ATHENS, Ga. -- Saturday’s matchup between Georgia and Kentucky seems like a blowout in the making, but we’ve seen these circumstances before.
The 11th-ranked Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 SEC) -- four-touchdown favorites over the Wildcats (1-6, 0-4) -- have been double-digit favorites against Kentucky several times in the last six seasons and haven’t always won comfortably. Take last season for example, when 30.5-point favorite Georgia trailed for most of the first half before squeaking by with a 19-10 win that clinched the SEC East title.
The injury-depleted Wildcats are once again big underdogs on Saturday, but Georgia is no certainty itself after a flat performance in its last game out -- a 35-7 loss to South Carolina two weekends ago.
Let’s take a look at some of the significant factors entering Saturday’s matchup:
1. Bye-week adjustments
Georgia used six different starting lineups on defense in its first six games and all of the shuffling clearly affected the Bulldogs’ communication on defense. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said last week’s open date allowed the staff and players to address and correct those issues and expressed confidence that the results will be much different in the second half of the season.
Kentucky’s punchless offense -- led by converted freshman receiver Jalen Whitlow at quarterback -- is a perfect candidate for the Bulldogs’ defense to work out the kinks as they open a key second-half stretch on the schedule.
2. Getting offense back on track
Georgia’s previously dominant offense has had two weeks to stew over its disappointing effort against South Carolina, when the Bulldogs nearly failed to score before notching a touchdown in the game’s waning minutes.
Georgia center David Andrews has stressed that missed assignments by the Bulldogs’ offensive line created many of the offensive problems against South Carolina. That was certainly not the only issue -- Georgia’s receivers dropped a handful of passes and quarterback Aaron Murray had an off night -- but the line returning to its form from prior to the South Carolina game would be a big step in the right direction.
3. Kentucky injuries
The reason Whitlow is at quarterback is that the Wildcats have already dealt with multiple injuries at the position, most notably losing the productive Maxwell Smith to a torn ankle ligament. They’ve also lost a pair of tailbacks to season-ending injuries, and the situation has been even worse on defense.
The Wildcats started three freshmen in the secondary in last week’s 49-7 loss to Arkansas and will once again start either two or three freshman DBs against Georgia after coach Joker Phillips announced on Wednesday that senior safeties Martavius Neloms (hamstring) and Mikie Benton (ankle) are out for Saturday. He said sophomore safety Ashely Lowery (concussion) should be available against Georgia.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats will not bring much secondary experience into Saturday’s game, and Georgia will certainly look to exploit that matchup.
4. Watching the scoreboard
Coach Mark Richt emphasized that he doesn’t want any scoreboard watching to distract his team from its preparations for Saturday night’s game, but he acknowledged that it will only be natural for the Bulldogs to keep up with what is happening Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Fla.
The Bulldogs are temporarily big Florida fans, as they need the Gators to beat South Carolina this weekend in order for the Oct. 27 Georgia-Florida game to be for first place in the SEC East.
Of course, Georgia needs to beat Kentucky for that scenario to work, as well.
5. Where’s Jarvis?
As of Wednesday evening, it appeared increasingly unlikely that Georgia All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones would be available for Saturday’s game. Jones sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game and has not practiced since.