GAME NOTES: The 13th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs get back to work this weekend, as they travel to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in SEC action at Commonwealth Stadium.
Mark Richt's squad were idle this past weekend and probably needed the extra time to rest following a stunning 35-7 rout at South Carolina last time out to fall to 3-1 in SEC play. The humbling loss to the Gamecocks has damaged Georgia's national title hopes after opening 2012 with five consecutive wins. Still, the Bulldogs can right the ship over the next couple of weeks, including a showdown next weekend with SEC East leader Florida in Jacksonville.
Joker Phillips' is in his third season in Lexington, and things haven't exactly gone to plan, as Kentucky is a mere 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the SEC. The lone victory came on Sept. 8 against Kent State (47-14), as the Wildcats enter this contest with a five-game losing streak in tow, including a weather- shortened 49-7 drubbing at the hands of Arkansas last weekend.
Georgia has dominated this series on the gridiron, holding a 51-12-2 advantage all-time, including a 24-7 mark in Lexington. Georgia has won the last two meetings.
The Bulldogs' offensive showing against the Gamecocks was certainly an anomaly, as the team has put up big numbers this season, coming into this contest averaging 41.3 ppg on 484.0 yards of total offense. It is the balance on the offensive side of the ball that makes Georgia a dangerous team, as big gains are found both on the ground (226.5 ypg) and through the air (257.5 ypg).
Quarterback Aaron Murray has been efficient for the most part with the exception of an ugly 11-of-31 passing for 109 yards against South Carolina. The numbers on the year are vastly different, with Murray completing 62.1 percent of his throws, for 1,487 yards, with 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Murray has lost his top target Michael Bennett to a knee injury, leaving Marlon Brown (18 receptions, 283 yards, three TDs) and Tavarres King (17 receptions, 323 yards, three TDs) to pick up the slack.
The ground game has been a real strength thanks to the play of a couple of freshmen in tailbacks Todd Gurley (575 yards, 7.1 ypc, nine TDs) and Keith Marshall (465 yards, 7.3 ypc, five TDs).
Murray acknowledged he would have rather played last week than possibly allowing a bad loss to fester over the break.
"Obviously it's great to have the bye week to get your body feeling better, but I kind of wish we had a game this past week just to get the bad taste out of our mouth [from the South Carolina loss]. We tried not to be sitting around thinking about it for two weeks - we put that game behind us and we know this is an extremely important stretch for us if we want to reach our goals. We need to win our next six games."
The Bulldogs have playmakers on the defensive side of the football, although the overall numbers in the first half of the season have proved to be modest at best. The team is allowing 24.2 ppg thus far, on 373.8 yards of total offense.
The pass rush hasn't been anything special, with just 10 sacks in the first six games, although the team does boast of one of the nation's premier defenders in junior linebacker Jarvis Jones. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound All- American leads the team in both TFLs (9.5) and sacks (5.5) and must be accounted for at all times. Sophomore Amarlo Herrera has been active in the linebacking corps as well, pacing the team with 47 total tackles.
Jones however, is banged up (ankle) and it remains to be seen how much he will play at Kentucky.
"We'll see. We're not counting him out yet," said Richt at his weekly press conference. "He had been running on a treadmill underwater and did extremely well. We figured when we put him on land, he'd hit the ground running literally, but he wasn't ready to practice. If he's healthy enough to play, we want him to play. There's no thought of holding him out this game so that he's 100 percent next game."
Kentucky's sluggish start is directly linked to the team's inability to generate much in terms of offensive numbers. The team ranks 13th in the conference in scoring (18.6 ppg) and total offense (306.4 ypg) and dead last in rushing (106.9 ypg).
It certainly hasn't helped that injuries are mounting, especially under center, where starter Maxwell Smith could be done for the season with torn ligaments in his ankle. Backup Patrick Towles is sidelined with an ankle injury as well, leaving the job of field general to freshman Jalen Whitlow. Up to this point, the youngster has looked a little overwhelmed, completing just 41.7 percent of his passes, for just 282 yards, with one TD and two INTs in spot duty.
Wideout La'Rod King has been the team's top weapon on offense, amassing 31 receptions, for 351 yards and four TDs.
The ground game has been stagnant as well, as Raymond Sanders (54.0 ypg, two TDs) represents the top rusher on the team.
Unfortunately, the defensive numbers haven't been much better for the Wildcats, who rank last in the SEC in scoring defense (32.9 ppg) and 11th in total defense (415.6 ypg). The team has really struggled against the run, allowing a generous 183.3 ypg (12th in the SEC).
Junior linebacker Avery Williamson tops the team and ranks second in the SEC in tackles with 68 stops (15th nationally). Sophomore LB Alvin Dupree (49 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) has been active as well.
The Wildcats have struggled on both sides of the football and with Georgia coming off a humiliating defeat a couple of weeks ago, Kentucky could feel the brunt of lopsided affair here.