You probably expected the Georgia Bulldogs to be here. The Dawgs were coming off their best season in some time, as they won the SEC Championship for the first time since 2005. Jake Fromm and UGA also made it through to the CFB Playoff Championship Game, and despite how it ended, they were still primed for success this season. Few, if any, doubted their ability to be in position to win the SEC East again.
What you probably didn’t expect, though, is that the Kentucky Wildcats are here. Not even the biggest Benny Snell Jr. fan in the world could’ve told you that the Wildcats would be on the doorstep of turning Atlanta into Catlanta this December. This wasn’t supposed to happen. But then again, neither was Kentucky defeating the Florida Gators. And guess what? They did that. Once Saturday rolls around, they have a chance to pull off another unthinkable task: Winning the SEC East.
There hasn’t been much of a garden variety of schools to represent the East in Atlanta. Florida and Georgia have been there 18 times. Sprinkle in five appearances by the Tennessee Volunteers, two by the Missouri Tigers and one by the South Carolina Gamecocks and you have what’s happened since 1992. Kentucky, along with the Vanderbilt Commodores, are the only East squads to never make it to the SEC Championship Game. UK hasn’t ever really been this close to pulling it off, either. So that makes this all the more remarkable.
To pull off this feat, Kentucky will need to get their offense going. UK strung together five pretty great games of offense to start their season, which helps explain how they were unbeaten at the time. They averaged 412.4 yards per game with a median mark of 427. Their lowest output was 300. That will play. What won’t is how it’s been in their last three. They had 178 in their loss to the Texas A&M Aggies, then 298 in a win over Vandy. They had 385 against Mizzou, which helped largely. They have been on an upward progression, but they will have to hope it stays above that 300-yard threshold.
Granted, doing that against UGA is no easy task. But UGA has been leaking a bit against the run. They’ve given up marks of 138, 275 and 170 in their last three contests. They’ve given up more than 138 yards five times this season. Truth be told: Georgia’s run defense has been leaking since last year’s WLOCP. Before that game they gave up 82.1 yards per game. It’s been an entirely different story after they got through that game. Teams are averaging 152.4 yards per game against them ever since. Georgia has had two games where they haven’t allowed more than 90 yards this season: vs. South Carolina (54) and vs. Tennessee (66). Benny Snell Jr. and Asim Rose have a shot to make something happen, but they’ll probably face a lot of 7- or 8-man fronts given how lowly their passing attack has been. So, they’re going to have their work cut out for them.
For Georgia, this will certainly be one of the best defenses they face all year. The LSU Tigers are up there too and, well, we saw what happened then. Fromm had best be ready to play, and he’ll be doing so against a defense that’s given up just 12 touchdowns all year and only six through the air. D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield may find it tough to run, as teams are only averaging 3.3 yards per carry against the Cats this year. They’ve only had two instances — vs. Florida, vs. Murray State — where the opposing runners picked up more than 4.0 YPC. UK’s defense is legit, so we’ll see what this fierce running attack can do against them.
Dare to be different, Wildcats fans.
Aim for a shot at redemption, Bulldogs fans.
Let’s get weird.
HOW TO WATCH
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT
TV: CBS (Check your local listings)
Watch Online: CBSSports.com
Spread: Georgia -8/-8.5/-9, depending on locale
Records ATS: Georgia (4-4) | Kentucky (4-4)