LEXINGTON, Ky. -- If there is such a thing as a completely dissatisfying SEC road win, the blueprint might come from Georgia’s 29-24 victory against Kentucky on Saturday night.
Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC), No. 11 in the BCS standings, entered as a four-touchdown favorite and needed to recover an onside kick and pick up two first downs on its final possession to prevent a Kentucky team (1-7, 0-5) that might be the SEC’s worst from pulling an upset.
But other than that, it was a great day to be a Bulldog, as South Carolina -- which beat Georgia 35-7 two weeks ago -- lost for the second straight game, getting thumped 44-11 by unbeaten Florida. That means next Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game will be for first place in the SEC East.
Georgia didn’t follow a smooth path to be in that position, but it needed Saturday’s win to make it a possibility. Let’s review the high and low points from the Bulldogs’ sloppy victory that makes next weekend's game even more meaningful:
1. Murray-to-King: Make that Murray to everybody. Georgia’s running game was largely ineffective, but quarterback Aaron Murray gave one of the best performances of his career. He threw for a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns on 30 for 38 passing. The completion and yardage totals were career highs and his completion percentage set a new school record for a QB with at least 30 attempts. The leading recipients of Murray’s passes were Tavarres King (nine catches for 188 yards and two TDs) and Malcolm Mitchell (9-103), but he hit passes to eight different players.
2. On to Jacksonville: Georgia’s record in big games is far from sterling in the last several seasons, but the Bulldogs have the opportunity to start turning that trend in a different direction next weekend. Since losing to South Carolina, the Bulldogs simply said they needed to keep winning and hoped their SEC counterparts would do them two favors against South Carolina -- and that happened in consecutive weeks with the Gamecocks’ losses to LSU and Florida. Now the Bulldogs have their chance to finally show some backbone against a top team.
3. Defense adjusts: We can’t spend too much time praising Georgia’s defense (see Item No. 1 in Three Down), but give Todd Grantham’s group credit for adjusting after its early struggles. Kentucky drove for touchdowns on two of its first three possessions. On the Wildcats’ seven full possessions after that, they had five punts (four of which came after a three-and-out), a touchdown and a field goal.
1. Struggling defense: Yes, Georgia was without Jarvis Jones, but Kentucky is a terrible offensive team and the Wildcats put together drives that looked entirely too easy against the Bulldogs’ decimated defense. The Wildcats had not scored a first-quarter offensive touchdown in 20 games -- a stretch that dates back to the 2010 season -- but forced the ball down the Bulldogs’ throats for a score on their 84-yard opening drive. Allowing 24 points and 329 yards was far from the bounce-back effort that the Bulldogs expected after their bye week.
2. Running game struggles again: Georgia’s rushing attack had its second consecutive poor showing, with the Bulldogs totaling 77 yards on 32 carries (2.4 yards per attempt) against a Kentucky defense that came in allowing 183.3 rushing yards per game. Freshmen Todd Gurley (12 carries for 47 yards) and Keith Marshall (6-23) failed to generate the big plays that were regular occurrences earlier in the season.
3. Special-teams woes
If Kentucky had recovered the previously referenced onside kick -- which a heads-up Connor Norman dove on a split second before Wildcats kicker Joseph Mansour -- and drove for a score, the sky might have fallen in Bulldog Nation. Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan had already missed yet another PAT and banked a chip-shot field goal off the upright (although that kick was good), along with more miscommunications, penalties and other near-disasters on the kicking teams.