they’re long and they fill up space out there on the field, but I think we should have had more points on the scoreboard,” Fromm said. “We kind of did it to ourselves with the turnovers and hopefully we clean those up next week.”
The significance of the game was not lost on the 63,543 who attended it. That was the most for a UK home game since 2015, when renovations that reduced stadium capacity were completed.
Holyfield was a freshman when he made his first trip to Lexington. About 1,000 fewer fans attended that game in 2016.
“I saw it was really crazy then, and this game was really, really fun to see,” Holyfield said. “I was very excited to come back because the atmosphere is great up here.”
Fromm was equally impressed.
“It’s blue everywhere,” Fromm said. “Their fans are really loud and they had the music kinda in between and stuff. It’s a great atmosphere, a great playing field and it was fun. It was really fun.”