UGA Football

How Kentucky and Georgia match up — with a game prediction

How Kentucky (3-3, 1-3 SEC) and No. 10 Georgia (5-1, 2-1 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky slot receiver Lynn Bowden played quarterback last week against Arkansas and turned in a stellar performance. Bowden ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns and went 7-of-11 passing for 78 yards and a score. Does UK Coach Mark Stoops stay with the 6-foot-1, 206-pound Bowden against a Georgia defense that is far more accomplished against the run (allowing 73.3 yards a game) than the pass (allowing 208.3 yards)? Or is Sawyer Smith, a conventional drop-back passing QB, healthy enough to give UK its best shot? Going into Georgia’s shocking 20-17, double-overtime loss to South Carolina last week, Pro Football Focus had graded the Bulldogs’ Jake Fromm (1,371 passing yards with nine touchdowns; 70.4% completions) as the most effective QB in the country. Against the Gamecocks, however, Fromm completed only 28 of 51 passes and threw his first three interceptions of 2019.

Advantage: Georgia

Jake Fromm.JPG
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm threw his first three interceptions of the season in last week’s 20-17, double-overtime loss to South Carolina. John Bazemore AP

Running backs

Kentucky junior A.J. Rose turned in one of his best games of the season (16 carries for 93 yards) in the win over Arkansas. The 6-1, 218-pound junior lost a fumble against Georgia in last year’s 34-17 Bulldogs victory over UK that decided the SEC East championship. However, Rose also caught four passes for 59 yards vs. Georgia, including a 31-yard TD catch. Georgia’s D’Andre Swift is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (573) and leads the league in yards per carry (6.4). A 5-9, 215-pound junior from Philadelphia, Swift shredded the Cats last season, running for 156 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 9.8 yards a carry.

Advantage: Georgia

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Georgia running back D’Andre Swift (7) ran for one of his two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 34-17 win over Kentucky last season at Kroger Field in the game that decided the winner of the SEC East Division championship. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Wide receivers

With Lynn Bowden at quarterback, Kentucky’s Clevan Thomas enjoyed an expanded role last week in the slot. The 5-11, 213-pound product of Miami caught two passes, including his first career TD. Georgia freshman George Pickens caught seven passes for 98 yards in the loss to South Carolina. The freshman from Hoover, Ala., is tied with graduate transfer Lawrence Cager (Miami) for the team lead in receptions with 19. Cager reportedly suffered a rib injury last week and Bulldogs Coach Kirby Smart said the wideout may not play this week.

Advantage: Georgia

Clevan Thomas TD catch vs Arkansas.JPG
Kentucky wide receiver Clevan Thomas (18) hauled in this 10-yard touchdown catch in UK’s 24-20 win over Arkansas last week. It was the first career TD reception for the redshirt sophomore slot receiver. Bryan Woolston AP

Tight ends

Kentucky junior Justin Rigg (nine catches, 107 yards) was a big part of the win over Arkansas, catching two passes for a team-high 43 receiving yards. Georgia’s Eli Wolf, a graduate transfer from Tennessee, has nine catches for 116 yards. Starting TE Charlie Woerner only has four catches but is a key blocker in the Bulldogs’ zone-read rushing schemes.

Advantage: Even

Justin Rigg with Vince Marrow.JPG
Justin Rigg leads Kentucky's tight ends with nine catches this season. Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Offensive line

Kentucky center Drake Jackson drew praise from Mark Stoops for his play against Arkansas. “Drake had a really good game. I think he really played well,” Stoops said Monday. Starting left tackle Landon Young left the Arkansas game with an ankle injury. His replacement, Naasir Watkins, “played good,” Stoops said. Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas is an All-America-caliber player. He leads a Bulldogs offensive front that has given up the third-fewest sacks in the FBS (four) and has helped Georgia become the best rushing team in the SEC (237.2 yards a game).

Advantage: Georgia

Naasir Watkins & Drake Jackson.JPG
Mark Stoops singled out both Kentucky left tackle Naasir Watkins (66) and center Drake Jackson (52) for playing well in UK’s 24-20 win over Arkansas last week. Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

Kentucky defensive tackle Calvin Taylor had a crucial quarterback sack on third down during Arkansas’ final drive. On the ensuing play, defensive end T.J. Carter registered a QB hurry that led to an incomplete pass and, essentially, sealed UK’s win. Georgia redshirt freshman rush end Azeez Ojulari and senior defensive tackle Tyler Clark are tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks each. Clark recovered a fumble vs. Kentucky in 2018.

Advantage: Georgia

Azeez Ojulari.JPG
Georgia redshirt freshman rush end/outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari is tied for the Bulldogs team lead with 3.5 quarterback sacks. John Amis AP

Linebackers

Kentucky starting ILBs DeAndre Square (WLB) and Kash Daniel (MLB) each registered five tackles in the win over Arkansas. Georgia ILBs Tae Crowder (MLB) and Monty Rice (WLB) each had 12 stops in the loss to South Carolina. Rice, a 6-1, 235-pound junior, had a team-high eight tackles with a QB sack in last year’s win over UK.

Advantage: Georgia

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Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (17) is tied with free safety Yusuf Corker for the Wildcats team lead in tackles with 40. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive backs

Kentucky free safety Yusuf Corker had a team-high nine tackles in the win over Arkansas. The 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt sophomore is tied with DeAndre Square for the team lead in tackles with 40. Junior-college transfer CB Brandin Echols broke up two passes vs. the Razorbacks and leads UK on the season with six. Georgia CB Eric Stokes leads the Dawgs with seven pass breakups. Safety J.R. Reed is the Bulldogs’ second-leading tackler (31) and has three pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Advantage: Georgia

Corker and Echols.JPG
Kentucky free safety Yusuf Corker (29) is tied for the UK team lead in tackles with 40. Cornerback Brandin Echols (26) leads the Cats in pass breakups with six. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

Kentucky punter Max Duffy pinned Arkansas inside its 20-yard line on two of three kicks while averaging 44.3 yards a punt. The Australian continues to lead NCAA Division I in punting (averaging 50.4 yards a kick). Place-kicker Matt Ruffolo booted a 50-yard field goal last week. The walk-on is 2-of-3 on field goals since inheriting the starting job. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship is one of the nation’s premier place-kickers, having made 12 of 14 field goals. Both his misses, however, came last week. South Carolina blocked one of his field-goal tries. Surprisingly, Blankenship then missed from 42 yards in the second overtime. In 2016, Blankenship kicked a 25-yard field goal just ahead of the final buzzer to beat Kentucky 27-24. Punter Jake Camarda has only had to kick 16 times; he is averaging 45.9 yards a kick and has stopped seven punts inside foes’ 20-yard line.

Advantage: Georgia

Rodrigo Blankenship game-winner vs UK 2016.JPG
Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (98) beat Kentucky with this 25-yard field just ahead of the final buzzer in the Bulldogs' 27-24 victory over the Wildcats in 2016 in Lexington. Mark Cornelison mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Prediction

Georgia 42, Kentucky 16

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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