ATHENS — I’m like you. I’ve compared the Georgia and Kentucky rosters, and I’ve gone over their respective schedules and played the score game. If you do that, we all will come to the same conclusion. That is, there’s no way the Wildcats should be able to stay on the field with the Bulldogs on Saturday.
There’s a caveat in this matchup, though. It’s the fact that this is college football. It’s the fact that this is a road game for Georgia. That means passion and emotion will play a significant role. And, based on everything I’ve been seeing and hearing, the Bulldogs are going to encounter a once-a-generation type of atmosphere when it enters Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium for Saturday afternoon’s Top 10 showdown.
You heard it from longtime Lexington Herald-Leader columnist John Clay this week when he put into historical perspective in DawgNation’s Opposing View blog the significance of Saturday’s game between the Cats and Dogs. And we heard it again from Kentucky’s Benny Snell on Wednesday in Lexington when he excitedly told reporters that facing Georgia for the SEC East title on Saturday is “the biggest game ever” for the Wildcats. It’s a notion from which the home team is not shying away.
“Biggest event in the history of our beautiful stadium,” said Snell, the SEC’s leading rusher and maybe its most outspoken player. “It’s going to be loud and we’re going to feel the love all the way down to the field. This is why we came to Kentucky, to change the way people think about the football program.”
The Wildcats will if they win. That’s still to be determined.
There is nothing on the depth chart and schedule breakdowns that tells you that should happen. Georgia has much more to choose from when it comes to quality skill players and linemen. The Bulldogs are infinitely better on special teams, from Hot Rod on down.
The teams have four common opponents, all from the SEC. Georgia beat Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri by a combined score of 161-76. Kentucky beat them by an aggregate 80-47. Put another way, the Bulldogs won those games by an average score of 40-19. The Wildcats’ average score was 20-11.
The closest comparison we have is Kentucky’s most recent game at Missouri. The Wildcats won 15-14 on a controversial final play that shouldn’t have happened, in my opinion (let’s just say it should’ve been a no-call if not offensive pass interference).
Doesn’t matter. That’s all semantics now. It now comes down to a one-game playoff for the right to represent the East in the SEC Championship. And the Wildcats are going bonkers about getting that opportunity.
And that matters.
Not to get overly dramatic here, but I find myself looking back at the Purdue-Ohio State game from a couple of weeks back. It’s the one that ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi framed so well by telling us the story of terminal cancer patient and student Tyler Trent. Purdue won for Trent, 49-20.
There’s not one among us who believes that the Boilermakers had the better players than the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes that day. But what they had was emotion and a shared purpose. When an entire community gets together and starts pulling in the same direction for singular purpose, it can be an extremely powerful thing.
That’s what Georgia is going to be dealing with Saturday.
Them there’s the football side of things, of course. Kentucky provides a pretty good matchup in that regard, too. Between Snell and a mobile, running quarterback in Terry Wilson, the Wildcats are among the best in the SEC at running the football (214 yards per game). They’re also among the best at stopping the run (107 ypg). Heck, they’re even good at punting. The Cats rank 48th to Georgia’s 105th on that front.
It’s a Kentucky team that would make Bear Bryant proud, which is about the last time the Wildcats put as good of a team out on the field. They’re saying this is the finest collection of Wildcats since Bear’s best played in the 1951 Sugar Bowl.
Then there’s the atmosphere that awaits. There’s such a buzz about Saturday’s game that nobody up there is even talking about Tuesday’s basketball opener between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 4 Duke.
Lest we forget, the Bulldogs haven’t exactly been cool and composed in momentous SEC road games. They played their worst game of 2017 at Auburn last year and their worst game of this season — Georgia fans can only hope — three weeks ago at LSU.
Look, I’m not confusing the atmosphere of Commonwealth Stadium with the ones Georgia encountered at Jordan-Hare Stadium or Tiger Stadium earlier this season. Kroger Field at Commonwealth Stadium, as they’re calling it now, seats just 61,000. But this place also shouldn’t be confused with Vanderbilt or Georgia Tech either.
Kentucky just got through pouring $110 million of renovations and improvements into its stadium. And the Big Blue faithful has been packing it out. Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs will have been sold out for a month by the time they kick off.
As ever, it will be important for Georgia to stand up to all that fuss in the early going and let the game boil down to blocking and tackling and one-on-one matchups. If the Bulldogs can do that, stick to their guns, keep running the rock, stopping the run and avoiding big mistakes, they’ll take care of business and punch their ticket to Atlanta.
If not, be prepared to witness some goal posts coming down and to see Big Blue paying some SEC fines for postgame celebrations.
The Bulldogs won on the Rodrigo Blankenship last-second field goal and three others that made him famous two years ago. I say his three field goals will the difference this time. Georgia, 23-13.