ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart had no problem explaining the game plan Saturday night.
Rain and wind meant the No. 10-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1 SEC) were going to keep the ball on the ground and play field position football against an overmatched Kentucky team using a receiver at quarterback.
The end result was a 21-0 victory at Sanford Stadium in a game that wasn’t pretty.
It was the first time in 28 years Georgia was involved in a game with a scoreless first half, and only the second time in Jake Fromm’s 36 games that he didn’t throw a TD pass.
“It was going to be a field-position battle the whole game,” Smart said. “I was proud of the way our guys fought in what was a tough environment to play in.”
The Bulldogs have the top scoring defense in the SEC, and Saturday’s shutout was the second of this season and the fourth in Smart’s four years as head coach.
Fromm did exactly what he was supposed to do, managing he game cleanly with no delay penalties and not turning the ball over. He was 9-of-12 passing for 35 yards — attempting and completing only one pass in the second half — in leading the Bulldogs to victory. Fromm also scrambled for yardage and avoided sacks.
Running backs (A)
D’Andre Swift put the team on his shoulders, rushing for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries Saturday night. Swift ran between the tackles and bounced aside and found cutback lanes in traffic, including a 39-yard TD dash that broke open a scoreless tie in the third quarter. Brian Herrien was efficient with 13 carries for 60 yards and an 8-yard TD run.
The receivers were asked to spend much of the night blocking, which they did on Georgia’s 43 rushes for 235 yards. There were only 12 passes thrown, five caught by receivers, and four by freshman George Pickens. Smart praised the outside blocking from Kearis Jackson and Tyler Simmons.
Offensive line (B+)
Georgia’s offensive line was pushing into an 8-man box most of the night, but by the fourth quarter they had achieved the desired results. Slight markdown for the inability to convert the fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak, there was not a clean center exchange. There didn’t appear to be any other breakdowns, and Fromm was not sacked.
Defensive line (A-)
Georgia’s defensive front stepped up and maintained their gaps, forcing runs outside and enabling linebackers and defensive backs to come up in run support and make stops. Michael Barnett had three tackles, but the most impressive work this group does doesn’t show up in the boxscore.
Impressive work from Nakobe Dean (6 tackles), Tae Crowder (6 tackles) and Quay Walker (3 tackles). Dean also forced a fumble, while Walker was in on a sack with safety J.R. Reed. The linebackers patrolled the flats and allowed UK’s Bowden to slip through them just once for 21 yards.
Kentucky didn’t complete a pass until there was 4 1/2 minutes left, and was just 2-of-15 passing for 17 yards with completions of 9 and 8 yards. J.R. Reed rose to the challenge and delivered a key fumble-inducing hit. Richard LeCounte had six stops and was excellent in run support. Cornerbacks DJ Daniel and Eric Stokes answered the bell when challenged.
Special teams (B)
Big-time play by Rodrigo Blankenship to make a touchdown-saving tackle on a 58-yard kick return. Punter Jake Camarda was clutch in the bad weather, averaging 52.8 yards per punt. Dominick Blaylock had a 7-yard punt return, but Prather Hudson had an illegal block that pinned UGA back at its own 9.
Shutouts are hard to come by, but Georgia’s defense was up to the challenge against a unique offense. Smart said none of the defensive schemes UGA had played this season carried over to how they were forced to match up with the the Wildcats. Georgia’s offense was patient, but it protected the football and wore down Kentucky to win for the 10th straight time in the series.