UK Football

Kentucky-Georgia predictions: A soggy forecast could prove pivotal Saturday

It’s almost game time. Here are some final thoughts about how the game between Kentucky and Georgia could play out Saturday in Athens:

100 x 2

I suspect two players will rush for more than 100 yards in Athens. What are the chances of one being a Kentucky runner?

Georgia is almost guaranteed to have one. The Bulldogs in six games against Kentucky in the Mark Stoops era have piled up no fewer than 215 rushing yards in each, and have gone for 300 or more on four occasions. They’ve had a 100-yard rusher in all six of those meetings, and last year — when they racked up 340 yards against a Kentucky squad that would finish 10-3 — had two.

Georgia star D’Andre Swift is most likely to top 100 yards for the seventh time in his career. The junior has amassed 573 yards on 89 carries this season and could be among the first few running backs taken in next year’s NFL Draft. Swift last year posted a then-career high 156 yards on 16 carries at Kentucky (he topped that with 186 yards on 17 carries the next week against Auburn).

Brian Herrien, who last week dealt with back spasms and didn’t touch the ball against South Carolina, had a career-best 88 yards on 11 carries at Tennessee two Saturdays ago. He could be a threat to give Georgia two finishers in triple digits. Redshirt freshman Zamir White, formerly a top-10 recruit, has played in five games this year and had a career-high 12 carries in Herrien’s absence last week.

UK’s ground game in these meetings has been less-than-optimal under Stoops. The Cats have topped 100 yards as a team just three times — 2014, 2016 and 2017 — and once climbed above 200 yards (2014). Only Boom Williams (2014) and Benny Snell (2016) have cracked the 100-yard mark for Kentucky under Stoops; Snell’s performance came in the closest Georgia defeat in that span, 27-24.

I’ll give UK the benefit of the doubt and say it gets a 100-yard guy, assuming one among the Lynn Bowden-A.J. Rose-Kavosiey Smoke trio can break off at least one big burst.

Dual quarterback

Lynn Bowden starts for the second week in a row, but we’ll see Sawyer Smith re-emerge. Neither was announced as the definitive starter this week.

Whether it’s because of a true dual-quarterback design, the game’s out of hand early and the staff wants to see where Smith is at for an extended period before Missouri or — the absolute worst-case scenario — their hand is forced due to a Bowden injury, I think Smith gets on the field at Georgia.

Co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday that both Bowden and Smith are ready to go at full speed.

“It’s really a good situation for us,” Gran said. “ ... I thought (Smith) came out and practiced well and his reads were really good. He threw the ball well, you could see some zip on the ball for the first time. So the time off has really helped.”

Georgia probably less than any other team left on Kentucky’s schedule cares about whom the Cats have under center; it’s more concerned about addressing the interceptions, missed assignments and errant field-goal tries that aided in it coming up empty on 11 of its 15 possessions against South Carolina.

The Bulldogs didn’t sack a South Carolina quarterback last week but hurried them 17 times, matching its total against Arkansas State (their high this year twice was 25, against Murray State and Tennessee). Whomever is under center will need to make snap decisions with frequency to keep the offense humming, and will probably need some help from the defense in the scoring department: South Carolina put up less than 300 yards in Athens last week but used an interception return TD to earn the upset.

Kentucky ranks 11th in the SEC at 384.3 yards per game, right behind the Gamecocks.

“We haven’t been a rolling ball of butcher knives,” Gran said. “We’re trying to improve and get better each and every day. We got a little bit better last week and we’re gonna have to get a lot better this week.”

Wet ‘n’ wild

The weather could be optimal for running the ball and havoc ensuing. Saturday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and lots of rain.

With that in mind, it’s easier to suggest something unorthodox or wacky happens: a defensive back slips after misreading a receiver’s route and attempting to cut back; a team goes for it early on fourth-and-2 in the red zone rather than settling for a field goal; a handoff is fumbled, recovered by a defensive tackle and returned for a TD.

“It’s the same for both (teams),” Stoops said Thursday. “You’ve just got to deal with it the best you can. Obviously, I think everybody knows it comes down to turnovers if it’s really coming down. So you’ve just got to protect the ball the best you can.”

Final score

Georgia 38, Kentucky 14: Between its demonstrated ability to dominate football games and the extra motivation it now has to not blow another one in 2019, No. 10 Georgia is not going to sleepwalk against a UK team that, on its best night, would have a chance. Kentucky is coming off its most impressive showing since the middle part of the Florida game and for the first time this year showed resolve in the face of adversity. I’d take the Wildcats to cover the spread in Vegas, but it’s tough to foresee a victory.

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.