Coming into this game, the Kentucky football team has not had a lot to cheer about. A couple of wins against sub-par competition, and that’s about it. Well, there was that one half against South Carolina. With mother nature calling the mercy rule against Arkansas, what else does Kentucky really have to play for? Everyone says pride. This team has shown a lot of fight and hasn’t given up against all odds. How will they fair against the #12 team in the nation?
If you had to bet on a phrase that would have been said during the 1st quarter, what would it be? “The struggles continue for Kentucky..?” Or what about “Georgia taking over on defense..”? Let’s go with “Morgan Newton to Aaron Boyd for the touchdown!” No, really. After Jonathan George and the ‘Cats offensive line drove down the field by running all over the Georgia defensive line. Shooting through big holes made by the offensive line, George was able to drive the ‘Cats into the redzone. Starting QB Jalen Whitlow orchestrated the drive as well by running a few plays of his own, showing his athletic ability. Getting down into the redzone, the coaching staff throw in Morgan Newton. Choosing to have the experience quarterback in this situation, Newton runs the ball and gains significant yardage close to the endzone. The very next play saw Aaron Boyd sneaking into the back of the endzone and the Newton pass finds him for the Kentucky touchdown. With that score, the ‘Cats have their first offensive touchdown in the 1st quarter since November 2010. The touchdown was also Morgan Newton’s first touchdown throw of the year.
After the offensive blows open the first quarter to put the ‘Cats up 7-0, the defensive line has to show up and match their effort. Holding Georgia’s prolific pass/run offense is a hard thing to do, but the ‘Cats stood tall and shut down the Georgia offense. On 3rd & 9, Georgia QB Aaron Murray took a huge shot and got sacked by a couple of ‘Cats, forcing the punt. ‘Cats still lead midway through the 1st quarter.
After being run out of town on UK’s first offensive drive, the Georgia defense was anxious to get back on the field and shut down the ‘Cats. The Georgia defense would not be fooled twice by the running of George and Raymond Sanders. Shutting down the run, and sacking Jalen Whitlow allows the Bulldogs to get their offense back onto the field. With the punt from Landon Foster, the ball flies 52-yards and is down by the UK special teams coverage at the 3-yard line. Georgia takes over, and still trailing by 7.
The Georgia offense has to start from nearly in their own endzone, but the senior QB Murray quickly throws them out of harms way. On the third play of the drive, Murray lofts the football deep down the field and hits his senior receiver Tavarres King for the touchdown. The Bulldogs fire back at the Kentucky offense with a quick touchdown of their own. Towards the end of the 1st quarter, the ‘Cats and ‘Dawgs are tied at 7.
Kentucky QB Jalen Whitlow comes back onto the field for the ‘Cats. Whitlow seemed to feel unleashed by the coaching staff, continuing to use his legs and athletic ability to drive the ‘Cats down the field on this daunting Georgia defensive line. Having most of their successes on the ground, Kentucky seemed to send a message. We are going to run this play, until you stop it. Georgia continued to struggle with Kentucky’s athletic young guns. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips opened up the playbook a little more and allowed Whitlow to throw a pass to tight end Demarco Robinson. Robinson holds the ball, then throws back to Whitlow. Whitlow scampers up the field for a 33-yard gain and gets the offense back into the redzone. Following the trend, Morgan Newton comes into the game. Newton drops back and tries to loft a throw over the receiver’s shoulder in the corner of the endzone, but misses. The next play, Newton hesitates but then bull-rushes his way in between the tackles for another Kentucky touchdown. Midway through the 2nd quarter, the ‘Cats tack on another score for the 14-7 lead.
The next Georgia possession was almost a replay of the last drive. Because of the Wildcat secondary being so young, the senior wide receiver Tavarres King seemed to toy with the young guys trying to cover him. After a couple of short passes by Murray, a couple of runs gets Georgia a fresh set of downs. With minimal pressure being applied to QB Aaron Murray, he is able to drop back and spot his senior receiver single covered again by freshman UK defender Cody Quinn. Murray hits King once again for a huge 48-yard gain. After a run for a yard, Murray drops back once again to find King in the endzone for the touchdown. Just like that, Georgia adds the touchdown. The extra point sails off to the left of the uprights and Kentucky maintains a 1-point lead midway through the 2nd quarter.
