ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs shook off some early sluggishness and got big plays from their seniors -- particularly record-tying Nick Chubb -- on Senior Day, making sure there would be no Auburn game hangover on the way to a 42-13 rout of the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday night.
It was a night where the Bulldog faithful packed out Sanford Stadium and helped maintain a fairly raucous atmosphere all game long — something that Georgia coach, Kirby Smart didn’t take for granted.
“I thank the fans and students who came out,” Smart said. “With Thanksgiving break starting, you always worry about the turn out. But the senior class, our fan base really turned out to honor those guys, so it was special for them.”
Smart also called it special, the way his team didn’t allow last week’s heartbreaking loss to Auburn that stripped Georgia of its No. 1 ranking to carry over to getting upset by Kentucky at home.
“I don’t think adversity builds character,” Smart said. “I think it exposes it. Last week’s loss, we had an opportunity to see how we would respond. I think the character of our group is clear.”
UGA benefited, this week, from a resurgence of the running game, led by Chubb, who finished with 151 rushing yards on 15 carries and two scores, as well as Sony Michel who tacked on three touchdowns.
Some pinpoint passing between Jake Fromm and senior Javon Wims also helped shake off an early 3-0 deficit.
It was a tough start for Fromm and company, however, as just seven plays into the game, he threw an errant pass that landed in the grip of Kentucky’s Josh Allen. The turnover set up the Wildcats for an Austin MacGinnis 37-yard field goal that gave Kentucky a 3-0 lead at the 9:40 mark of the first quarter.
Georgia’s ensuing drive seemed destined to be stalled, after Fromm tossed an incomplete pass to Mecole Hartman, forcing a Cameron Nizialek punt. But after Nizialek launched a 49 yard punt, he got blasted on the play, and Kentucky was called for a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty.
The infraction gave Georgia new life, and 10 plays later, Chubb was running toward the left pylon for the Bulldogs’ first score, making it 7-3 Georgia at the 3:19 mark of the first quarter.
Georgia’s defense struggled a bit to stop Kentucky tailback Benny Snell, who never really broke any long runs, but linked and dunked enough to provide Kentucky with enough offense to answer Georgia’s touchdown.
It happened when MacGinnis booted a 35-yard attempt with 11 seconds left in the opening frame that was set up by Snell’s 11-yard scamper three plays earlier.
Both teams traded empty offensive possessions before Georgia found the end zone once again. This time it was Fromm hooking up with Wims for a 27-yard scoring strike that gave Georgia a 14-6 lead.
Smart said that catch, plus Wims’ other impressive grabs is a testament to the senior’s improvement toward becoming a complete player.
“I think he’s in a good place right now,” Smart said. “He’s really confident, the way he snatches the ball out of the air and is getting open. He’s improved as a blocker. He’s always been a good wideout, but that’s where he had to improve the most.”
The Wims catch capped a 6-play, 80-yard drive that featured a much more fluid and efficient offense than what had been seen since before the Auburn game. And though the drive seemed to spark something in the Dawgs, Smart said there was nothing magical about the way it ignited his team.
“There was really no message or anything,” Smart said. “You play football games and it’s like a pendulum. Momentum swings like a pendulum, and if it swings over here, it’s gonna swing back. So it’s all about how to handle those bad pendulum swings and what you do to reverse that back. There was no magical speech. We were just doing what we were supposed to do. Execute.”
Kentucky tried to offset that momentum right off the bat in the third quarter, as it took the opening kickoff of the second half, and orchestrated an 8-play, 75-yard scoring march, climaxed by Snell’s 1-yard touchdown plunge that chopped the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-13. But that would be the last time the Wildcats found the end zone.
Not so much for Georgia, though.
On Kentucky’s third drive of the quarter, senior Aaron Davis stepped in front of quarterback Stephen Johnson’s pass, giving himself bookend interceptions for his career. Davis, a former walk-on from Henry County’s Luella High School, recorded an interception in his first and last games at Sanford Stadium.
Five plays later, the pick led to points when Michel rushed for his second touchdown — a 12-yard sprint to pay-dirt that stretched Georgia’s lead to 28-13 late in the quarter. Michel finished the game with 87 yards and three scores on 12 carries.
Chubb had one more in him when he sprinted 65-yards down the left sideline for another score with not even one minute gone by in the fourth quarter. And three minutes later, Michel would cap the scoring with a seven yard touchdown run.
In all, Georgia rushed for 381 of its 504 total yards of offense, doing it against a Kentucky team that entered Saturday’s game as the 18th ranked rush defense in the nation.
Chubb finished the day with 151 rushing yards on 15 carries, making him the first Georgia player to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark three times in his collegiate career since Herschel Walker. It was a feet that his coach didn’t mind gushing about after the game.
“I certainly feel like (Chubb) is under appreciated,” Smart said. “I don’t know how you guys feel, but I appreciate what he’s done in an era where rushing the ball has gotten really hard. I have no stats to prove it, but I’d venture to say that when Herchsel ran for his, he ran in an era where everyone was rushing the ball.
"But Nick Chubb has rushed three 1,000 yard seasons in the SEC which is the toughest conference in the country to rush the ball, and he did it with another back along side him who may be just as talented as he is.”
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs improved 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, while becoming the first Bulldog team to defeat all of its SEC East foes in a season. With a date in the SEC Championship game already secured, Smart says his team is focused, not on the playoff rankings or on its possible SEC title game foe, but on next week’s rivalry matchup with Georgia Tech.
“This is another challenge in front of them where they have to buy in and play against that offense,” he said. “They have to understand it’s the next thing in front of us. The next objective. And our senior class, they get defined by how they play in these kind of games. So they’ve gotta embrace it, love it and go get after it.”