I think I’ve mentioned here before that my old friend Herb Steely could give lessons to Vince Dooley when it comes to building up your opponent.
Herb has spent most of his life in Atlanta but hails from the land of the bluegrass and loves the Kentucky Wildcats. Of course, nine times out of 10 his conversations in that regard will relate to basketball, not football.
Just your typical UK fan, as Randall Cobb might say.
I always like to see how the other side thinks, so I checked in with Herb this week to find out what he makes of Saturday night’s pigskin meeting between the Cats and Georgia’s Bulldogs.
“You guys are not gonna lose another game this year,” Herb declared flatly. “In my opinion, you guys have turned the corner. I’m real impressed with your team.”
Now, wait a minute. Kentucky just game off a big win over Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks, who beat the Dogs. The Cats have the SEC’s No. 2 scoring offense, the No. 2 passing quarterback in Mike Hartline plus Cobb, who’s been Mr. Everything — he catches, runs, throws and returns. The Cats have beaten Georgia two out of the past four years and came thisclose in another.
“Yeah,” Herb said. “We can make a game of it if [Derrick] Locke’s able to play. [He isn't expected to, due to a shoulder injury.] But without him, I just don’t think Cobb can carry the whole load — not against Georgia. Hartline is a decent quarterback, a good short passer. But our lines are both questionable. And our first halves have been terrible.”
Bottom line, Herb says: Georgia wins.
I hope he’s right. And I wish I could be as confident about Mark Richt’s team’s chances as Herb is. But the game in Lexington looks to be much more of a challenge for the Dogs than the past two weeks were.
On paper, this appears to be a likely shootout. Kentucky is second in the SEC in scoring, averaging 35.3 points per game, but their defense has given up an average of 27 points per game, tops in the conference. In their three conference losses, Florida scored 48, Ole Miss (!) scored 42 and Auburn scored 37 in a squeaker over the Cats.
The Wildcats rank 119th out of 120 nationally in red zone defense. Still, Georgia needs to make sure that on its trips into the red zone it doesn’t have to settle for field goals too often. The good news is that the Dogs should be able to run on the Cats, who have the next-to-worst rushing defense in the SEC. And that will open things up for A.J. Green, Tavarres King and Kris Durham. Georgia’s Aaron Murray being a threat with both his arm and his feet will help, too.
Hartline, on the other hand, isn’t much of a threat to run. Fortunately for him, he’s mostly been able to stay in the pocket, and his offensive line, which Herb doesn’t think much of, has yielded the fewest number of sacks in the SEC. Also, the Cats often snap the ball to Cobb in the “WildCobb” formation, and he’s extremely dangerous, as the Dogs have seen the past two years. But with Locke out, the Cats’ running game shouldn’t be a major factor, so it’ll come down to Kentucky’s pretty profiicient passing game.
The key is going to be whether Georgia’s suspect secondary can withstand the aerial assault by the Cats, who throw more than any other team in the conference. Besides Cobb, Hartline has a big target in in 6-foot-5 Chris Matthews, who’s caught six touchdown passses.
After watching Hartline make some impressive throws in the second half against the Gamecocks last week, I’m really hoping the Dogs’ safeties finally have internalized Todd Grantham’s schemes and don’t get caught going the wrong way too often. Remember those times this year when Georgia has been burned by the wheel route? Cobb’s an expert at it.
I think it comes down to this: If Washaun Ealey is productive on the ground, Georgia doesn’t turn over the ball (like it did in last year’s horrific loss to the Cats in Athens) and the Dogs’ defense doesn’t give up too many big plays, Murray’s scrambling ability and Blair Walsh’s leg should spell the difference.
Georgia is favored by 3 ½. That sounds about right to me.
Find me on Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter.