No. 1 Georgia topped Kentucky 16-6 in an old-school slugfest in Lexington, Kentucky. With the victory, the Bulldogs keep their perfect season alive and finish 8-0 in SEC play for the second consecutive year.
Georgia was clinging to a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but its defense held Kentucky to a 38-yard field goal attempt. A bad snap forced Matt Ruffolo to kick with the laces in, and he shanked it wide left to keep it a two-score game with 4:17 to play. The miscue was the dagger the Dawgs needed to prevail, but make no mistake, it needed that error.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis led his team on a 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter after his defense stopped Georgia on fourth-and-goal to finally take momentum away in what was an offensively-challenged outing for both teams. It was the first time any team put together a drive that long since Kirby Smart took over the Dawgs.
Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny booted three field goals in the first half for an early 9-0 lead. However, the slow start by the Dawgs offense rapidly transformed into brilliant performance by star running back Kenny McIntosh. The versatile star scored Georgia’s only touchdown midway through the third quarter to create a 16-point margin. The senior finished with 143 yards rushing and 19 more receiving, which was a big reason why Georgia was able to keep Kentucky at arm’s length.
The ability of Georgia’s defense to bend but not break was a significant factor. It stopped Kentucky on fourth-and-1 from the 32-yard line to halt Kentucky’s first drive of the game, and Levis was picked off by Kelee Ringo on the goal line to end the Wildcats’ second possession. Those two stops set the tone for the Dawgs.
What are the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s game?
Kenny McIntosh was the MVP
The senior Bulldogs running back was the most valuable player on the field, for either team, and Georgia might have been in big trouble without him. His 9-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter on Georgia’s fifth drive of the game came after those three field goals and quarterback Stetson Bennett IV’s ill-advised interception over the middle on the first drive of the second half. Basically, McIntosh kicked a neutral Georgia offense into gear.
It wasn’t necessarily a high gear, but it was enough to get it rolling in the right direction. In the end, that clutch run was all Georgia needed to get the win. The Dawgs had seven rushes of 10 or more yards on the afternoon, five of which came from McIntosh.
McIntosh has been an unsung hero of sorts for this team. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken needed a replacement for James Cook, who was the multi-faceted stud out of the backfield on last year’s national championship squad. It’s important that he had this kind of performance moving forward. Now coach Kirby Smart knows that when nothing is going his team’s way, he can hand it off to his veteran running back and let him shoulder the load.
First two possessions told the tale
This game wasn’t officially over until Levis’ fourth-down pass over the middle fell harmlessly to the turf with just over one minute to play in the game. However, the Wildcats’ first two possessions were what really cost them the game.
Levis, wide receiver Barion Brown and running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. sliced through the Georgia defense before that ill-fated fourth-and-1 stop. It was an empty possession, but it at least gave Levis and the rest of the offense confidence that it can go toe-to-toe with this defense.
It was the same story on the following drive. Rodriguez pounded the middle of the Bulldogs defensive line, Levis worked off play action and they were 2 of 2 on third downs on the 13-play drive prior to the gut punch by Ringo’s interception at the goal line. The Wildcats were in catch-up mode from that moment, and it felt like any home-field advantage that the Wildcats had froze in the chilly Lexington air.
Georgia’s OL was stellar
McIntosh had an amazing performance, but his offensive line deserves a ton of credit for his showing. They didn’t allow a single tackle for loss on that afternoon, and parted the Wildcats defense like the Red Sea on the touchdown run. It wasn’t just that drive, though. McIntosh wasn’t touched until he was well beyond the line of scrimmage virtually the whole game, which set the tone against a Kentucky defense that wasn’t able to match the physicality.
Bennett didn’t provide much help through the air, and Georgia was still able to manage 247 yards rushing and 5.4 yards per rush. The offense was one-dimensional by necessity, and it didn’t matter thanks to the work done in the trenches.
Bennett’s Heisman chances are gone
The senior quarterback had a chance to further cement his case to, at the very least, earn enough votes to earn an invite to New York City in mid-December as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He had a national stage late in the season to make an impression on voters who might have been considering other players who light up stat sheets on a weekly basis.
He didn’t take advantage, though. He went 13 of 19 for 116 yards, zero touchdowns and the one interception. After that, it was clear Monken and the offensive staff called the game in a way that didn’t require Bennett to be a difference-maker. It worked on Saturday, but that’s not something to which Heisman voters will take kindly
Does it matter in the end? Nope. Bennett’s only goal this year has been to win back-to-back national titles, and that goal remains alive and well.