Three second-half mistakes that killed Kentucky in its 27-24 loss to Georgia:
1. The holding penalty that took points off the board.
Up 14-13 at the half, Kentucky forced a Georgia turnover just two plays into the second half. Bulldog back Nick Chubb coughed up the football at his own 33-yard line. UK’s Chris Westry recovered.
The Kentucky offense couldn’t advance the ball much closer. Three Boom Williams carries netted eight yards, bringing up a fourth-and-two at the UGA 26. Austin MacGinnis then drilled a 44-yard field goal to put Kentucky up 17-13.
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Kentucky-Georgia final stats
One problem. C.J. Conrad was called for holding, taking the points off the board. Instead of going for a 54-yard field goal -- which would have equaled MacGinnis career-long two years ago at Tennessee --UK coach Mark Stoops elected to punt and try and pin Georgia deep in its territory. Unfortunately, Grant MacKinnis’ punt reached the end zone for a touchback.
Those lost three points figured prominently at the end.
2. The touchdown pass that turned into an interception.
Midway through the third quarter, UK receivers made back-to-back errors. Both cost the Cats points. The first was bad, but the second hurt worse.
After making a reception on a 21-yard pass, Garrett Johnson fumbled the ball away at his own 38-yard line. That led to Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship kicking a 49-yard field goal to cut Kentucky’s lead to 21-16 with 5:07 left in the third.
The very next offensive play, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran made the perfect call, what appeared to be a repeat of the 65-yard post pattern touchdown pass from quarterback Stephen Johnson to wide out Jeff Badet that happened last week in UK’s 35-21 win at Missouri.
Again, Badet got a step on this defender. Again, Johnson delivered the ball perfectly. Again, Badet cradled it in. Only this time, he didn’t cradle the ball all the way in. Somehow, it popped loose and right into the hands of Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker for an interception.
Taking over at their own 23, the Bulldogs didn’t get any points out of the turnover. Still, the play hurt the UK cause and not just because it appeared to be a sure score. It put the Kentucky defense right back on the field with 4:51 left in the quarter. This, after the offense had run just four plays, with two turnovers, in its last two possessions.
For the game, Georgia ran 73 plays compared to UK’s 61. The Bulldogs possessed the football for 33:59 to UK’s 26:01. Remember, Kentucky had the ball for nearly 40 minutes last week at Missouri.
You wonder if the Kentucky defense’s extended time on the field, especially in the second half, contributed to Georgia’s ability to move the ball on its final 67-yard drive that ended with Blankenship’s 25-yard field goal that won the game at the final horn.
3. Kentucky’s inability to finish on the final drive.
After Georgia had taken a 24-21 lead with 9:13 remaining, the Cats put together a dramatic and determined drive. Dorian Baker got it started with a terrific sideline 24-yard catch on a third-and-six at the UK 29. Then Gran turned it over to Benny Snell, who kept blasting and blasting and blasting forward.
Nine straight times Snell carried the football, most out of the wildcat formation. On a third-and-two at the Georgia 25, Snell was hit behind the line, but found a way to somehow throw himself forward and pick up a first down at the 22.
Two more Snell runs later, UK had earned a first-and-goal at the Georgia nine-yard line with 4:04 to go. Georgia called timeout as if head coach Kirby Smart just needed a Benny break.
Alas, Kentucky couldn’t finish the drive.
First down, Snell was stopped for no gain. Second down, Snell picked up two yards to the Georgia seven. Before third-and-goal, UK called a timeout with 2:55 remaining. Johnson entered the game and tried a fade pass to Baker that fell incomplete. (I had no quarrel with the call. Either Baker catches it or it falls incomplete. You can’t have a turnover there.) Kentucky settled for the field goal and a 24-24 tie with 2:47 left.
It was a tough settle, however. If UK scores a touchdown there, and convert the extra point, the Cats’ lead is 28-24. Georgia would have needed a touchdown on its final drive. Instead, it only needed to score, which it did.
And possibly one more error.
It’s a subjective call, and it may have made absolutely no difference, but I would add a fourth second-half mistake.
When Georgia was moving the ball on its final drive, especially when the Bulldogs reached the 30-yard line with just under a minute remaining, I thought Stoops should have used his two timeouts to save some clock.
Instead, the Kentucky coach let the clock run. After a Sony Michel run of 13 yards to the UK 15, Georgia used its second timeout with 20 seconds remaining. Then when Michel picked up seven yards to the eight, Smart called time with three seconds left.
Stoops did call a timeout to ice Blankenship. It didn’t do much good, however. The kicker nailed the 25-yard attempt for the win.
Stoops was asked afterward if he considered calling a timeout at any point before that?
“I did, but there wasn’t -- at one point they were going so slow, if we could have got a tackle for a loss, it would have been a long field goal,” said the UK coach. “So, I wanted at that point, you’re gambling with wanting them -- you want to take a snap away from them, too, because we had them at that point it was, whatever, in the range of 25- or 30-yard line where it wasn’t a gimme. And so you’re trying to see if the clock will run out and they have a longer field goal. Because they had two timeouts, I don’t think I could have saved much.”
In the end, Georgia was probably the better team. The Dawgs outgained UK 460-308, including 222-133 in the second half. After rushing for all of 96 yards the last two weeks, in losses to Vanderbilt and Florida, Georgia rushed for 215 yards on 42 carries. Michel gained 127 yards on 19 carries. Chubb picked up 85 yards on 21 carries.
Still, Kentucky had its chances, only to be tripped up by its own mistakes.
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