It turns out the handicappers were off the mark, but not by much: Georgia was a three-touchdown favorite against Kentucky but ended only winning by 17 points, 30-13, after the Wildcats scored a meaningless touchdown with no time left on the clock.
The ability to score once, let alone twice, says something about the once-unbeaten Wildcats, clearly the second-best team in the SEC East. That also says something about the Bulldogs, who are expected to dominate and have done just that to remain the unbeaten and unquestioned No. 1 team in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll.
Every week paints the same picture. Behind two different starting quarterbacks, one of three running backs or any one of multiple future NFL defenders popping off the screen, the Bulldogs push around every team in their path.
After years of close calls, disappointments and underachievement relative to expectations, Georgia has finally come together under coach Kirby Smart to be the undisputed top team in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the favorite for the national championship at the midpoint of the regular season.
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What the Bulldogs resemble is more of a vintage SEC powerhouse than a team defined by the wide-open offensive schemes that have gripped the conference. While even Alabama has leaned into the spread revolution, Georgia’s approach has one foot more firmly planted in the physical style that propelled the SEC to more than a decade of dominance.
Some of that may be due to the injuries that have slowed star quarterback JT Daniels, who changed the complexion of Georgia’s in the home stretch of last season. With Daniels sidelined, the Bulldogs have turned to backup Stetson Bennett, who has stayed within the framework of an offense that has bullied every team on the schedule.
It’s becoming more apparent that Bennett can guide the Bulldogs through the SEC East, including this month’s rivalry game against Florida, and get Georgia to the doorstep of a conference championship. However, to beat Alabama and lock down the top spot in College Football Playoff could take a healthy Daniels — with the expectation that the former Southern California transfer will eventually get back into the lineup.
But the reason why Georgia stands at the top of the FBS is this defense, which is beginning to position itself among the best units to come through this century.
Kentucky’s touchdown in the second quarter was just the third allowed by Georgia’s defense all season and the first given up in the first half.
Later, the Wildcats’ attempt late in the third quarter to cut into what was then a 17-point hole was stymied by the Bulldogs’ goal-line defense, which forced and then blocked a field-goal attempt. The touchdown with seconds left came after Kentucky coach Mark Stoops called timeout to extend the drive, drawing ire from Georgia’s home crowd.
Overall, Georgia gained 416 yards to Kentucky’s 243, with a huge chunk of the Wildcats’ total coming on the game’s final drive. About the only thing the Bulldogs did wrong was miss a meaningless extra point early in the fourth quarter, the program’s first such miss since 2014.
Now Georgia needs to handle life as the unquestioned favorite. History tells us this will be the biggest test for Smart and the Bulldogs, who have been knocking on the door but unable to seal the deal for decades as other SEC rivals — Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU — have claimed national championships.
This year’s team feels different. As other unbeaten teams fall off the board, Georgia keeps rolling. Who can stop these Bulldogs from running the table?
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia dominates Kentucky to prove it is college football’s best team