ATHENS — Mark Stoops, like any other coach, always believes his team could have played better.
But Stoops wanted to be very clear about his stance on Georgia football.
“Where can I start other than that is a very good football team, (and) I want to give them the respect they deserve,” Stoops said in his postgame Zoom.
“I don’t know if there’s many great teams in college football this year. I know the one we just played is.”
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The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) held No. 11 Kentucky (6-1, 4-1) to a season-low 51 yards rushing on 27 attempts en route to the 30-13 win on Saturday.
Stoops and the Wildcats did, however, get the last punch in with a touchdown with 4 seconds remaining.
Kentucky covered the final gambling spread on the game, 21 1/2 points, with a score that came on a 22-play drive after it called for a timeout amid boos from the Georgia crowd.
“I don’t know about the message, but I want to score,” Stoops said. “That’s a quality defense, and we don’t know the way that things are going to play out the rest of the year, and we had an opportunity to score, so we did.”
The Wildcats converted five third downs and two fourth downs against a Georgia defense that, hours earlier, Kirby Smart, had compared to some of the best in history at Alabama.
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Smart conceded some of it was Georgia playing a more conservative defense to make Kentucky use time, but some of it was good coaching.
“I was talking to Dan (Lanning) during the drive, just telling him we’re eating clock, we’re fine, be patient,” Smart said. “But it wasn’t like it was a strategy. They did a good job, they were keeping us off balance.”
Kentucky was within a touchdown at halftime, 14-7, dominating time of possession by holding the ball more than 19 of the first 30 minutes.
Georgia scored on three of its four possessions in the second half, pounding out 166 yards on the ground and another 250 through the air for the game.
“When they’re physical, and they run the ball, and play-action pass like that and keep us off balance, they did what they wanted,” Stoops said. “I mean, rushing for 166 yards keeps you off balance and steps up their pass game.
“Stetson Bennett had a very good second half… definitely, they emphasized passing it and keeping us off balance in the second half.”
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Bennett was 14-of-20 passing for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Kentucky QB Will Levis, meanwhile, was 32 of 42 for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Wildcats converted on 9 of 19 third downs, but Stoops felt Kentucky could have been even sharper.
“We just didn’t play very clean tonight, and very disciplined against a quality team, that will expose you the minute you get out of gaps,” Stoops said, “the minute you don’t do things the way you’re supposed to.”
Ultimately, Stoops indicated, it came back to Kentucky’s inability to run the ball.
Chris Rodriquez, who entered the game leading the SEC in rushing, had 7 yards on 7 carries.
“It was disappointing to not be effective at all in the run game, and I think they have a lot to do with it,” Stoops said. “They are as good as I’ve seen them and they know that we want to run the football and we want to have that balance. They’ve got some difference-makers at all levels.”