Kentucky digs deep, shows grit and determination in loss to No. 1 Georgia

Published 3:53 pm Monday, November 21, 2022

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Kentucky made No. 1 Georgia earn its second straight perfect season in the Southeastern Conference Saturday.

The Bulldogs (11-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) weren’t at their best but did enough to continue their recent dominance over the Wildcats with a hard-fought 16-6 victory, claiming their 13th consecutive win in the series between the two SEC East foes.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “They’re a very complete football team in all areas, and they play very well.”

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On paper, a blowout was anticipated, considering the Bulldogs had scored 40 or more points in three of its past four games. On the field, it was a different story, thanks to Kentucky’s defensive unit that made up for a poor showing in a stunning 24-21 loss to Vanderbilt last week that ended the Commodores’ 26-game conference losing streak.

“After a tough loss a week ago, getting them motivated to compete at a high level (was our priority). We invested to the commitment that it takes to go and compete against a team like (Georgia),” Stoops said. “It took a lot of digging and soul-searching and the competitive nature of our players to re-invest and commit and to put in that kind of effort. We came up short, but the effort, the preparation was there.”

Much of Georgia’s struggles were attributed to Kentucky’s defense. Kentucky (6-5, 3-5) kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone in the first half, limiting Georgia to three field goals on its three possessions of the half. Kentucky had another goal-line stop at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter that resulted in an impressive 99-yard scoring drive by the offense.

The lone touchdown of the game by Georgia came in the third quarter on a 9-yard run by Kenny McIntosh, who finished with a game-high 143 yards rushing. Kentucky made a pair of fourth-down stops at their own 1-yard line, limiting Georgia to a field goal in the opening half on one of those impressive stops. Jordan Lovett had an interception that stalled a Georgia drive in the second quarter.

Despite managing just 124 total yards through the first three quarters, Kentucky showed signs of life in the fourth quarter with an impressive 99-yard drive that featured three dazzling catches by freshman receiver Barion Brown for 55 yards. A 42-yard catch on the third, fourth-down pass of the drive led to his 8-yard touchdown pass from Will Levis. Brown caught a career-high 10 catches for 145 yards, while Levis threw for 206 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought he (Brown) responded well,” Stoops said. “He’s talented, and he’s going to have some moments with some games where it’s like this and games where it’s very tough, and you have to respond either way. .. Some of the competitive catches on the field were really good to see.”

Although Kentucky has lost two straight and three of its past four games, Stoops liked the way his team finished despite facing tough odds throughout the contest.

“It just showed some guts and determination and some of the personality of the way we play,” he said. ”I was proud of the team’s effort, both in the preparation and their response to adversity all week. It’s very easy to cave, and that’s the kind of response I would expect, and that’s the kind of response when we’re competing against guys like Kirby (Smart), and he has competed against me for years and years and years. He would expect that from our team. Our team needs to understand that’s what people expect from our team.”