INSTANT ANALYSIS: No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs make statement with 34-17 defeat of No. 9 Kentucky

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Mecole Hardman and the Bulldogs raced past Kentucky and into the SEC Championship Game on Saturday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Bulldogs are heading back to The Benz!

No. 6 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) clinched the Eastern Division’s berth into the SEC Championship Game with a 34-17 win over No. 9 Kentucky (7-2, 5-2) at Kroger Field on Saturday. The Bulldogs defeated Auburn to win the SEC title at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last season.

Georgia will play either Alabama or LSU in this year’s conference championship game. Those two teams are playing late Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

The Wildcats could have made it to Atlanta for the first time in school history with a win. That’s why they were calling this the second-biggest game in Kentucky football history.

But the Wildcats were overwhelmed by Georgia’s stout running game, and sophomore back D’Andre Swift in particular. After recording the first 100-yard rushing game of his career last Saturday against Florida, Swift busted loose against Kentucky for 156 yards on 16 carries and 2 touchdowns. More than half of those yards came on an 83-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.

That touchdown followed another score on Georgia’s previous possession by Elijah Holyfield to start the second half. Holyfield had 115 yards on 15 carries in the game. Those two scoring drives broke open what had been a 14-3 halftime lead for the Bulldogs, who finished with 331 yards on the ground as a team.

Making the productive ground game even more impressive for Georgia was the fact that starting center Lamont Gaillard went out of the game with a knee injury on the first possession of the game. The left knee injury came on second-and-goal at the Kentucky 7 and the Bulldogs scored on the drive, which was set up by Mecole Hardman’s 65-yard punt return.

Freshman Trey Hill played the rest of the game and – with the exception of a turnover on a high snap – played well for the Bulldogs.

It was also another good day for quarterback Jake Fromm, who was 14-of-19 for 113 yards and a touchdown throwing the ball. The Bulldogs also utilized freshman quarterback Justin Fields in short-yardage situations.

It was a good game for a half. The Bulldogs were on the move on their third possession and had reached the Kentucky 26 when Hill, Gaillard’s replacement, sent a shotgun snap over Fromm’s head. Star outside linebacker Josh Allen recovered for the Wildcats at the 33.

That initiated for Kentucky a 15-play drive that consumed nearly eight minutes. Georgia freshman Channing Tindall sacked quarterback Terry Wilson on third-down to force a field goal. But at that point the Wildcats had possessed the football for 16:46 compared to Georgia’s 4:50.

The Bulldogs responded with a 14-play drive of their own that included two key third-down conversions. On second-and-17 at the 20, Fromm gave the ball to Swift on a draw play and the sophomore running back made safety Mike Edwards and Allen miss with inside cuts on the way to highlight reel touchdown.

Georgia was playing for another half-ending score after driving using just over a minute to drive to Kentucky 27. But Fromm and Swift fumbled the exchange on another draw play and Allen recovered again to keep the score where it was. And 14-3 was the exact the score by which the Wildcats trailed Missouri at the half last week. They came back to win 15-14.

But that wasn’t the case this week, as the Bulldogs outscored Kentucky 20-14 in the second half.

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