Can Kentucky actually beat Georgia?: By the numbers


A group of Wildcats makes a tackle during the University of Kentucky vs. Florida football game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 20-13. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

It’s been 11 years since a Kentucky football team has defeated Georgia.

Saturday night is arguably the biggest game the two have ever played as No. 11 Kentucky (6-0, 4-0 SEC) heads to Athens to play No. 1 Georgia  (6-0, 4-0 SEC) amid a College GameDay atmosphere and the whole country eyeing the upsets-minded Cats. It’s also the first time two SEC East teams with a 6-0 or better record will meet in a match up to determine first place in the Eastern division.

Before we look at Kentucky’s numbers this season and their history against Georgia, it’s worth pointing out that Kentucky is 3-14 against AP No. 1 teams all-time with wins against LSU (2007), Ole Miss (1964) and Oklahoma (1950). That 1950 team was also the last Kentucky football squad to achieve a 6-0 record.

The Cats have 60-12-2 record all-time against the Bulldogs. Last time Kentucky knocked off a ranked Georgia team came in 1988 in a 16-10 victory in Lexington. The other 11 victories over Georgia came in 1939, 1947, 1949, 1956, 1965, 1973, 1977, 1990, 1996, 2006 and 2009, respectively.

2006 was the last time Kentucky defeated Georgia in Lexington in then-named Commonwealth Stadium. Fast forward three seasons to 2009—Kentucky trailed 20-6 at halftime and came back to win, outscoring the Bulldogs in the second half 28-7 with the game-winning score going to Randall Cobb in the fourth to edge Kentucky past Georgia 34-27.

The last three games in the series against the Bulldogs especially stand out. 

In 2018, No. 9 Kentucky hosted No. 6 Georgia in a 34-17 losing effort. D’Andre Swift ran for a then-career-high 156 yards and two touchdowns to clinch yet another SEC Eastern Division title. It seemed that Kentucky simply wasn’t ready at the time.

The next year saw Lynn Bowden Jr. under center (or in the shotgun, rather) with rain pouring down in an Athens mud bowl. Both teams combined for just 447 yards of total offense—116 of which were via Bowden as the rain hindered both offenses. A scoreless halftime score was broken in the third by Swift and the Bulldogs would go on to dominate the second half, winning 21-0.

Last season in Lexington was Kentucky’s closest game against them since their victory in 2009. Starting quarterback Terry Wilson was out with an illness and Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood took the starting job for the week. The Georgia defense held Kentucky to 199 yards on offense and the Cats stalled in the red zone for an eventual 14-3 victory. Current Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett threw for two interceptions, which is a hopeful statistic for Mark Stoops heading into Saturday.

2020’s victory capped a decade-long (2010-2020), 11-game win streak against Kentucky which is the longest winning run for either program in the series. 

This season, Georgia is one of the best run-stopping defenses in the nation. Allowing just 64 yards per game and just 385 total through six games. Meanwhile, Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is the SEC’s leading rusher with 759 rushing yards. Georgia has yet to face a rusher like Rodriguez Jr.—Kentucky has yet to face a defense like Georgia’s.

Georgia’s defense is anchored by a quad of linebackers in Channing Tindall, Nakobe Dean, Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith. The four combine for 91 tackles, 11 sacks, one interception and a forced fumble on the season.

Lewis Cine and LaTavious Brini lead the defensive backs group with a combined 44 tackles, 10 pass deflections and one interception. The Bulldog defense has let up 822 passing yards and only one touchdown through the air this season—they also have at least one interception in each game except for in their 37-0 shutout over then-No. 8 Arkansas.

Three separate times this season the Bulldog secondary gave up less than 100 yards in the air (UAB, Vanderbilt and Arkansas). The most they gave up all season was in a winning-effort over No. 18 Auburn 34-10 last week behind Bo Nix’s 272 yards. 

Offensively, Bennett has thrown for 746 yards on 43-62 attempts with eight touchdowns and two interceptions complemented by 16 rushes for 126 yards and one score. 

Speaking of rushing, including Bennett, Georgia has five backs with at least 100 yards on the ground this season. RB1 Zamir White leads the rushing attack with 71 rushes for 354 yards and six touchdowns. James Cook and Kendall Milton have over 200 yards each while Kenny McIntosh rounds out the field with 127 yards on the ground. Each running back averages at least four yards per carry.

On the receiving end, tight end Brock Bowers leads the team in receptions and yards with 20 for 315 and four scores. Ladd McConkey and Jermaine Burton have a combined 504 yards and three touchdowns.

For Kentucky offensively—they feature more than just a hard-nosed running back. Quarterback Will Levis has 1,134 passing yards on a 64.4 completion percentage to go with 11 scores and six picks. He’s also been a threat in the run game as of late with 40 carries for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Kavosiey Smoke is coming off a season-high 104-yard rushing performance in the 42-21 victory over LSU.

It hurts for Cats to be without Josh Ali in Athens, but when you have the SEC’s leading receiver in Wan’Dale Robinson in the slot—it definitely helps. Isaiah Epps is the only other receiver with over 100 yards receiving on the season and is someone who, if Georgia doesn’t keep a close eye on, could break off a big reception or two.

For Kentucky defensively, linebackers DeAndre Square and Jacquez Jones lead the team with 46 and 39 tackles a piece. J.J. Weaver rounds out the linebacking core with a team-high four sacks to go with one interception and fumble. With injuries to Marquan McCall and Octavious Oxendine, the defensive line is as thin as ever—not to mention the Cats only have six consistent defensive backs in their rotation. Their standout linebackers will have to step up big-time for Kentucky this weekend.

If you thought Kentucky’s 23 quarterback hurries was impressive—then your jaw will drop knowing Georgia has 109 this season. Statistically speaking, that matters not as Levis averages 9.3 yards per pass against the blitz. His completion percentage while under pressure jumps slightly from 64.2 percent to 65 percent as well. 

Bottom line: the numbers are not in Kentucky’s favor. 

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Kentucky has a 4.6 percent chance to upset Georgia in Athens Saturday—something people inside the Kentucky football program would probably tell you otherwise.

But that’s why they play the game. With Kentucky on fire up to this point in the season, anything is possible.