LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Joker Phillips received a text message from the 803 area code with an invitation to dinner “anywhere in the world” if Kentucky could somehow upset No. 13 Georgia on Saturday.
The Wildcats’ head coach didn’t recognize the number from the central South Carolina exchange that includes Columbia, where the Gamecocks play. But he playfully accepted the challenge.
“Start picking out some places for me,” Phillips said Monday.
Georgia has a chance to clinch the SEC East division title on Saturday at home against the Wildcats, and the Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1) last won eight in a row when they won the conference championship in 2002.
Kentucky (4-6, 1-5) seems a long way from being competitive in the SEC after losing their five conference games by an average of 30.8 points, including 38-8 at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
The Wildcats gained 211 yards on offense, committed 10 penalties and never reached the red zone.
“It was a little bit of anger, shock because I couldn’t believe what was happening to us after we’d played so well (against Mississippi) and how good I think we can be,” Kentucky tight end Nick Melillo said. “But we were still fighting, I’ll tell you right now. There was no give up on either side of the ball, but definitely some feelings of disappointment.”
On offense, freshman Max Smith will get another start -- his third -- with Morgan Newton still banged up with shoulder and ankle injuries. Smith gave Kentucky an early spark and has yet to throw an interception in 100 attempts since taking over as the primary quarterback against Mississippi State.
“We know Max is capable, he’s shown that,” right tackle Billy Joe Murphy said. “He’s showed he’s capable of making plays, but overall as an offense we didn’t make a lot of plays together.”
The moods couldn’t be much different after the programs started in opposite directions when Kentucky began 2-0 and Georgia went 0-2 with losses to Boise State and South Carolina, but the Bulldogs have responded to take heat off head coach Mark Richt.
“They lost their first two, and they got on a roll. Nobody can doubt they’re playing really good football, maybe the best in the SEC,” Murphy said. “We’ve got a huge challenge in front of us.”
Georgia routed Auburn 45-7 on Saturday. Both Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas ran for more than 100 yards. In the game, Aaron Murray set a school record with 27 touchdown passes in a season, topping Matthew Stafford’s mark of 25.
“I’m really excited to see where we’ll end up in January,” Thomas said after beating the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is on the verge of not even seeing December.
A loss to the Bulldogs would keep them out of a bowl game for the first time in a school-record five years and turn all of the Wildcats’ attention to ending the streak of consecutive losses to Tennessee that started in 1985 in their regular-season finale on Nov. 26.
“One thing that everybody needs to understand is understand the struggle it took to get to five,” Phillips said. “It was a struggle, no doubt about that. We’ve got to get our kids to understand how tough that struggle was.”