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November 18, 2011

Game at a glance: UK vs. Georgia

KENTUCKY at GEORGIA
Site: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga. (92,746)
Game time: 12:21 p.m.

Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (10-13 overall, second year at UK and overall, 0-1 against Georgia), Mark Richt, Georgia (104-36, 11th season overall and at Georgia, 8-2 against Kentucky)
Series history: Georgia leads 50-12-2
Depth charts: Kentucky, Georgia
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network, XM 200, Sirius 219 (Sirius Premier package required), radio stream at UKathletics.com
Internet video stream: ESPN3.com

Last time
Mike Hartline threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns, but the Bulldogs beat the Cats 44-31 in Lexington. It wasn't even that close. Georgia entered the fourth quarter up 41-17 and coasted to a victory. Joker Phillips' squad turned the ball over four times to let Georgia run up an early lead, and run they did. Georgia tailback Washuan Ealey ran for 157 yards and five touchdowns to set a school record.

Kentucky will win if?
If the Wildcats really believe they still have a chance to win out and make it to a bowl game, they'll still be motivated enough to put up a fight - for a brief time, at least. If they've already given up, this could be an ugly one. If they fall behind early and lose heart, Georgia won't hesitate to pile on. Plenty of the players on this team will still remember being upset at home by Kentucky in 2009, the last time the game was in Athens.

Georgia is the only SEC team to run a true 3-4 defense, and they'll use it to blitz Maxwell Smith from every angle possible. The only bright side to that is that there will be open receivers if he can get the ball out quick enough. The receivers still have to build on their performance from the last few weeks, though, and the offensive line has to show up.

This could well be the best offense Kentucky has seen all year. Aaron Murray is definitely the best quarterback the Wildcat defense has faced, and the secondary hasn't held up well under pressure. Most teams are content to run the ball all over Kentucky, but when they go to the air, they're usually quite successful. It's difficult to find more than one or two matchups anywhere on the field that favors Kentucky. Georgia should plow straight through UK.

Georgia will win if?
This Georgia team is firing on all cylinders. They laid a 45-7 beatdown on Auburn last week, and Kentucky isn't in the same class as the defending national champions. Georgia has risen from an 0-2 start in which they were outscored by a combined 17 points to win eight in a row by an average margin of 21 points. Richt entered the season on the hot seat, but it's Phillips who is now feeling the heat.

Kentucky saw firsthand last year how powerful the Georgia offense is, and it's probably even more balanced this season. Murray has been the best quarterback in the league, throwing 27 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He spreads the ball around as well, and only one receiver has more than 500 yards. A dozen different players have caught touchdown passes this season. Then there's the running game, led by true freshman Isaiah Crowell. He's fourth in the league in rushing and the Bulldogs mix in Carlton Thomas, a tiny (5-foot-7, 163 pounds) back who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Georgia is more talented, has more to play for, is better coached and will have a raucous home crowd behind them. The Bulldogs are also playing as well as any team in the country right now, and they might have a case for a BCS Bowl with a little help from the West. There's absolutely no reason to think Kentucky is going to win this game. That said, stranger things have happened and it would be just more buzzard's luck for Richt if he finds a way to lose this one and jeopardize his job again.

Key matchup: Georgia S Bacarri Rambo vs. Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith

Rambo is a turnover machine. He has seven interceptions on the year and 12 for his career despite becoming a starter just last season. He's among the best defensive players in the SEC and will be looking to make a case for some postseason awards while padding his stats. He's also a nasty hitter, so he'll be heard from often even if Smith can complete some passes down the field like he could two weeks ago against Ole Miss.


Cats Illustrated staff predictions:

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Georgia 45, Kentucky 14
It might not be as bad as ugly as the losses at LSU and South Carolina, but this is still going to be a bloodbath. Smith will complete more passes than Morgan Newton did in those affairs, and he'll have to avoid interceptions. This game has been based off turnovers for the last couple years, but the talent gap has never been wider than it is this year. Georgia will overwhelm Kentucky in every phase en route to a berth in the SEC championship.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Georgia 49, Kentucky 10
Poor Mark Richt. All he does is win, win win, but no matter what, Georgia fans always seem to have his firing on their mind. He's not alone under the microscope Saturday. Even with Mitch Barnhart's insistence earlier this season that Joker Phillips would return as coach 2012, there has to be at least a little heat under Phillips' seat, too, in the wake of last week's Kentucky performance at Vanderbilt. So lots of fans will be dissatisfied with their coach on Saturday regardless of the outcome, but odds are it's going to sting worse for the UK faithful. There's no logical reason to think the Wildcats can be competitive with a Georgia team that needs a win to claim an SEC East championship. There's a lot on the line for the Bulldogs. There's only pride for the Cats, and that's not enough given the talent gap. Georgia should be ready to rock, and that means the Dawgs roll.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: Georgia 31, Kentucky 14
Given UK's very poor performance at Vanderbilt, there is little reason to think the Cats stand much of a chance in this even more difficult road game. The Bulldogs have an SEC East Division title on the line and should be ready to rock. It doesn't help UK's cause that it has injuries to some key veteran players on defense, although it's another opportunity for the Cats' best freshmen to get some valuable work.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Georgia 42, Kentucky 3
The regressing Cats play their final road game of the season and lucky for them, they'll be apart of a celebration: Georgia's SEC East Championship celebration. UK had made baby steps in its offense going into the Vanderbilt game but all progression seems to have been erased when UK struggled to get first downs against the Commodores. The Bulldogs will be able to smell blood on these Cats and this could be UK's worst loss of the season, Joker Phillips needs to keep his team from getting hurt.


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