Halftime hope turned into Bulldog bashing in second half


Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) runs the ball during the University of Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. UK won 16-10. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

Kentucky isn’t ready—yet.

“I love our players, the way they play and how hard they play—we just didn’t play very clean tonight,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said after the loss.

After a 13 play, 75 yard Kentucky drive that ended with a one-yard Justin Rigg touchdown reception cut the Georgia lead to seven before the halftime bell rung, there was a legitimate buzz around Lexington that maybe—just maybe, the Cats could do the impossible.

Those hopes were squashed in the first 2:47 of the second half on a six play, 75 yard drive. Another Kentucky three-and-out led to a field goal inside the red zone by the Bulldog offense with Stetson Bennett at the helm as they found their rhythm and dialed up whatever Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken drew up.

The Bulldog defense came as advertised as everything that had worked this season for Kentucky was stifled by the front four on Georgia’s defensive line. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis had no time to go over his progressions while the Big Blue Wall met their match. 

Kentucky would be forced behind the chains early in drives and for the most part and never ended up finding their way back. Levis and the Wildcats showed some spurts of what could have been late in the third, but the score was already out of reach by that point. 

 Kentucky kicker Matt Ruffolo’s field goal was blocked by a wall of red defenders on the final play of the third quarter, which summed up the day for Kentucky. A three-score deficit with only 15 minutes remaining in regulation was just too much to overcome.

Another Georgia score in the fourth quarter sealed it for good as the Bulldogs defended Sanford Stadium 30-13 to give Kentucky their first loss of the season. Kentucky avoided the second half shutout, capping a 22-play drive that ended with a Wan’Dale Robinson one-yard touchdown reception as the clock expired.

Give credit where credit is due, though. The scoring drive in the second quarter was the best of the season for Kentucky. Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen showed not only his versatility, but his creativity in his play calls. 

Levis didn’t have a second to breathe back in the pocket Saturday, but with his quick release and improved decision making the junior finished 32-42 with 198 yards and two touchdowns.  Most of those incompletions came on dropped balls from his receivers; Stoops said post-game that his receivers need to step up as they begin the second half of their season.

“I really thought he competed his tail off and played exceptionally hard and gave us an opportunity in certain throws—tight windows and I think there’s still quite a bit to build on from this,” Stoops said. “Their defense is going to make a lot of quarterbacks uneasy.”

The running game stalled, but that was to be expected with the nation’s top defense allowing just 64 yards per outing coming in. Kentucky’s 51 total rushing yards kept that trend alive.

At the end of the day, Kentucky battled until the final whistle—Georgia is No. 1 for a reason. Stoops and company has a free pass to look over the tape Sunday and move on to the next task.

“We’ll take Monday off and just watch the film and then get back into practice on Tuesday—so yes, I hope [the BYE comes] at a good time,” Stoops said. “I hope we can get some guys mentally and physically healed up a little bit this week.”

Unfortunately for Kentucky, they have two whole weeks before taking the field again in Starkville, Mississippi for another SEC East match up against a very dangerous Mississippi State football team. That bad taste has to stay in their mouths until then, at least.