They say the key to successful coaching is the ability to hide weaknesses. Coming into Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, Georgia was 14th in the SEC — dead last — in punting. The Bulldogs have averaged a putrid 35.8 yards a kick.
So Mark Richt and his brain trust found an ingenious way to make that not matter one bit: Have their offense play so well, you never have to punt.
Kentucky got rocked and rolled by a talented Georgia attack that, coming off a disappointing loss to Florida, clearly had a point to prove.
A Senior Day crowd of 60,152 watched Georgia hang 63 points and 559 yards on UK in a 63-31 victory. Even that hardly scratches the surface of how thoroughly the Bulldogs dominated the defenseless Wildcats. Consider these grim numbers:
Georgia had 11 offensive possessions. Nine of them ended in touchdowns. The other two drives concluded with the Bulldogs letting the clock run out at the end of each half.
The Dawgs ran 60 plays from scrimmage — a whopping 21 of them went for 10 yards or more.
In those 60 plays, the Kentucky defense only got Georgia to third down eight times.
The Bulldogs never saw fourth down because they converted first down on all eight of those third-down attempts.
That's why we never saw a Georgia punter.
What we did see was the kind of Kentucky defensive performance Mark Stoops was hired to end. "Very embarrassing effort by our team, our coaching staff, starting with myself," Stoops said.
Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot seconded that emotion. "Anytime you get your butt kicked, you are embarrassed," Eliot said. "That's what happened today."
At least it was a well-rounded defensive performance by Kentucky. The Cats couldn't stop the run.
Georgia — remember, playing without its best offensive player, the suspended running back Todd Gurley — rolled up 305 yards on the ground. The Dawgs averaged a robust 7.8 yards a rush.
A pair of impressive true freshman backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, ran all over the Cats. Chubb, a 5-foot-10, 228-pound product of Cedartown, Ga., had 170 yards on 13 carries; Michel, a 5-11, 208-pounder from Plantation, Fla,, added 84 yards on 16 attempts.
"When people try to run the ball like that on you, it takes a lot out of you when you can't stop it," said Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree. Kentucky couldn't stop the pass, either.
With Georgia imposing its will at the line, the UK secondary became heavily susceptible to the Dawgs' play-action game.
Hutson Mason, Georgia's fifth-year senior quarterback, carries the reputation of a "game manager." He certainly managed UK. He threw 16 times; 13 of them went for completions. Four went for touchdowns. Mason finished with 174 yards passing.
Heck, had the struggling Kentucky special teams not given up a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return TD, who knows the astronomical yardage number Kentucky could have allowed?
In fairness, lots of teams have struggled to stop Georgia in 2014. There is a reason the Bulldogs came to Lexington leading the SEC in scoring (40.5 points a game).
The most dispiriting thing from the Kentucky standpoint, it appeared to me the UK defense allowed discouragement to affect its effort level. On the field, Dupree saw it that way, too.
"Sometimes, I think people really didn't have a lot of effort," Dupree said. "People have to learn, adversity is going to hit and you have to bounce back."
Now sitting at 5-5 after starting the year 5-1, Kentucky still has two shots to get the magical sixth victory that would make the Wildcats bowl eligible. First will come a trip to Tennessee on Saturday. Then, after an open week, the Cats will travel to Louisville.
"We've got our two biggest rivals left," Stoops said. "So we'll see if we can regroup."
As for Saturday, standing on the sideline of the C.M. Newton Field and watching Georgia march up and down at will, Stoops must've felt light years removed from the days when he was coordinating the top defense in the country at Florida State.
Kentucky allowed Georgia 9.3 yards a play Saturday. No Kentucky defense has allowed that many since surrendering 10.9 in a 59-20 loss at Tennessee in Hal Mumme's final game as head coach in 2000.
Said UK cornerback Nate Willis: "Coach Stoops, a defensive coach like he is, this was just embarrassing for everybody."