Turnovers put Cats in the doghouse: UK drops 44-31 to Georgia

The 28-10 halftime deficit against the Georgia Bulldogs was identical to what the Cats faced a week prior against then-No.10 South Carolina. The final result this week was much different, however, as the Cats fell 44-31 to the Bulldogs.

UK’s (4-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) failure to storm back from the halftime deficit against Georgia (4-4, 3-3 SEC) meant there was to be no post-game euphoria on the field for the 70,884 fans at Commonwealth Stadium, the 10th largest in school history, on this Saturday.

The Bulldogs, winners of three straight SEC games, were paced by a school-record five rushing touchdowns by sophomore tailback Washaun Ealey and timely turnovers, including three first-half fumbles.

“Georgia didn’t win the game, we gave them the game, that’s how I feel about it” said sophomore wide receiver La’Rod King, who hauled in two touchdown catches. “We gave them three touchdowns with our three (first-half) turnovers and if we didn’t have that, we would have blown them out the water.”

The three fumbles were largely responsible for the Cats’ 18-point halftime deficit. The Cats outgained the Bulldogs 200 yards to 96 yards in the first half, but a particularly miserable first quarter for the Cats contributed to their slow start; of Georgia’s first four possessions, three started on UK’s side of the 50-yard line—thanks to two fumbles and a failed fourth-down conversion attempt—and the other was a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Bulldogs junior cornerback Brandon Boykin.

The second quarter was no better for UK, which fumbled at its own 5-yard line already trailing 28-3. Ealey converted three plays later for his last of three first-half rushing touchdowns. UK managed to respond with a 10-play, 71-yard drive capped by a King touchdown to close the gap and provide some hope to Cats fans that a dramatic second half comeback was in store.

“You come in at halftime and it’s like, we’ve been here before,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “You show me a team that’s only given 96 yards and 28 points and I could tell before looking at the stats that you’ve probably turned it over and given up a big play on special (teams).”

Unlike the second half last week, in which the UK defense pitched a shutout against the Gamecock offense, the Bulldogs came out of the locker room strong and Ealey scored his fourth touchdown of the game on the opening drive of the second half.

“(The second half’s opening drive) did take some of the momentum that we had gained in the first half away from us,” Phillips said.

UK’s offense opened the second half with an interception in the end zone. The Cats would later cash in on a 10-play drive capped by a King touchdown with 41 seconds left in the third quarter, but the clock was their enemy. So the Cats then tried to catch Georgia unaware with an onside kick attempt that failed, giving the ball back to Georgia at the UK 46-yard line. The Bulldogs capitalized with Ealey’s record-setting fifth touchdown to extend the lead to 41-17 and put the game out of reach.

“Our field position was tremendous,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “It’s hard to keep people out of the end zone when you have such a short field to defend.”

UK senior quarterback Mike Hartline led two more touchdown-scoring drives in the fourth quarter, but the third straight slow start for UK negated the importance of either of those scoring drives.

“Once again, we shot ourselves in the foot early and that’s something that just can’t happen,” Hartline said. “The season is almost over and the SEC East is pretty much out of reach but we have to keep fighting for our best bowl game.”

Game notes

UK is 46-19 in Homecoming games since 1946…Former UK football players Marcus McClinton, John Conner and Jacob Tamme made cameo appearances during the game as part of the Homecoming festivities…Georgia scored on all six of its red zone opportunities; UK has stopped opponents once in the red zone all year…junior linebacker Danny Trevathan led the UK defense with 11 tackles; he’s led the team in tackles in seven of his team’s eight games this year and has posted double-digit tackles in four straight games…King had two touchdown catches for the second consecutive game…freshman tailback Raymond Sanders had a career-highs in rushing (88) and receiving (88) yards.