By the Numbers: Kentucky’s upset attempt vs. UGA hinges on one key factor
Georgia football fans can get their statistical fix each week with By the Numbers — a stats-based look at how UGA coach Kirby Smart is doing in his attempt to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC and continue the program’s pursuit of a national championship. This week’s edition of By the Numbers looks at Kentucky running back Benny Snell.
There’s a lot of hype around Georgia’s game at Kentucky Saturday. It’s a battle of teams ranked in the top 10, it will decide the SEC East and its the hottest ticket Kroger Field has seen in years. However, the Wildcats chances of winning have probably been greatly overstated.
The betting public doesn’t seem to think that though. Las Vegas and the online sports books have seemingly sided with Big Blue Nation. The point spread has steadily dropped through the week. Georgia opened as a 12.5-point favorite. However, that was down to 8.5 at some sports books by Friday afternoon.
Yet underdogs in this spot haven’t performed well recently. In games involving SEC teams ranked in the top 25 where the favorite was favored by more than a touchdown, the favorite has covered 60 percent of the time since 2005 with an overall record of 41-27-1.
In other words, the higher-ranked team has usually won when ranked teams have met in SEC play, and the majority of the time it hasn’t been close.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for concern for Bulldogs fans.
First of all, the stats gurus at The Power Rank think the Wildcats will cover the spread. Their official prediction is a seven-point win for UGA, and they give Kentucky a 30-percent chance to pull the out-right upset.
A long shot victory for Kentucky?
The only way that possibly happens is if the Wildcats find a way to do to Georgia what they have done to most of their other opponents this season: simply keeping the Bulldogs from touching the football. Kentucky is 24th in the country in fewest opponent plays per game. Opposing offenses are running just 67.7 plays per game against the Wildcats.
The way Kentucky controls the pace of games is the most-dangerous thing about the Wildcats. It’s one of the reasons Kentucky has been so strong on defense (third-best in the country according to S&P+). It’s a defense that usually stays very well-rested.
Therefore, in order for Georgia to win it will have to avoid falling prey to Kentucky’s ball-control offense. That means stopping running back Benny Snell.
Believe it or not, that might not be as hard as it seems.
Snell’s gotten a lot of attention this year, and that’s seemingly for good reason: he leads the SEC in rushing. However, Snell’s also been a high-volume back. His 179 carries are 28 more than any other player in the league has this season.
Snell hasn’t always made the most of those opportunities though. He’s just 20th in the SEC with 5.22 yards per attempt. And despite averaging 22 carries per game, Snell has been held below 100 yards four times.
UGA’s rush defense has undoubtedly had its issues this season, but Snell isn’t exactly Herschel Walker — no matter what Paul Finebaum might think.
Plus UGA was a little better defensively last week. It held Florida to 4.74 yards per play — 1.86 yards less than the Gators’ season average. It also stopped Florida on eight of its 12 third-down attempts, and on its only fourth-down attempt.
If that feat can be duplicated this Saturday, it’ll be hard for Kentucky to control the clock the way it’s been accustomed to this season, and the Wildcats’ upset attempt should be easily dodged.