What was supposed to be a rousing coronation against a supposedly out-manned Kentucky squad was anything but that Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
Instead, 13th-ranked Georgia scuffled and scrapped while the entire Bulldog Nation agonized through it all before Mark Richt's squad was able to subdue the Wildcats 19-10 to sew up the East Division title and a spot in the SEC Championship game.
"We didn't play great, but it's great to get back to Atlanta," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We're excited. We have our game at Georgia Tech (Saturday) first but we're definitely blessed to get back. It's a great feeling, for sure."
Just like last week's 45-7 win over Auburn, few saw this one coming.
A 28-point favorite at kickoff, it soon became apparent that Georgia (9-2, 7-1) wasn't going to live up to those expectations on this afternoon.
Losing leading rusher [db]Isaiah Crowell to a first-quarter ankle injury didn't help the Bulldog offense, who were already without junior Carlton Thomas, who Richt revealed after the game did not dress out for breaking an unspecified team rule.
Whether that was the reason or some angry football Gods, Georgia's offense for three quarters displayed all the rhythm and grace of a one-legged man on Dancing with the Stars.
The Bulldogs' offense was going nowhere, as Georgia was forced to settle for a quartet of first-half field goals by senior Blair Walsh.
In fact, if not for a sack by Jarvis Jones which forced a fumble by quarterback Maxwell Smith that Christian Robinson recovered on the Kentucky 10, who knows if Georgia would have found the end zone at all?
In fact, it still took the Bulldogs three plays before Murray found Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter which accounted for the final points of the game.
"We just weren't connecting and you're going to have those games," said Murray, who completed 16 of 29 passes for 162 yards and the one touchdown. "But we fought through it. The defense played great. We're just happy to get away with a win."
Brandon Harton led the Bulldog ground game rushing 23 times for 101 yards, while Ken Malcome carried nine times for 37 yards in what was the most action he's seen during his Bulldog career.
Murray was right about the play of the Bulldog defense.
After allowing Kentucky 152 yards of offense the first half, the Bulldogs gave up just 12- in the final two quarters and didn't allow a Wildcat first down until 3:04 was left in the game.
"You just have to keep fighting and that's what we did," said Jones, who had 2 ½ sacks. "We knew Kentucky was going to come in and play tough; we just knew we had to go out and play hard like we've tried to do all year long."
For Richt, despite the less than stellar offensive effort, was obviously pleased with the final result.
"I'm just so proud of the guys for winning the SEC East," Richt said. "Guys could have quit, pointed fingers and found a way to fall apart. Last season, was pretty horrible by record, but the players never gave up on the coaches and never gave up on the players. We maintained our unity."
The first half was downright ugly from an offensive perspective.
With Crowell out nursing an apparent left ankle injury, Murray struggled to find his rhythm, forcing Georgia to reach for four field goals, three of which Walsh converted from 39-yards out.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Kentucky's offense wasn't faring any better against the Georgia defense.
The Wildcats (4-7, 1-6) jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Craig McIntosh before two field goals of 39 yards by Walsh gave the Bulldogs a brief 6-3 lead. But Kentucky would answer.
The Wildcats surged ahead 10-6 in the second on a 2-yard pass from Smith to Tyler Robinson to cap a short six-play, 27-yard drive after a Malcome fumble, a possession that was aided by a pair of personal fouls calls on the Bulldogs.
Georgia drew within one Walsh's third field goal and quickly got the ball back when Quntavious Harrow kneed the ball loose from Kentucky return man Ashely Lowery giving the Bulldogs a first down at the 25.
A 12-yard run by Murray gave Georgia a first down at the 12, but once again the offense stalled, forcing Walsh to reach for his fourth field goal which he converted from 39 yards out that enabled Georgia to go up 12-10 at the half.
"It's just a great feeling," Boykin said. "This is what I came back to do. It's like a fantasy. As a senior, to win on Senior Day and to win the SEC East - it's just a great place to be."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]