EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK: Can Stoops' Troops Upset the Bulldogs Saturday? UK Has Found Some Past Success
By Jamie H. Vaught
It was the most frustrating game of the 2014 campaign.
The football Wildcats had just lost a golden opportunity to grab that coveted sixth win for bowl eligibility, dropping to Missouri, a beatable opponent, by a score of 20-10 Saturday evening in Columbia.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who just had a nice contract extension on Friday, obviously was very frustrated in the outcome.
"(We're) very disappointed in our effort," Stoops told the reporters. "We really got beat from the start of the game to the end. They really got after us and played very well. Give them credit, they beat us. We need to do a better job.
"We had opportunities, dropped balls and I just didn't think our attitude was right offensively."
On Kentucky's possible post-season prospects, freshman running back Mikel Horton said, "We really won't think about it. We are focusing on being consistent as a team. We really couldn't care less about a bowl game right now. It's a great bonus to play with my brothers, but we have to focus on learning how to play as a team."
Now, Stoops' troops, 5-4, have three more chances to come up with a 6-6 record or better.
But they have to face a formidable Georgia team -- which was ranked No. 9 before losing to Florida in a shocker last Saturday -- at the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium Saturday afternoon before finishing out the remaining schedule with two hostile road games against rivals Tennessee and Louisville.
Can they win at least one of them?
I still think so, even against Georgia.
Quarterback Patrick Towles -- who struggled to get the UK offensive unit going against the Tigers -- and the Wildcats will look to bounce back after that disappointing setback to Missouri and play the Todd Gurley-less Dogs to the very end.
Coach Mark Richt's Bulldogs, though, are still pretty dangerous without Gurley, a former Heisman Trophy star who is suspended until the Auburn game on Nov. 15.
Gurley's replacement is nearly as good. Freshman Nick Chubb, a four-star prospect who was rated No. 7 prep running back by ESPN.com, was named the Athlon Sports’ National Freshman of the Week and the SEC Offensive Player of the Week following his remarkable performance against Arkansas on Oct. 18. He is the first true freshman at Georgia to reach 200 yards rushing in a game since Rodney Hampton in 1987.
Georgia's possible emotional letdown after dropping a rivalry game with Florida this past weekend could be a huge advantage for the Wildcats. In addition, the Dogs could be looking ahead to their upcoming showdown with national title contender Auburn in Athens on Nov. 15.
However, on the other hand, it could work against UK as the 6-2 Bulldogs could be fired up as they are still playing for the SEC Eastern Division crown.
So which Georgia team will show up in Lexington?
For some reason, UK has had better luck in faring against the Dogs than others at Commonwealth Stadium in recent past. Personally, I have seen a handful of Wildcat victories over Georgia in Lexington -- in 2006, 1996, 1990 and 1988.
Even though my prediction on the UK-Missouri matchup was wrong, I'm still going to take a chance again. My fearless forecast: UK by 3.
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Some leftovers from Saturday's Kentucky-Missouri matchup:
--UK's Landon Foster was impressive against Missouri, punting seven times for an average of 45 yards, including two inside the 20-yard line. The junior ranks third in UK career history with a 42.2-yard average.
--Kentucky's Horton and his teammate, Stanley Williams, did most of the work from the backfield, gaining a combined 101 yards in 22 carries for an average of 4.59 yards.
--The Wildcat defense, led by junior linebacker Josh Forrest's team-leading 10 tackles, was much better in the second half after allowing two first-half TD passes. UK limited the Tigers to two field goals after the intermission.
--Statistically, both clubs, for the most part, were fairly even. While the Tigers had the possession for nearly 10 minutes longer, they gained 320 total offensive yards as opposed to UK's 258. Only six net passing yards separated both teams.
--The Wildcats were careless, committing nine penalties for 65 yards.
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Speaking of Georgia, Richt's defensive staff underwent a complete overhaul after the 2013 season, marking the first time since legendary coach Vince Dooley's first year in 1964.
Georgia's defensive coordinator is Jeremy Pruitt, who directed Florida state to last season's BCS national championship. Interestingly, it was Pruitt who replaced Mark Stoops at FSU after the 2012 season when Stoops took the Kentucky position.
For Pruitt, it's his third school in as many years with previous stops at FSU and Alabama.
On defense, the Bulldogs have eight regular starters returning from last year’s 8-5 team. In addition, they were leading the nation in turnover margin at +13 going into last weekend's action.
On Georgia's surprising 38-20 loss to Florida, senior QB Hutson Mason, a 2009 Parade All-American, told reporters that he thought his team "played hard. There's no doubt in my mind that we played hard. They just caught a lot a lot of momentum. Football is a game of momentum and when you're playing behind by 20 or 21 in a rivalry game, that's hard to come back."
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of the growing KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.