No. 6 Georgia proves a worthy SEC contender as it dons a Bama mask, chokes out No. 9 Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — No. 9 Kentucky’s feel-good bid for an SEC East title was smashed on Saturday afternoon. It was decimated by a Georgia team that didn’t care about the Cinderella story and didn’t care that it was the subject of the biggest game in over 50 years at Kentucky. The Wildcats were smashed by a team that plays in these kinds of games all the time. They were smashed in a methodical, suffocating, unrelenting fashion.

As No. 6 Georgia turns its Saturday evening attention to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where its likely SEC Championship Game opponent will be crowned from the SEC West, it will see an Alabama team that looks different from any Crimson Tide team under Nick Saban. Meanwhile, Kirby Smart looks happy enough using the old Alabama blueprint: the boa constrictor method.

The oxygen started to thin out for the ‘Cats in the third quarter. That’s when Georgia’s massive offensive line started to lean on Kentucky during a nine-play, 78-yard scoring drive to open the half. The defense smothered Kentucky for a three-and-out, and as the Kentucky defense was still gasping for air, D’Andre Swift took the second play of the next drive 83 yards for a touchdown.

The Wildcats found life again in the fourth quarter when they cut the Dawgs’ lead to 14 on a pass-happy drive filled with urgency. With Kroger Field rocking once again, Georgia went back into suffocation mode. A 10-play, 54-yard drive that covered 5:29 on the clock was as monotone as it was deadly, and it included a couple of third-down conversions with Georgia’s shiny five-star freshman quarterback Justin Fields. It turned things into a three-score game and effectively finished Kentucky.

There wasn’t one star for Georgia. It was a cumulative effort of five- and four-star talents. Swift rushed for 156 yards. Elijah Holyfield pitched in 115 yards on the ground. Quarterback Jake Fromm was efficient and effective if understated. He threw for 113 yards on 14-of-20 passing and found the end zone. The offensive line mauled a Kentucky defensive front that hadn’t given up 165 yards rushing all season and tuned it up for 331 on the ground.

Defensively, a Georgia defense that has had trouble getting to the quarterback this year sacked Kentucky QB Terry Wilson four times and held rusher Benny Snell to 73 yards on 20 carries.

Georgia is more talented than Kentucky, and Kentucky felt all of that talent on Saturday. But it wasn’t just the flexing that made Georgia look like a powerhouse, it was the discipline, too. In an underdog role, UK needed the defensive score, the double pass touchdown, the big play on special teams. UGA’s storm trooper approach wouldn’t allow it.

And yet, Georgia isn’t even playing its best football. Two sloppy turnovers in the first half kept the game from getting out of hand much earlier than it could have gone off the rails. There is youth everywhere with three freshmen playing on the offensive line through most of the game and sacks coming out of true freshmen Brenton Cox and Channing Tindall.

What we’re seeing is familiar. A committee of running backs behind a mauling offensive line, a quarterback that is prepared and efficient, and a defense that won’t budge all wrapped up within a team that doesn’t make big mistakes and limits the big plays.

If Alabama and its flashy new offense get to the SEC Championship Game, Nick Saban will see a familiar face on the other sideline leading a familiar team. It’s the Alabama of old in Georgia red. Its run through the SEC East is complete, and it looks ready for another shot at whoever comes out of the SEC West.

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