Mark Story

How No. 9 Kentucky and No. 6 Georgia match up — with a game prediction

‘Coach, I’m feeling it.’ Lynn Bowden asked to go in on punt return TD.

Kentucky sophomore wide receiver Lynn Bowden doesn’t normally return punts. But with UK trailing Missouri 14-3, Bowden asked to go in and returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown that sparked team to 15-14 win.
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Kentucky sophomore wide receiver Lynn Bowden doesn’t normally return punts. But with UK trailing Missouri 14-3, Bowden asked to go in and returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown that sparked team to 15-14 win.

How No. 9 Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC) and No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

After being benched in the second half at Missouri, Kentucky’s Terry Wilson returned and led a rally for the ages. In the final 1:24 of the game, he completed six of six passes to lead an 81-yard touchdown drive that capped a miraculous 15-14 UK victory. Will the late-game heroics give the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Wilson (65.4 percent completions, 988 passing yards, five TDs, six interceptions) the confidence to take the proverbial “next step” in his play? Georgia’s Jake Fromm struggled (16-of-34 passing, two interceptions, sacked four times) in the Bulldogs’ 36-16 loss at LSU on Oct. 13. The 6-2, 220-pound sophomore bounced back in a big way last week, however, as Georgia belted archrival Florida 36-17. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 240 yards and three TDs. Fromm’s strong play silenced for a week those Dawgs fans calling for Kirby Smart to insert lavishly hyped true freshman Justin Fields as the starting QB.

Advantage: Georgia

Celebrate
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson (3) celebrated with tight end C.J. Conrad after their game-winning touchdown connection against Missouri. The sophomore signal caller said his confidence has grown since that game and his decision making has improved, too. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Running backs

Kentucky star Benny Snell continues to lead the SEC in rushing (116.9 yards a game). With 3,359 career yards, the 5-11, 225-pound junior has moved past Moe Williams (3,333) into second place on the all-time UK rushing list. However, Snell has been held below 70 yards rushing in two of the past three games. To upset Georgia, the Cats will need a vintage Snell performance. Georgia features a potent, two-headed tailback rotation in junior Elijah Holyfield (572 yards, four TDs) and sophomore D’Andre Swift (473, five).

Advantage: Kentucky

Elijah Holyfield take three.JPG
Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield, right, leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 559 yards. He is the son of boxing’s four-time heavyweight champion of the world, Evander Holyfield. Joshua L. Jones Associated Press

Wide receivers

Kentucky sophomore slot receiver Lynn Bowden (43 catches, 457 yards, three TDs) became a star last week at Missouri. The 6-1, 195-pound Youngstown, Ohio, product caught 13 passes for 166 yards. Ex-Lexington Catholic star David Bouvier (eight, 155, two) had two huge catches on UK’s game-winning drive. Georgia has a deep receiving corps led by juniors Riley Ridley (27, 384, five) and Mecole Hardman (26, 376, four). Sophomore Jeremiah Holloman (15, 282, four) caught two TD passes in the win over Florida.

Advantage: Georgia

Riley Ridley.JPG
Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley (8) leads a balanced Bulldogs receiving corps with 27 catches. He is the younger brother of former Alabama star and current Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Joshua L. Jones AP

Tight ends

In the victory at Missouri, Kentucky senior C.J. Conrad caught the game-winning TD on a 2-yard pass from Terry Wilson. The 6-5, 242-pound product of LaGrange, Ohio, has caught two passes or more in every game this season but one (zero vs. Vanderbilt). Conrad’s physicality as a blocker figures to be crucial Saturday. Georgia’s Isaac Nauta (18 catches, 249 yards, one TD) came up big in the victory over Florida with five receptions for 73 yards.

Advantage: Even

Kentucky football tight end C.J. Conrad talks about catching a two-yard touchdown pass from Terry Wilson on the final play for a 15-14 win at Missouri.

Offensive line

Both Kentucky right guard Bunchy Stallings (Florida, Mississippi State) and right tackle George Asafo-Adjei (South Carolina, Vanderbilt) have been named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice this season. Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas was named a midseason All-American by The Sporting News. The 6-5, 320-pound sophomore anchors a unit that opens holes for the second-best rushing attack in the SEC (221.6 yards a game).

Advantage: Georgia

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Defensive line

After battling injury earlier in the season, Kentucky sophomore nose guard Quinton Bohanna has rounded into form. After forcing a key fumble in the win over Vanderbilt, the 6-4, 340-pound product of Cordova, Tenn., made a pair of tackles, including a tackle for loss, at Mizzou. Georgia senior end Jonathan Ledbetter has 28 tackles and a TFL.

Advantage: Kentucky

Jonathan Ledbetter.JPG
Georgia senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (atop pile) has 28 tackles and one tackle for loss so far in 2018. Curtis Compton TNS

Linebackers

Another week, another All-America-caliber showing by Kentucky OLB/rush end Josh Allen. In the victory at Missouri, Allen had 11 tackles, two QB sacks and two forced fumbles. The 6-5, 260-pound senior has now been SEC Defensive Player of the Week four times this season. WLB Jordan Jones (10 tackles) also played well at Mizzou. Georgia OLB/rush end D’Andre Walker is the most disruptive Bulldog. He has 6.5 TFL and five sacks.

Advantage: Kentucky

After Kentucky’s 15-14 win over Missouri, Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen talked about Saturday’s game against visiting Georgia for the SEC East title.

Defensive backs

Kentucky safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards are putting together monster senior seasons. Free safety West is 12th in the SEC in tackles (58) and third in both passes defended (nine) and interceptions (three). Strong safety Edwards is 29th in the SEC in tackles (46) and, last week, helped bottle up Mizzou star tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Georgia left safety Richard LeCounte (team-high 47 tackles) and right cornerback Deandre Baker (team-high two picks) lead a secondary that is first in the SEC in pass defense (allowing 165.6 yards a game) but 13th in interceptions (five).

Advantage: Even

Darius West.JPG
In a stellar senior season so far, Kentucky free safety Darius West (25) has 58 tackles, six pass breakups, three interceptions, a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown and a blocked field goal. Sean Rayford Associated Press

Special teams

Mark Stoops inserted Lynn Bowden in place of regular Kentucky punt returner David Bouvier late in the Missouri game. With UK down 14-3, Bowden turned the momentum with a 67-yard punt return touchdown with 5:18 left. True freshman place-kicker Chance Poore made his college debut last week and hit his only field-goal try from 31 yards. Punter Max Duffy (44.8 yards a kick) has stopped 18 of his 38 kicks inside opponents’ 20-yard line. Darius West blocked a Missouri field goal last week. Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is 13-of-15 on field goals with a long of 53 yards. He beat Kentucky two years ago with a 25-yard, last-second field goal. True freshman punter Jake Camarada averages 42.1 yards but has only stopped six of 28 punts inside the 20. Return man Mecole Hardman is a weapon. He averages an SEC-best 22.4 yards on punt returns and had a 70-yard TD return vs. Middle Tennessee State. On kickoffs, he is averaging 26 yards a return.

Advantage: Georgia

maxduffy(2)
Kentucky sophomore punter Max Duffy has stopped 18 of his 38 punts this season inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line. Mark Mahan

Prediction

Kentucky 17, Georgia 16

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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