The rest of the half was filled with punts and strong defensive stands. The ‘Cats were able to cover up the Georgia receivers and stop the run enough to hold Georgia from getting into scoring range. The ‘Cats come out on their next drive with Morgan Newton playing QB. I personally don’t know or agree with sending Newton instead of Jalen Whitlow. You had a formula that was working, why don’t you keep using it? Newton was unable to make the significant running plays like Whitlow and the ‘Cats were forced to punt. The Landon Foster punt goes 53 yards and Georgia starts the drive at their own 29-yard line.
The ‘Cats continued to show ineptitude on defense, but Georgia flat out missed a couple of big plays deep down the field. With 1:20 to go in the 2nd quarter, the Georgia offense was in hurry-up mode trying to get down the field before the halftime buzzer. A couple of screen passes and runs allows Georgia to get a new set of downs. The UK defense finally got a little pressure into the grill of Aaron Murray. Murray drops back and gets sacked by UK’s Eric Dizon, setting up a 3rd & 14 for the ‘Dawgs. Georgia passes the ball off to RB Todd Gurley who runs up the middle and appears to be stopped just before the 1st down marker. The officials give the ‘Dawgs a favorable spot and the 1st down. UK head coach Joker Phillips immediately calls a timeout and challenges the ruling on the field. The clock was also running in the confusion, running all the way down to the :07 sec. mark. The refs added 10 more secs. on the clock, and officially give Georgia the 1st down. For some reason, Georgia QB Aaron Murray feels the need to come out and spike the football to stop the clock after the timeout. The next play saw Murray hit Tavarres King once again for a big 18-yard gain, trying to get into field goal range. After defensive lineman Tristian Johnson breaks up the Murray pass, the ‘Dawgs line up their kicker for a 27-yard field goal with :03 secs. left. The freshman shanks the ball towards the left of the upright, but the ball smacks into the pole and falls inside the posts. Georgia walks into halftime leading 16-14.
We’ve seen this story before, and everyone has to wonder if this is a repeat of the South Carolina game. A very encouraging first half, and then the ‘Cats get blown away in the 2nd half. With Tavarres King being a total beast, QB Aaron Murray just needs to keep going to him to rack up the points on the young ‘Cats. Will the depth be an issue once again? Does Kentucky have enough bodies to compete with the #12 team in the nation for another half?
The beginning of the 2nd half saw the Georgia Bulldogs getting the ball first. With the 2-point lead, the ‘Dawgs looked to add a little separation between themselves and these gritty ‘Cats. The Bulldogs start their drive with a couple of runs to bring up a 3rd down & 1 yard to go. The ‘Dawgs try to run Todd Gurley up the middle on the UK defense, but was held back from getting the first down. The ‘Cats stop the Georgia run before it really gets going. The punt only goes 37 yards and allows the ‘Cats to set up shop at the 35-yard line.
Coach Joker Phillips allows QB Jalen Whitlow to start the 2nd half, and the young guy came out firing. A couple of big passes to freshman receiver Daryl Collins added 26-yards and got the ‘Cats near midfield. Running back Jonathan George continues to run all over the defensive line. Georgia didn’t help themselves with a personal foul penalty by throwing George out of bounds in frustration. After a short pass by Whitlow to La’Rod King, Newton comes back onto the field. Newton drops back and immediately scrambles for yardage but is quickly sacked for a 4-yard loss on 2nd & 8. Newton tries to find La’Rod King on the 3rd down play, but the Georgia defense tipped the ball away and forces Kentucky into a FG attempt. Kicker Craig McIntosh knocks through a 37-yard attempt to give the ‘Cats the lead 17-16 with 10:46 to go in the 3rd quarter.
