LEXINGTON – The Kentucky Wildcats’ luck went from bad to worse Saturday night in a 29-24 loss to the 14th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium.
The first bad break was a migraine headache that knocked out starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow for a long stretch that covered the last half of the third quarter and the first half of the fourth.
Whitlow wasn’t putting up big numbers – he completed 9 of 13 passes for 86 yards - but he was managing a good game, and the UK offense generally moved the ball with Whitlow on the field.
The headache left UK’s hopes up to senior quarterback Morgan Newton, who admitted this past week that his surgically repaired throwing shoulder is still far from right.
Then there was the running into the kicker penalty on the Wildcats early in the fourth quarter with Georgia deep in its own territory and clinging to a 22-17 lead. It appeared that UK sophomore Mike Douglas was blocked into the punter by a Georgia player, but the call went against the Wildcats and gave the Bulldogs a first down.
Georgia then drove it in for a touchdown that put the Bulldogs up, 29-17, with some eight minutes to go.
That was enough breathing room for the visitors as Georgia improved to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference play.
Kentucky fell to 1-7 and 0-5 heading into a noon game at Missouri on Saturday.
The UK defense did not play badly against a high-powered Georgia offense, but this game was a familiar story for the Wildcats’ defenders as they wore down in the second half after the offense stagnated. Georgia finished with 504 yards of total offense.
Give Georgia junior quarterback Aaron Murray much of the credit for that offensive output. Murray completed 30 of 38 passes for 427 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Senior wide receiver Tavarres King caught nine passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore wide out Malcolm Mitchell also had nine catches, for 103 yards.
Kentucky mustered 329 yards of offense, with 206 of those coming on the ground. Junior running back Jonathan George had a career night, running 12 times for 87 yards. Raymond Sanders, another junior runner for UK, added 73 yards on 18 carries, with one touchdown.
The loss clinches a losing season for the Wildcats no matter what they do from here on out. But give UK coach Joker Phillips and his players this much - they certainly did not give up, though they had many reasons to do so.
After the Bulldogs went up 29-17, Whitlow re-entered the game and led the Wildcats on a 75-yard scoring drive that led to a three-yard touchdown run by Sanders. Craig McIntosh’s kick cut the Georgia lead to 29-24 with some four minutes to go in the game.
Kentucky then tried an onside kick that nearly succeeded. There was a mad scramble for the ball around midfield, but Connor Norman recovered for UGA.
It was a disappointing end for a Kentucky team that arguably deserved better.
The Wildcats took the fight to the Bulldogs right out of the opening gate, driving 80 yards on their first offensive series of the game, scoring on a four-yard pass from Newton to Aaron Boyd.
Whitlow was at the helm at QB for UK most of that march, with Newton coming in when Kentucky reached the Georgia 10.
McIntosh added the point after kick and UK led, 7-0.
Georgia struggled early on offense, but tied the score at 7 in the closing seconds of the first quarter on a beautifully thrown 66-yard pass from Murray to King. Marshall Morgan added the point-after kick.
Kentucky came back to go up, 14-7, early in the second quarter on a two-yard run by Newton, who once again entered the game in the Wildcat formation in the red zone.
The Bulldogs closed within 14-13 midway through the second quarter on a 1-yard pass from Murray to King. Morgan missed the extra point, but he came back on the final play of the second quarter to connect on a 27-yard field goal to put UGA up, 16-14, at halftime.
McIntosh hit a 37-yard field goal early in the third period to put Kentucky back up, 17-16, but then Georgia took the lead for good five minutes later on a 22-yard pass from Murray to a wide-open Chris Conley.
Three Bulldogs, linebacker Alec Ogletree, strong safety Shawn Williams and free safety Bacarri Rambo, finished with double-digit tackles for Georgia on defense. Ogletree had 11 and Rambo and Williams 10 each.
Junior linebacker Avery Williamson led the Kentucky defense with 13 tackles. Freshman cornerback Fred Tiller added eight tackles, along with sophomore linebacker Alvin Dupree. Freshman cornerback Zack Blaylock added seven tackles for the Wildcats.