Cats are Dawgs' last roadblock
Breakdown: Stakes are epic as Gamecocks wait to swoop in for shot at SEC crown
Kentucky (4-6, 1-5 SEC) at Georgia (8-2, 6-1) 12:21 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga. TV: SEC/ESPN3
ATHENS, Ga. -- If ever Georgia's players needed to enter a game with a single-minded purpose, this would be the time.
Georgia (8-2, 6-1) will win its first SEC East championship since 2005 if it defeats Kentucky this weekend at Sanford Stadium. If the Bulldogs lose, South Carolina (8-2, 6-2) will win the division title and represent the East in the SEC championship game for the second straight year.
"We know we have our work cut out for us," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team has won eight consecutive games since losing to South Carolina on Sept. 10. "We're excited about the possibility of winning the SEC Eastern Division championship. That's the goal: win the game and if we win the game, we're in. We know what's at stake."
This is the final home game for Georgia's seniors, who have never won a division title. The Bulldogs believe that factor helped them stay focused this week, despite being favored to defeat the Wildcats by more than 30 points.
"I'm not going to take them for granted and I don't think anybody on this team is going to take them for granted," tight end Aron White said. "I think that if anybody thinks that, they're foolish, given what's at stakes and the type of football that we've been playing. It would be foolish to think that we'd come out and underestimate anybody at this point."
1. Championship chase: The implications are simple for Georgia. If the Bulldogs win, they secure an SEC East title and a spot in the league's championship game. If they lose, South Carolina will play in the SEC championship game. A win would also be the ninth in a row for Georgia -- the longest winning streak for a Georgia team since 1982.
2. Senior day: Georgia's seniors started their playing careers on a team that opened the 2008 season with a No. 1 national ranking. The Bulldogs won 10 games that year, but slipped to eight in 2009 and six last year. They are on the verge of sending their team to the SEC title game for the first time since 2005, which would be the perfect way to conclude their final game between Sanford Stadium's storied hedges.
3. Bowl-bound Wildcats? Struggling Kentucky is in a desperate position as it arrives in Athens. The Wildcats have appeared in a bowl game in five consecutive seasons -- the longest streak in school history -- but they must beat both Georgia and Tennessee to extend that streak to six. The Bulldogs were 30.5-point favorites over the Wildcats as of Thursday evening, and Tennessee has defeated Kentucky 26 consecutive times -- the longest winning streak against one opponent for any team in SEC history.
Players to watch Georgia 1. S Bacarri Rambo: The SEC interceptions leader should have plenty of opportunities if the Bulldogs build a lead as expected and force the Wildcats to rely on their passing game. Rambo's seven interceptions tie former Bulldogs linebacker Tony Taylor (2006) for the most by a Georgia player since Ben Smith's 10 in 1989.
2. CB Brandon Boykin: Kentucky has some rangy receivers, so the 5-foot-10 Boykin could find himself with some size disadvantages this weekend. He has enjoyed an outstanding senior season, however, and could continue to contribute on offense. Boykin also remains in pursuit of the SEC's career kickoff yardage lead -- he trails Florida's Brandon James by 249 yards -- and the league record for kickoff return touchdowns. He already shares that mark of four career kickoff return scores with Tennessee's Willie Gault and Arkansas' Felix Jones.
3. RB Isaiah Crowell: Georgia's star freshman running back had his best game in nearly two months against Auburn last weekend. Crowell rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in the 45-7 blowout win. With 821 rushing yards, he's 179 away from becoming only the second Georgia true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards. Herschel Walker (1980) is the other.
Kentucky 1. LB Danny Trevathan: The senior linebacker is the SEC's tackles leader for the second straight season, posting 118 in the Wildcats' first 10 games. Trevathan uses impressive speed to wreak havoc, but he hasn't gotten much help as the Wildcats rank in the bottom third in all significant SEC defensive statistical categories.
2. WR La'Rod King: The 6-4 receiver has enjoyed extensive success against Georgia with two touchdown catches against the Bulldogs last year and a one-handed touchdown grab in 2009. King is one of the Wildcats' few legitimate offensive weapons, tying for third in the SEC with seven touchdown catches to go with 596 yards on 39 receptions.
3. S/LB Winston Guy: Guy, who trails only Trevathan among SEC tacklers, practiced Thursday and had good enough range of motion in his injured shoulder that he is expected to play this weekend. Guy is also fifth in the SEC with 12 tackles for loss.
Key matchup Georgia's receivers vs. Kentucky's secondary Kentucky lost starting safety Martavius Neloms to an injury this week and Guy is recovering from an injury as well. Georgia's passing game has been red hot lately, with quarterback Aaron Murray tossing nine touchdowns in the last two games. Kentucky is eighth in the SEC against the pass, allowing 194.9 yards per game, and is tied for last in the league with 17 touchdown passes allowed. The Wildcats will have to turn things around quickly to have a chance.
By the numbers 1. 14-for-15: Georgia has scored 15 touchdowns in the last two games, with 14 different players scoring at least once (receiver Michael Bennett is the only Bulldog with two). Here's the full list: Bennett, Boykin, Crowell, Rambo, Orson Charles, Chris Conley, Bruce Figgins, Brandon Harton, Kyle Karempelis, Tavarres King, Rhett McGowan, Malcolm Mitchell, Branden Smith and White.
2. 10: With two sacks last week against Auburn, Jarvis Jones has 10 this season with at least three games to play -- four if the Bulldogs play in the SEC Championship Game. He is the sixth player to reach double-digit sacks under Richt and is in position to threaten David Pollack's 2002 school record of 14.
3. 220-84: Georgia has built comfortable leads by halftime for much of the season, outscoring opponents 220-84 in the first half. The Bulldogs have been particularly effective in the second quarter with a 138-60 scoring advantage.
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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