How is Kentucky preparing for No. 1 Georgia?


Kentucky wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson (1) runs with 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

It’s not every week that you get to play the best football team in the country.

All eyes are on No. 11 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Georgia in Athens Saturday afternoon. Accompanied by the full College GameDay experience and the prime time SEC-CBS 3:30 p.m. kickoff, the two remaining undefeated conference foes will do battle for first place in the league.

So, how are the Wildcats preparing?

“It doesn’t matter to us who we play,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. “They are all big games when you want to win and prepare, so it’s about the preparation, it’s about what we do here this week and looking forward to getting back to work with the players.”

Stoops said on Monday that it would be hard to argue that Georgia’s defense this season is one of, if not the toughest groups he’s ever had to face in nearly a decade in Lexington. The Bulldogs give up 64 rushing yards per game (385 total through six games)—which doesn’t bode well for Kentucky’s run-heavy offense.

Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is the SEC’s leading rusher through six weeks with 759 yards on the ground, 374 more yards than the Bulldogs have let up all season. Only once has Georgia given up 100 or more rushing yards in a game—Rodriguez Jr. has four games this season where he crossed that century mark plus a 99-yard game in the win over then-No. 10 Florida. 

“I’m treating it like any other game,” Rodriguez Jr. said about his preparation. “It’s the most important game because it’s our next game. I’m not trying to do anything extra this week that I haven’t done before.”

For quarterback Will Levis, preparation is all about learning and trusting the game plan, his instincts and the offense’s timing in practice in hopes that it translates to the game. Levis feels like he has to lock into the fundamentals, taking advantage of extra reps in the days leading up to the game and keeping a keen eye on their film to keep himself mentally sharp. 

“It doesn’t change how we run plays,” Levis said about going up against the Bulldog defense this weekend. “Sure, the game plan might be a little different, but we’re trusting the coaches to put us in the best position to make plays, push the ball down the field, score and ultimately win the game.”

Levis said that while he’s supposed to be casting away the thoughts of playing in an environment like he‘ll be in this weekend, it’s hard to separate himself from the grandeur of it all because he’s never played in a game of his magnitude and neither have many of his teammates. 

“I’m looking forward to it and to see what we’re made of,” Levis said.

Levis’ favorite target and the SEC’s leading receiver, Wan’Dale Robinson, feels the same as his quarterback. He knows that he can’t have the mindset that going to Georgia Saturday afternoon is a bigger deal than any other game. He feels as though it downplays the rest of their accomplishments they’ve already been a part of this year.

Robinson said he has to prepare this week just like any other.

“You’ve just got to be laser focused,” Robinson said about what he can do to prepare individually. “All the attention to detail, watching all the extra film that you can—you’ve got to be ready for all that noise, the crowd and those things, but just calming yourself and relaxing and [ultimately] doing your job.”

It takes more than just an individual effort to head to Athens and pull off one of the biggest upsets in Kentucky football history. For a lot of the players, this is their Super Bowl—and rightfully so. There’s no shame in taking a step back and realizing they’re doing what not many Kentucky teams have ever done.

There’s an obvious pressure playing in Sanford Stadium against a Georgia team that looks to be far and away the best team in the nation and favorite to win the 2021-22 College Football Playoff—it just matters on how Kentucky will react with the lights on bright.

“It should give us confidence knowing that we’re just getting better as this season goes on the way we’re playing,” Stoops said. “Our preparation, that’s where it comes from, and just being disciplined throughout the week. It’s always that way.”