Post Game Analysis: How Georgia Beat the Cats

Missed Opportunities, Costly Turnovers Spoil Big Night at CWS

The Kentucky Wildcats suffered a hard-fought, heartbreaking loss to Georgia at Commonwealth Stadium in a pivotal SEC East matchup. On a night where the crowd packed the house, the environment was electric and with so much opportunity on the table, in the end, the Cats came up a play short.

Arguably no stat tells the story of the game better than total yards, where Georgia outgained the Cats 460 to 308 yards in the game—and that stat goes a long way to explain how the Dawgs managed getting into field goal position four times, which kept them in the game despite losing three fumbles.

Nov 5, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops walks off the field after the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium. Georgia defeated Kentucky 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Yards and first downs added up to the stat Coach Mark Stoops had said had been key in recent games, one we’ve dominated—time of possession. Georgia owned this key stat against Kentucky, 33:59 to 26:01.

So when you take a step back and look at the stats from Saturday night’s game, Georgia probably should have had a commanding lead late in the fourth quarter. Had it not been for Georgia giving up three fumbles, it might have been a different game altogether.

But football isn’t all stats, and Kentucky’s defense, though it bent often, dug in and showed some will at times, refusing to break through three quarters. Going into the fourth quarter, after Georgia’s initial drive right down the Cats’ throat to start the game, the Kentucky defense, through some opportunistic forced turnovers and key third down stops, managed to hold the Dawgs to just three field goals and a 21-16 lead.

Early in the third quarter, the Cats lead 21-13 after an impressive five-play, 56-yard drive capped by Snell’s second bruising touchdown of the night. Though the Bulldogs had moved the ball better most of the night, key turnovers and a solid ground game had positioned Kentucky right where it wanted to be.

Then Kentucky turnovers, which have plagued this offense all season long, finally reared their ugly head, as the Cats coughed up the ball on consecutive possessions. With 6:12 in the third, Garrett Johnson was hit from behind and fumbled the ball, which Georgia recovered on the Kentucky 38-yard line, capitalizing with their third field goal of the night to cut the lead to 21-16. Then on the ensuing possession, the Cats gave the ball back again when Georgia’s Deandre Baker intercepted Stephen Johnson with 4:51 in the third quarter. Kentucky wideout Jeff Badet streaked open down the middle of the field, Johnson unloaded a beautiful bomb that hit Badet perfectly in stride. But the speedy Cat bobbled the ball, which remarkably bounced back right into the trailing hands of Baker. What momentarily looked like a sure touchdown sounded like a sickening gut punch from the mouths of the Wildcat faithful in Commonwealth Stadium.

Nov 5, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs the ball against Kentucky Wildcats defensive back Adrian Middleton (99) in the second half at Commonwealth Stadium. Georgia defeated Kentucky 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Cats stiffened and forced a punt on Georgia’s ensuing possession, momentum was gone, and so too was field position. Georgia effectively flipped the field, with Kentucky’s next three possessions starting inside their own 30-yard line.

And then our defense finally broke. There were no more Georgia turnovers to bail us out. We couldn’t summon another play on third down to halt the drive. Instead, the Dawgs finally marched the ball down the field on a seven-play, 67-yard drive, where Eason was poised and accurate, connecting on three passes to push the ball down to the Kentucky 26. That’s when the Georgia running game delivered the next big blow, as Sony Michel took it around the right end and up the sideline for the touchdown. A successful two-point conversion gave the Dawgs a 24-21 lead.

But Kentucky had an answer in the ground game one more time, going back to the well from the Wildcat, pounding the ball exclusively with Benny Snell. After a 24-yard completion by Johnson to Dorian Baker to take the ball to the Georgia 47, Snell carried the ball seven consecutive plays down the Georgia 9-yard line to setup first and goal. On first down Snell carried again, this time for no gain. On second down, again back to the freshman for two yards. That setup 3rd and goal from the 7-yard line and the most controversial call of the night for Cats fans. Johnson dropped back and threw to Baker on a fade route into the corner of the end zone. Well defended, the throw was high and incomplete, and the Cats were forced to settle for a field goal to tie the game 24-24 with 2:47 remaining.

A lot of Kentucky fans questioned that call following the loss. Should they have gone back to Snell one more time, or possibly have rolled Johnson out of the pocket on a run/pass option? Maybe. But I’ll defend the call in this way: Baker is 6’3”, 208 pounds and a tough matchup in a jump ball situation. We simply didn’t make the play.

The result was a tie score and Georgia’s ensuing possession, where the Bulldogs marched the ball 67 yards to setup the game-winning field goal as time expired. The Cats were unable to get Georgia into a single third down on the final drive, a masterful mix of four passes and four runs that took the ball down to the Kentucky 8-yard line, setting up Rodgrigo Blakenship’s fourth field goal of the night, a 25-yard game winner.

It was a hard-fought game, with both offenses effective at times and turnovers forced by both teams. Opportunities abounded for the Cats, both within this single game, and in the context of the season as a whole. But unlike wins over South Carolina, Vandy or Mississippi State, the Cats couldn’t make the play late to win the close one.

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