John Clay

Georgia will be some angry Dawgs on Saturday. Can Kentucky match their motivation?

So just how mad is Georgia going to be Saturday?

Angry Dawg mad.

Sorry, Kentucky. Nothing personal. You just happen to be the next game on the list. The next game after the bad game. Georgia has to take it out on someone, apparently. The guys in Vegas agree. No sooner had the betting lines opened than Georgia was installed as a 27-point favorite for Saturday’s 6 p.m. ESPN matchup against UK.

Actually, this Saturday has more to do with last Saturday. And expectations. Georgia saw itself as a national championship contender. And to play for the national championship you have to be chosen for the four-team College Football Playoff. And to be chosen for the four-team College Football Playoff, it’s traditionally helpful to not lose a game in the regular season.

Georgia has now lost a game in the regular season.

South Carolina 20, Georgia 17 in double overtime in Sanford Stadium. It was not the Dawgs’ day. Georgia committed four turnovers, including three interceptions by Jake Fromm. Before Saturday, the Georgia quarterback had not thrown a pick all season. South Carolina turned one into a pick-six. Fromm had been sacked just once all season. The Gamecocks sacked him three times.

Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, he of the distinctive rubberized eyeglasses, had not missed a field goal all season. He missed two Saturday. The first miss, a 53-yarder just before the end of the half, was blocked. The second, on the first possession of the second overtime, stayed wide left from 42 yards out.

“I didn’t do my job,” Blankenship said afterward.

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So now Georgia has a different job to do. The Dawgs must win and win big. No more stubbed toes. When you’ve dropped from No. 3 to No. 10 in the AP poll, every game is an elimination game. If Georgia can win the SEC East and beat Alabama or LSU in the league championship game, it might just slide its way into the CFP. One more loss, however, and the door is bolted shut.

And Georgia has been through this before. Kirby Smart’s teams have made a habit of laying one giant egg per season. In 2017, they lost 40-17 at Auburn. Last year, they lost 36-16 at LSU. Each time they’ve unleashed their frustrations on their next opponent. In 2017, they whipped Kentucky 42-13 on the way to the national title game. In 2018, they beat Florida 36-17 on the way to a 21-14 halftime lead over Alabama in the SEC title game before losing 35-28.

It will be interesting to see how Kentucky handles Saturday’s circumstances. Mark Stoops’ teams have not played well in Athens. They were battered 59-17 between the hedges in Stoops’ first season, then 27-3 in 2015, followed by that 29-point drubbing in 2017. That was the last time a Stoops defense has allowed 500-or-more yards in an SEC game.

“We’ll have to play (our) best game of the season,” said Stoops on Monday.

They also must decide whether to keep wideout Lynn Bowden at the wheel or give the keys back to Sawyer Smith, if healthy. Smith is the better passer. Bowden is the better athlete. In emergency quarterback duty, he rushed for 196 yards in last Saturday’s 24-20 win over Arkansas.

“He reminds me of Hines Ward,” said Smart of the former Pittsburgh Steelers’ star receiver who played quarterback at Georgia (1994-97).

The run game will be key. With Bowden leading the way, Kentucky rushed for 330 yards against the Razorbacks. Meanwhile, Georgia has rushed for at least 215 yards in each of its last six matchups with Kentucky. The Bulldogs have won all six. And this year they boast the league’s best running back in D’Andre Swift.

“We shouldn’t have lost Saturday,” said Swift, who rushed for 113 yards in the defeat.

There will be a motivation about the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Can the Cats match it?

Next game

Kentucky at No. 10 Georgia

6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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