Georgia football remains on pace to achieve all its season goals, but the Bulldogs path to the first goal goes through Lexington, Ky.
The No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) play No. 9 Kentucky (7-1, 5-1) at 3:30 p.m. (TV: CBS, Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM) at Kroger Field with the SEC East Division title on the line. The winner clinches a spot on the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 1.
“Practice has been good, guys have been fired up, been some good competition out there, good energy for this time of year,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, assessing the Bulldogs’ preparation. “They’ve got something to play for and they’re fired up.”
Defending SEC champion Georgia is aiming to make its first back-to-back trips to the SEC Championship Game since 2011 and 2012.
Kentucky is one of four teams that has not played in the SEC Championship Game since its origin, in 1992, when the league added Arkansas and South Carolina and began divisional play in football.
Here are 5 things of note entering the showdown:
Jake Fromm’s validation
The Georgia sophomore quarterback redeemed himself in last Saturday’s 36-17 win over rival Florida in Jacksonville, 17-of-24 passing for 240 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Fromm improved to 19-3 as a starter on the heels of arguably his worst performance in a 36-16 loss at No. 3 LSU two weeks ago. The Bulldogs’ loss in Baton Rouge triggered great controversy, with many calling for Smart to play true freshman Justin Fields, a highly-touted recruit who has seen limited action this season.
Georgia’s season was hanging in the balance against Florida, which entered the game tied atop the SEC East with the Bulldogs and Kentucky, and Fromm responded in the face of pressure. The Gators blitzed Fromm on 12 plays, and the Warner Robins product responded with 10 completions for 121 yards and a TD under those circumstances.
“Jake Fromm is a high-character kid who works his every day and I’m sure he felt and heard the noise,” Smart said.
Sophomore receiver Jeremiah Holloman and freshman nose guard Jordan Davis made their first career starts coming off of Georgia’s bye week and both made significant contributions.
The 6-foot-2 Holloman caught a career-high two touchdowns, making scoring catches in the end zone from 16 and 12 yards out, part of a four-catch, 48-yard performance.
“I’ve become a student of the game,” said Holloman, who talks daily with former UGA receiver and current Chicago Bears wideout Javon Wims. “The opportunity was there, and I took advantage of it.”
Davis, a 6-6, 320-pound nose guard from Charlotte, N.C., clogged the middle as the Bulldogs limited Florida to 170 yards rushing and forced three turnovers.
“Youth is a good thing because they listen and they learn,” said Smart, who signed the No. 1-ranked class in the nation in 2018. “But they also grow up and get better.
Georgia’s win against Florida was not without its shortcomings, most noticeably, an unlikely goal-line stand by Florida at the Gators’ 1-yard line in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs were unable to score a touchdown on seven consecutive plays from the Florida 1-yard line — the extra attempts coming without the benefit of a first down thanks to a Gators’ pass interference call and offsides penalty.
Tailback Elijah Holyfield was stopped three times, Fromm was stopped twice on QB sneaks, D’Andre Swift’s run outside fell short and Fromm threw incomplete on a pass attempt that drew the flag for defensive interference.
Some have suggested that Fields, an athletic 6-3, 235-pound quarterback, could be the answer with his dual-threat abilities.
Smart refused to disclose who was working in the Bulldogs’ so-called “Wildcat” package, calling the information “classified” at his weekly Monday press conference.
Georgia right guard Ben Cleveland could add power to the Bulldogs line and help fix the short-yardage issue if deemed healthy enough to play after practicing this week. The 6-6, 335-pound junior from Toccoa, Ga., has been out since suffering a fractured left fibula in Georgia’s 43-29 win at Missouri on Sept. 22.
Smart said Cleveland may not start ahead of true freshman Cade Mays, who has started in his place, but he could be available.
Swift, a blazing sophomore tailback, appeared to benefit most from the open week as he posted the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career and sealed the Florida win with a 33-yard touchdown run with just under 5 minutes remaining.
Smart said sophomore inside linebacker Monty Rice, who led the Bulldogs with 11 tackles, has fully recovered from a sprained knee injury that he had been attempting to play through.
About Kentucky football
The Wildcats made a statement this year was different when they beat Florida for the first time since 1987, ending a 31-game losing streak in the series. With a 5-1 SEC record, this Kentucky team is also the first to clinch a winning league mark in 41 years.
The Wildcats have the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing 13 points per game, and they rank 17th in the country against the run, yielding 108.5 yards per game.
“It will probably be our toughest challenge to date,” Smart said. “We haven’t seen a defense with this much experience and depth, speed.
“They have everything you want: size up front, speed, guys on the back end.
The Wildcats haven’t allowed more than 20 points in a game this season, and in rallying from 14-3 down to a 15-14 win at Missouri last Saturday did not allow the Tigers a first down in the second half.
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