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By Ethan Levine
The Edge runs every Friday before a UK football game. It breaks down two key matchups between UK and its opponent, then gives an overall edge to one side or the other.
UK secondary vs. Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Last week Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson found himself featured in a similar matchup, then went on to torch the backend of the Cats’ defense for 372 yards passing and five touchdowns in less than three quarters of play.
Murray is considered by many to be one of the elite quarterbacks in the conference, already totaling 1,487 yards and 12 touchdowns in just six games this season. Murray has thrown for at least 240 yards in five of his six starts this season, and has only failed to throw multiple touchdowns in a game once on the season.
But Murray’s last start was a disasterous performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks, as he posted season lows in completions (11 in 31 attempts), completion percentage (35.5 percent), yards (109) and touchdowns (0).
The Bulldogs enjoyed a bye last week, giving Murray and the offense two weeks to recover from the dismal outing and two weeks to prepare for a vulnerable UK defense.
To put it nicely, the Cats’ secondary is in the midst of complete chaos as it approaches the team’s eighth game of the season.
Whether or not senior safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton are able to play on Saturday remains to be seen, but it is certain that neither will be playing at 100 percent after sitting out last week. Sophomore safety Ashely Lowery also has suffered through an injury-plagued 2012 and will not be at 100 percent when the Bulldogs arrive in Lexington.
At cornerback, senior Cartier Rice has played through injuries in recent weeks as well, limiting the veteran talent in the secondary even further. Behind guys like Neloms, Benton, Lowery and Rice sit a multitude of true freshmen who are learning the speed of SEC football on the fly, a difficult task for any college football player.
With as much inexperience as the Cats likely will have on the field in the secondary, Murray should be able to manipulate the defense to get exactly what he wants in the passing game. Injuries and youth are not going to be UK’s answer to a quarterback of Murray’s caliber, though it may be a teaching moment for the future. Murray will take advantage of the Cats likely loading the box to defend the Bulldogs’ running game, so he very well could top Wilson’s impressive numbers from a week ago.
UK offensive line vs. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones
In his weekly press conference Monday, UK head coach Joker Phillips called Jones the best defensive player in the SEC, a conference known for its dominant defenses. Jones has 5.5 sacks and 36 total tackles in six games. He is a threat as a pass rusher, a run stopper, and even in coverage from the middle of the defense.
It will take an effort from the entire offense to gameplan around Jones’ dominance. The Cats’ offense is predicated heavily on simple screen passes, especially with true freshman Jalen Whitlow expected to make another start at quarterback. UK will have to get more creative to try to contain Jones and prevent him from blowing up screens before they have a chance to develop.
But most importantly, it will be the responsibility of the offensive line to assure that Jones won’t be spending most of his Saturday night in the UK backfield. On running plays, look for offensive coordinator Randy Sanders to send a tight end or fullback to Jones’ side of the formation to help block him. On passing downs, the Cats will likely have to keep a tight end on the line to help block or bring a running back over to chip Jones in his pursuit of Whitlow.
That being said, the offensive line will need to keep track of him wherever he lines up in the Bulldogs’ defensive formation, and will need to stay disciplined if they wish to contain his presence on the field.
Even if UK can quiet Jones in the box score, his impact will be felt by all 22 players on the field. The Cats will have to shift formations and bring a different approach in order to compete with Jones and the Georgia defense. With a freshman quarterback at the helm of UK’s offense, this seems like a difficult task to take on. Phillips and Sanders have both admitted to Whitlow missing shifts and motions in UK’s pre-snap offense, and those mistakes cannot happen if the Cats want to stay competitive with the Bulldogs.
Overall Edge: Georgia
There is a reason that the Bulldogs are ranked No. 13 in the nation, and there is a reason the team’s 35-7 loss to South Carolina two weeks ago was so shocking to the college football world.
Georgia is a team many thought entering the season had a chance to not only compete for an SEC East title, but for a conference title and a national championship as well. With just one loss on its schedule, Georgia can still make those dreams a reality should things play out the right way, but first the team must revive its dominance from its first five games of the season. The Cats are still too banged-up, too inexperienced and lack too much talent to turn this into a game. Expect a rather uncerimonious homecoming weekend for the Cats at home.
Final score: Georgia 52, UK 14