ATHENS — Today, I’d like to introduce you to Joe Mussatto. I’ve actually only met Mussatto recently myself and still haven’t met him in person. But I finally will on Saturday night in the press box at Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium. The Georgia Bulldogs (4-4, 2-4 SEC) will meet the Wildcats (5-3, 4-2) there for a 7:30 p.m. kick (SEC Network).
Mussatto covers Kentucky football for SEC Country. He’s a young guy, having only recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma, but he did a lot of sports reporting while in college. The funny thing about that is he basically went from covering one Coach Stoops to another.
“I’m still afraid of accidentally addressing Mark as Bob,” Mussatto told me.
I sent five questions on Kentucky football Mussatto’s way and I’m supposed to return the favor. If you want to know more than you learn here, you can follow Mussatto on Twitter @Joe_Mussatto or check out SEC Country’s Kentucky page online. You’ll find a lot of valuable info there.
Now, let’s get on to the questions and answers:
1. Saw your report on RB Jojo Kemp breaking his hand. How does this affect Kentucky’s offense and the running back rotation?
Mussatto: “It’s not a huge concern for Kentucky as Kemp had fallen to the third option after Boom Williams and freshman Benny Snell. Kentucky often runs out of the wildcat formation and Kemp had a big role in that, but both Williams and Snell took quite a few snaps out of it last weekend against Missouri. Snell has emerged as Kentucky’s primary back. He had 192 yards on 38 carries last week. Williams is still the big-play guy. Expect those two to get a bunch of carries on Saturday.”
2. Speaking of offense, it looks like things have kind of smoothed out for the Cats with Stephen Johnson at quarterback. Can you rehash how he kind of came to be The Man under center and kind of how he fits in with that offense overall?
Mussatto: “Johnson took over for starter Drew Barker after the first series in Week 3 when Barker left with a back injury. There’s still no timetable for Barker’s return and Johnson is definitely the guy. He’s 5-1 since taking over the job with the only loss coming at Alabama. There’s no doubt that Kentucky’s run game has been the primary reason for the team’s success, but Johnson deserves at least a bit of credit for holding it all together and climbing out of an 0-2 hole to start the season. He’s got a good deep ball and can offer a bit of a dual-threat look, but fumbling has been a huge problem for him. Kentucky is last in the SEC in turnover margin.”
3. Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way: So does the 5-3 start and positive vibes two-thirds of the season take Mark Stoops off the hot seat? Or was he really ever on it, in your opinion?
Mussatto: “I don’t think he was ever in danger of losing his job, but the pressure was definitely rising. The fan base seemed to turn on him after a bad start and it finally feels like Stoops is back to the point where fans are behind him again. Kentucky is all but guaranteed its first bowl game since 2010 and even the talk about the Cats still being in contention to win the East has Stoops 100 percent off the hot seat.”
4. It seems to me one of the intriguing and important matchups in this game is going to Georgia’s running game versus Kentucky’s rush D. Probably the same in converse as well, for that matter. But how do you see the specific matchup of the Wildcats being able to stop Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?
Mussatto: “That’s surely Kentucky’s primary concern. The Wildcats have improved against the run, but the defense is a group filled with sophomores and juniors. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State both had success in the run game against Kentucky, but neither stayed with it. I think Georgia should go all-in with Chubb and Michel even if it doesn’t prove to be effective immediately. Kentucky is a little thin on the front seven and there’s a good chance they could wear down by the second half.”
5. Pretty big game for both teams, I’d say. On a scale of 1 to 10, what would you say is Kentucky’s level of confidence and motivation for Saturday’s game against Georgia?
Mussatto: “Motivation has to be a 10. It still seems like an absurd thought, but if Kentucky beats Georgia and Tennessee and Florida loses at Arkansas and LSU, Kentucky wins the East. Kentucky knows half of the equation is out of its hands, but I think the team knows what’s at stake Saturday. I’d put level of confidence at about 5. Outside of Missouri, Kentucky’s other three SEC wins came by an average margin of five points. The offense isn’t set up to blow anyone out and this might be another game that comes down to the fourth quarter. The Wildcats are riding a little bit of confidence having won five of their last six games but the current crop of Kentucky players has had zero success against Georgia.”
Mussatto’s prediction: “I think it’s going to be a close game decided in the fourth quarter. Both teams have great running games, but I think Georgia’s will prove to be a little bit tougher to stop. Kentucky has played better than Georgia this season, but UGA still has superior talent on both sides of the ball. I’m going with Georgia in a close one.”