Mark Story

How Kentucky and Georgia match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky wide receiver Garrett Johnson (9) caught six passes for 76 yards in UK’s 44-21 victory at Vanderbilt last week and has now caught at least one pass in 21 straight games.
Kentucky wide receiver Garrett Johnson (9) caught six passes for 76 yards in UK’s 44-21 victory at Vanderbilt last week and has now caught at least one pass in 21 straight games. aslitz@herald-leader.com

How Kentucky (7-3, 4-3 SEC) and No. 7 Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson earned his fifth road victory as UK’s starting QB in last week’s 44-21 beatdown of Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has completed 62.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 10 touchdowns vs. four interceptions. Johnson is also second on the team in rushing with 348 yards and three TDs. Georgia true freshman Jake Fromm was forced to the air last week when Auburn shut down the normally lethal Bulldogs’ running game. The 6-2, 225-pound product of Warner Robins, Ga., was 13-of-28 for 184 yards as Georgia absorbed its first loss, a 40-17 rout. Since stepping in for an injured Jacob Eason, Fromm has played well overall — he has completed 60.7 percent of his passes with 16 TDs vs. four picks.

Advantage: Kentucky

South Carolina Georgia Football
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, a true freshman, has led the Bulldogs to eight wins in nine games since assuming the starting QB job. John Bazemore Associated Press

Running backs

Kentucky sophomore star Benny Snell continued his late-season surge at Vanderbilt, running for 116 yards and three TDs. The 5-11, 225-pound sophomore from Westerville, Ohio, is now the first UK running back ever to go over 1,000 yards rushing (1,103 in 2017, 1,091 last year) in back-to-back seasons. Junior Sihiem King, a Colquitt, Ga., product, had a strong game at Vandy, running 15 times for 69 yards and two TDs. In seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia has one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in college football. The 5-10, 225-pound Chubb has run for 894 yards and 10 touchdowns; the 5-11, 215-pound Michel has 731 yards and nine TDs. Both figure to have extra motivation this week after Auburn held Chubb to 27 yards on 11 carries and Michel to 21 yards on nine attempts.

Advantage: Georgia

Wide receivers

After making six receptions for 76 yards at Vandy, Kentucky senior Garrett Johnson (42 catches, 464 yards, two TDs) has caught a pass in 21 straight games. Lynn Bowden has five receptions total in the past two games as UK finds more ways to use the explosive true freshman. Georgia’s Javon Wims hurt Kentucky (five catches, 90 yards) in the Bulldogs’ 27-24 win in Lexington last season. A 6-4, 215-pound senior, Wims leads Georgia with 27 receptions (for 471 yards and four scores). Terry Godwin, a 5-11, 185-pound junior, is the Dawgs’ big-play threat, as 11 of his 23 catches have gone for 20 yards or more and he leads Georgia in receiving yards (476) and TD catches (five).

Advantage: Georgia

Lynn Bowden
Kentucky freshman wide receiver Lynn Bowden (1) caught three passes for a team-high 79 yards last week at Vanderbilt and also set up a Wildcats touchdown with a 93-yard kickoff return. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Tight ends

After going four games without a catch, Kentucky junior C.J. Conrad has six receptions combined in the past two games. For the season, the 6-5, 245-pound junior has 15 catches for 279 yards and four TDs. Conrad has also drawn consistent praise for his blocking. Georgia uses a small posse of tight ends that includes Isaac Nauta (seven catches, 103 yards, one TD), Charlie Woerner (six, 79), Jeb Blazevich (two,19) and Jackson Harris (two,12).

Advantage: Kentucky

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad (87) has a combined six receptions in UK’s past two games. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Offensive line

Kentucky continues to rotate three players at the tackle positions. Senior Kyle Meadows (left tackle) and junior George Asafo-Adjei (right) have started the past three games with sophomore Landon Young, the former Lafayette High School star, alternating at left tackle. At 6-2, 302, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn does not have prototypical height for an SEC left tackle, but he is the anchor of an offensive front that has helped the Bulldogs rank 10th in the nation in rushing (256 yards a game).

Advantage: Georgia

Defensive line

Kentucky sophomore end T.J. Carter had the first sack of his college career against Tennessee, and the 6-4, 280-pound product of Mableton, Ga., picked up another sack and a quarterback hurry at Vanderbilt. Georgia end Jonathan Ledbetter and tackle Trenton Thompson, both juniors, each have 26 tackles and three tackles for loss.

Advantage: Georgia

Linebackers

UK OLB Denzil Ware made the most of his 17 plays of action at Vanderbilt, recording two sacks and intercepting a pass. His backup, true freshman Joshua Paschal, was also active last week with three tackles and a sack. Georgia SLB Lorenzo Carter is one of the most disruptive defenders in the SEC with 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and a whopping 14 quarterback hurries. WLB Roquan Smith is a First Team All-America candidate with 82 tackles, 10 hurries, 4.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks.

Advantage: Georgia

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Kentucky outside linebacker/rush end Denzil Ware, with ball, had two quarterback sacks and a pass interception last week at Vanderbilt while logging only 17 snaps on the field. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive backs

After struggling for much of this season, Kentucky DBs made three (of the Wildcats’ four) interceptions at Vanderbilt. Cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Jordan Griffin and safety Mike Edwards each picked off a Kyle Shurmur pass. Redshirt freshman safety Davonte Robinson, the former Henry Clay star, also played well in Nashville, tying for the team lead with five tackles. Georgia senior left safety Dominick Sanders leads the Bulldogs with three interceptions this year and has made 15 in his career. Right safety J.R. Reed has 58 tackles, five QB hurries, four pass breakups, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks.

Advantage: Georgia

Dominick Sanders
Georgia senior safety Dominick Sanders, making tackle, has intercepted 15 passes in his Bulldogs career. He had two picks against Kentucky in 2015. John Raoux Associated Press

Special teams

Kentucky punter Matt Panton (42.8 yards average), a graduate transfer from Columbia University, is expected to return this week after being suspended for the Vanderbilt game following an arrest for public intoxication. Place-kicker Austin MacGinnis hit field goals of 42, 40 and 39 yards last week and is 18-of-23 on the season with a long of 53. Lynn Bowden set up a UK TD at Vandy with a 93-yard kickoff return. Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship beat UK last year with a 25-yard field-goal at the buzzer. This year, Blankenship is 12-of-14 on field goals with a long of 49. Punter Cameron Nizialek is also a grad transfer from the Ivy League’s Columbia. He is averaging 44.4 yards a punt and has stopped 20 of his 41 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line. Mecole Hardman is capable as a punt returner (10.2 yards average) and a kickoff returner (26.7).

Advantage: Even

Prediction

Georgia 35, Kentucky 21

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