Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky football’s rainy loss at Georgia

Three takeaways from Kentucky football’s 21-0 loss at Georgia on Saturday:

1. Kentucky’s offense has a rough outing

Lynn Bowden started his second straight game at quarterback. But Georgia isn’t Arkansas. Against Arkansas last week, UK’s wide receiver turned QB rushed for 196 yards and threw well enough to lead the Cats to a 24-20 victory. Against No. 10-ranked Georgia, Bowden did rush for 99 yards on 17 carries, but he was just two of 15 through the air for 17 yards.

The weather had something to do with that. Rain fell before, all during and after the game. As UK Coach Mark Stoops pointed out afterward, Georgia didn’t exactly light it up through the air, either. UGA quarterback Jake Fromm threw for just 35 yards, completing nine of 12 passes.

But when Kentucky did have a shot at putting points in the board, the Cats came up empty. A fourth-and-2 at the Georgia 38-yard line became a fourth-and-7 when the Cats were called for a false start. UK ended up punting. After stopping Georgia on a fourth-and-1 at midfield, the Cats went three-and-out. On the final play for the third quarter, with the Cats down 14-0, running back Chris Rodriguez dropped a sure TD pass in the end zone.

“We make it 14-7 there and we’re right where we want to be,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, whose unit gained just 177 yards.

Instead, UK was blanked for the first time under Stoops, the first time overall since 2012.

And what of Sawyer Smith? Stoops said that the UK quarterback is not to the point where the coach wanted to risk putting him out there on a rainy, miserable night.

2. Kentucky’s defense acquits itself well

First-year coordinator Brad White’s defense held Georgia to just 270 total yards. First half, the Bulldogs never crossed midfield. Thanks to the excellent punting of Max Duffy, the Bulldogs started all six of their first half possessions either at or inside the 20-yard line.

Second half, however, Duffy turned in a 15-yard punt — “I just shanked it,” said the punter, refusing to use the rain as an excuse — that gave Georgia the ball at the UK 39. Next play, Georgia’s star running back D’Andre Swift went 39 yards for a score. Next possession, Bowden lost a fumble and Georgia had the ball at the UK 31. Five plays later, Georgia led 14-0.

The hosts’ last touchdown surely had something to do with Kentucky’s fatigue factor. The Bulldogs went 92 yards 13 plays to make it 21-0. Swift finished the night with 179 yards on 21 carries. “He’s very good,” said UK linebacker Chris Oats. “He can stop on a dime.”

But Kentucky’s defense is developing into a good defense, as well. The 270 yards allowed was a season-low. Its was the fewest yards by any team since Missouri’s 249 last year in Columbia. It was the fewest yards gained by a Georgia team since the Bulldogs managed only 212 in a loss to Kentucky on Oct. 26, 1996.

If UK’s defense plays the way it did Saturday night in Athens, the Cats have a chance in all five of its remaining regular season.

3. That brings us to the rest of the schedule

Saturday’s loss drops Stoops’ squad to 3-4 overall. The Cats are 1-4 in the SEC. But it’s that first number grouping that matters. UK needs to go 3-2 over its final five games to earn the program’s fourth consecutive bowl trip. It needs those three wins to keep some sort of momentum going after last year’s 10-victory, Citrus Bowl-winning season.

Missouri comes to Kroger Field on Saturday. The Tigers were upset 21-14 at Vanderbilt on Saturday. Barry Odom’s club is now 5-2 overall. After UK’s second open date of the season, Tennessee visits Lexington. As I type this, the Vols were losing to No. 1-ranked Alabama which would make Jeremy Pruitt’s club 2-5.

The Cats’ final road game is at Vanderbilt on Nov. 16. Vandy is 2-5 overall. UT Martin is the Nov. 23 opponent. Then Kentucky finishes up at home with Louisville, which dropped to 4-3 with Saturday’s loss to No. 3-ranked Clemson.

My guess is that Missouri will be a slight favorite over UK on Saturday. After that, the Cats should be favored in their four remaining games. If the offense gets going, the could conceivably run the table. If It fails to get going, then Kentucky could lose any of the final, with the exception of UT Martin.

In some ways, you could say the season is just beginning.

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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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