Georgia defense presents challenge for Kentucky

By Brian Rickerd Published:

LEXINGTON – University of Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders says that one reason for the inconsistency of the Wildcats’ offense in recent weeks has been the variety of defenses faced by freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow and his teammates.

Which is, let’s face it, a polite way of saying that Kentucky has not been able to move the ball against anybody of late as the Wildcats try to find their way through the toughest schedule in Division I college football.

Their next attempt to find answers will be Saturday night at 7 when the Wildcats (1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference) host 14th-ranked Georgia (5-1 and 3-1) at Commonwealth Stadium (on Fox South TV).

Kentucky is coming off a 49-7, lightning-shortened loss at Arkansas which is arguably the lowest point of a bad season.

And Whitlow, after a promising start on Sept. 29 against South Carolina, appears to have regressed these past two weeks.

“It was interesting because Arkansas started out in the first series and blitzed us a few times,” Sanders said. “We hit the screen, and if we would have hit the second screen on first down, there was only one guy left. After that there was almost no blitz.

“It was almost completely different than what Mississippi State did. Mississippi State just stayed back and dared us to run the ball, and we weren’t able to run the ball against them. Had we been able to execute a little better in the passing game, I think we could have run the ball.

“Last week they just loaded the box and dared us to execute in the passing game, and we had trouble with it.”

UK head coach Joker Phillips says his team must establish a run game to open up anything else. Sanders says Whitlow and company must be able to pass the ball to keep the defense honest.

“We must run the football and take some pressure off the young quarterback,” Phillips said.

Said Sanders: “We have to maintain some balance and do enough in the passing game to keep teams honest, and that is what we haven’t done the last couple of weeks.

“I like what our offensive line has done, and I like the way our running backs have run, but we are not talented enough to just say we are going to run the ball 60 times, so here we come, and get it done against good defenses.”

Sanders said he is not sure what to expect from the Georgia defense.

“Georgia has done both (blitz and not blitz) during the course of the year,” Sanders said. “They have had games where they went back and forth from one to another. They are talented enough that they have to feel they can probably have success doing either.”

It appears the burden will once again fall on Whitlow, who wasn’t able to get much done last week against an Arkansas team that is, at best, average on defense.

Georgia’s defense appears to be much better than that.

“Georgia has played great defense,” Phillips said. “This team probably has the best personnel that we have seen from top to bottom.”

Unfortunately for Kentucky, the Bulldogs’ offense may be even more of a problem than their defense.

Junior quarterback Aaron Murray, a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate, leads the Georgia offense. Murray has completed 62.1 percent of his passes on 100 of 161, with four interceptions. He’s throwing for 247 yards per game.

Four Georgia wide receivers have at least 10 receptions, led by redshirt sophomore Michael Bennett with 24 catches for 69 yards per game and senior wideout Marlon Brown with 18 receptions and 56 yards per game.

Another senior wide out, Tavarres King, has caught 17 passes for 53.8 yards each time out.

Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, a pair of true freshmen, lead UGA on the ground. Gurley has averaged 95.8 yards rushing per game, with Marshall at 77.5.

To further complicate the picture for Kentucky, the Bulldogs are coming off their only dud performance of the season – a 35-7 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 6 – and they have had a bye week to stew about it.

“I wish we had had a game this past week just to get the bad taste out of our mouth,” Murray said.

“I think we should perform a lot better moving forward than we have up to this point,” said Georgia senior linebacker Christian Robinson.

“We need to beat Kentucky right now,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said when asked about his team’s mindset off the loss at Carolina. “That’s really all I’m worried about. We’re a pretty good team. We thought we could beat anyone we play when the season began, so that hasn’t changed.”

UK Notes: On the injury front, Phillips has ruled out true freshman quarterback Patrick Towles from playing Saturday as he recovers from a high ankle sprain. Senior defensive backs Mikie Benton and Martavius Neloms will also be out with injuries. Phillips said sophomore safety Ashely Lowery will play this week … Saturday is Dermontti Dawson Day at Commonwealth. Dawson is a former UK star (1984-87) and recent inductee into the pro football Hall of Fame. He will sign autographs in the Wildcat Refuge two hours before kickoff and will be honored on the field during the game. The first 10,000 fans in the stadium will receive a Dermontti Dawson rally towel, which will probably come in handy in this game.

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