Just like the first half, the next couple of drives for both teams were stymied by the opposing defenses. The ‘Cats broke up some passes, and the “Dawgs shut down the running game enough to force the punt. With 7:10 to go in the 3rd quarter, Georgia starts a drive of their own around the 38-yard line. Georgia QB Aaron Murray came out firing and hit four different receivers before nailing a 22-yard strike to Chris Conley for the touchdown. The ‘Dawgs lead 22-17, and they decide to try for the 2-point conversion. The Murray pass fails and Georgia gets called for clipping resulting in a penalty. The ‘Dawgs lead by 5, with 5:01 left in the 3rd.
QB Morgan Newton comes out for this drive, and again I don’t know why. Nothing seems to be flowing offensively for the ‘Cats with him outside of the redzone. If you have the playmaker in Jalen Whitlow, why don’t you continue to use him? Except for an impressive 17-yard run, Newton was rendered incapable of getting another first down by the Georgia defense. Landon Foster punts for 33-yards and pins the Georgia offense inside the 10-yard line. After gaining one first down, the UK defense forces another Georgia punt. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, the ‘Cats trail only by 5 points. It was later made known that Jalen Whitlow was shaken up on the last offensive series, and that is why Newton had taken over all offensive responsibilities.
With Whitlow shaken up, Newton comes back onto the field with the Kentucky offense. A couple of minimal run plays gets Kentucky to a 3rd down & 8 to go. Newton misses freshman receiver Aaron Boyd on the pass, and the ‘Cats are forced to punt once again. The Kentucky defense looked to return the favor, forcing the Bulldogs into a punt of their own after stopping a couple of runs and a pass from reaching the first down marker. The next play is a fitting example of Kentucky’s season thus far. On the punt, the Kentucky surge runs into the Bulldog kicker and causes the penalty. The kicker is helped off of the field, and the ‘Dawgs get the ball back. Murray then hits 5 straight passes, marching Georgia down the field on the young secondary of Kentucky. On the Kentucky 10-yard line, Murray lines up another dagger for the touchdown. At this point, you can see the dream die just a little as Georgia takes a 29-17 lead with 7:51 to go in the 4th. The penalty was huge and a back-breaker for UK.
With less than 8 minutes to go in the final frame, the ‘Cats start the drive at their own 25 yard-line. Jonathan George opens up the drive with a run, and Georgia grabs his facemask for a big 15-yard penalty. At midfield, Whitlow tries to scramble for some yards and gets about 5. After a missed pass, Raymond Sanders moves the chains with a hard run. The time is not the friend of the ‘Cats at this point. With 6:40 to go, Whitlow hits La’Rod King with a huge pass down to the 15-yard line. After a couple of runs, Raymond Sanders gets the ‘Cats into the redzone. Sanders gets another run play, fumbles the ball near the goal-line but it’s recovered by UK. The ball is spotted at the 3-yard line for Raymond Sanders to run the next play into the endzone for the Kentucky touchdown. Kentucky trails by 5, with 3:59 to go in the 4th.
The special teams unit for the ‘Cats lines up, and Georgia expects an on-side kick. The ‘Cats kicker Joe Mansour knocks the top of the ball end over end and watches it crawl 10-yards. Mansour was standing right in front of the ball as it traveled down to the necessary mark, but was beaten by a Georgia Bulldog to the recovery. This proved to be the icing play for the Bulldogs. The ‘Cats were not able to stop the run and kept having to burn their timeouts. The ‘Dawgs had a 4th down play that they could not convert and gave the ‘Cats one more shot with :09 secs. left. Whitlow hits La’Rod King for a 19-yard pass and then fails to get under center in time before the :01 sec. ticks away. Ballgame.
After the last game with the 49-0 blowout, this was a monumental effort by the Wildcats. Many times during the season, and even during this game they could just forget about everything and roll over and die. Despite their record, despite their injuries, and despite their youth and inexperience, the ‘Cats hung with the #12 team in the nation. A very disheartening feeling comes over you after playing so hard, and to come up just short. The young guys played tremendously well and are definitely learning and improving week by week. However, QB Aaron Murray just scorched the secondary and the ‘time ticked away on the ‘Cats.
About the Author: Writer for StraitCats.com, lifelong UK fan, college sports enthusiast. Twitter: BrianLewis_SP