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UK expecting Georgia to be ready on heels of loss, bye

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UK fell 19-10 in a hard-fought game at Georgia in 2011. (Photo by Victoria Graff) UK fell 19-10 in a hard-fought game at Georgia in 2011. (Photo by Victoria Graff)
The Georgia Bulldogs entered a matchup with South Carolina ranked in the top five and hoping to declare themselves contenders for both the Southeastern Conference and national championship. Instead, the Gamecocks delivered their best performance of the season, sending Georgia home with a 35-7 loss, its first of the season.

A bye week followed the defeat, meaning Bulldogs haven't been able to do much other than practice and stew over the loss as they awaited their next chance to hit the field. That next chance will come this weekend when Kentucky plays host to Georgia. The Wildcats expect to have a hungry team on their hands.

"We've got to be prepared to play against a team that has a chip on its shoulder," UK head coach Joker Phillips said.

Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC) isn't coming off a bye, but the Cats have spent the last week preparing for No. 12 Georgia (5-1, 3-1 SEC). The game will kick off at 7 p.m. in Commonwealth Stadium and will be televised on FSN South.

Not only does Georgia have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference, but the Bulldogs also have one of the best. Junior Aaron Murray has thrown for more than 7,500 yards and 71 touchdowns in his Georgia career. He has won 21 games as the starter and came into the season as a consensus All-SEC selection.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is coming off a game in which a young Wildcat secondary allowed 372 yards through the air to Arkansas' Tyler Wilson. Even so, Phillips and his team are expecting Georgia to go to the ground early and often.

"They've got two great running backs and a veteran offensive line," Phillips said.

True freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have combined for 1,040 rushing yards through the season's first six games with both averaging over seven yards a carry.

Perhaps UK's best chance at slowing a Georgia attack second in the SEC in points per game at 41.1 is to keep the Bulldogs off the field. To do that, the Cats will need major contributions from their own backs: Jonathan George, Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley.

Those tailbacks have faced an unenviable situation following the loss of Maxwell Smith to injury.

Recognizing the diminished threat posed by the UK passing attack in the absence of the sophomore quarterback, opponents have loaded the box to stop the Wildcat running game. Holes have been hard to come by, and so too have been yards. Kentucky has averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt on the ground in its last four games after gaining 4.7 yards a carry with Smith playing almost exclusively the last four games.

They figure to see more eight-man fronts this weekend, but those backs are going to be asked to get the job done nonetheless to help freshman Jalen Whitlow, who will make his third consecutive start at quarterback.

"We've got to run the football," Phillips said. "We've got to take some pressure off the young quarterback. How do you do that? You run the football. We've got to try to establish the run early so we can take some pressure off this guy."

It's a two-way street though. Over the last two weeks, Whitlow has completed just 12-of-31 passes for 156 yards. He'll need to improve on those numbers for UK to have the kind of offensive balance it needs. Whitlow is hoping that the final pass he threw in a weather-shortened loss at Arkansas - a 61-yard touchdown to La'Rod King - will give him so momentum heading into this weekend's test.

"After I threw it, I felt like a light shined on me," Whitlow said.

Facing Georgia's talented defense will be difficult no matter what, but it could be made just a little easier by the potential absence of outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. The junior has accounted for 5.5 of the Bulldogs' 10 sacks, but his status for Saturday is uncertain due to an injured right ankle.  If he is unable to play, freshmen Jordan Jenkins and Josh Dawson will try to fill the void. Jenkins is second on the team with three sacks while Dawson has 1.5 tackles for loss in a reserve role.

No matter who is on the field for the Bulldogs, Phillips believes they compare favorably to anyone the Cats have played.

"This team probably has the best personnel we've seen from top to bottom," Phillips said. "We've played South Carolina, which you guys say that their defensive front is as good as anybody's in America. We've played Florida, who you've got to say their linebackers have great team speed. This team from top to bottom -- you're talking secondary, the defensive line, the linebackers -- this is probably the best personnel we've played."

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