5 observations from UGA’s victory over Kentucky

Here are five more things we learned on Saturday:

1. “Respect the rivalry”

While Georgia was looking to win in Kentucky, Georgia Tech was preparing a shock 500 miles away in Chapel Hill, NC. The Yellow Jackets had 21 unanswered points for the 13th. Tech was able to do so while playing third and fourth string with his quarterbacks.

The Jackets will get excited again when they visit Sanford Stadium for the first time since 2018 on Saturday.

“I don’t know much about her,” Smart said. “Of course we broke them a lot in the off-season. I have a lot of respect for interim head coach Brent (Key). I know Brent well. I’ve known him for a long time. I respect the rivalry. I look forward to going there and preparing for it.”

Smart leads Georgia 4-1 against the Yellow Jackets. He was 3-1 as a safety for the Bulldogs from 1995-98.

2. The “Big Eraser”

Georgia should consider a new nickname for its defense. The “Big Eraser” would be appropriate.

Whether it’s coaching mistakes, offensive turnovers or even their own occasional weaknesses, the Bulldogs’ defenders tend to clean everything up.

That was the case again on Saturday at the freezing cold Kroger Field in Kentucky. The Georgia defense gave up a 99-yard scoring drive against the Wildcats after Smart inexplicably passed the chance to give the Bulldogs a 19-0 lead with an 18-yard field goal in the first game of the fourth quarter bring.

But then Georgia stopped Kentucky’s two-point conversion attempt at 9:52 to play to keep the score at 16-6. The Bulldogs then increased the pressure on quarterback Will Levis to assist the Wildcats after they hit their 16 on their next possession. Ultimately, this resulted in a missed Kentucky field goal.

“I think we built some of those (resilience) muscles that last year’s team might never have been able to flex,” said Smart. “They have responded to some adverse situations and have been put in some difficult situations.”

Georgia led the nation last year with a defense that allowed 10.2 points per game. After Kentucky managed six Saturdays, the Bulldogs have conceded 122 points so far this season, or 11.1 per game. That ranks second at the national level.

Sophomore linebacker Smael Mondon posted a team-high with 11 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson and freshman safety Malaki Starks each had eight. Kelee Ringo had his second interception of the season, returning it 45 yards outside the end zone.

DiscoverBreakdown: #1 Georgia 16, Kentucky 6

3. No Regrets

After some prodding from reporters, Smart seemed reluctant to accept that his decision to pass an easy field goal that would have put the Bulldogs three points ahead in the fourth quarter was a mistake. But he didn’t necessarily regret it.

“I wanted to show confidence in our players,” he said. “If I had a chance to go out there and do it again, I would say, ‘Let’s go out there and do it again.’ Because I believe in that. This decision was made in philosophy 15 years ago.”

Smart made a similar coaching mistake at the end of the first half against Mississippi State last week. Georgia led 17-6 on their own 20 with 44 seconds remaining in the first half. State had only one time out left, and Georgia should get the ball to start the second half. Georgia passed the ball on three straight downs, falling short for a first down and leaving enough time on the clock to punt. State returned that punt 63 yards for a touchdown with three seconds remaining. The Maroon Dogs also failed in the two-point attempt at halftime with 17:12.

4. Attack on Kenny Mac

Georgia’s 247 rushing yards was the second-highest in a game this season. Senior Kenny McIntosh led for 143 yards on 19 carries — both career highs — and notched the Bulldogs’ only touchdown on a 9-yard streak in the third quarter.

“Kenny ran the ball really well tonight, really physically,” Smart said. “He pinned the ball up. I found the offensive line very physical, did a really good job in the running game to be able to get the ball out there a couple of times. … Brilliant. Could probably have had more, but he shared the load with a few other guys. I thought all those guys ran the ball well.”

Daijun Edwards added 50 yards on 14 carries, Kendall Milton had 31 yards on six tries, and quarterback Stetson Bennett averaged 5 yards on five carries.

Georgia had a rare red-zone hit early in the fourth quarter, going 4-for-5 with a TD, three field goals and turnover on downs. The Bulldogs are now 59-to-61 in the red zone, including 40 TDs, 19 FGs, a missed field goal and a flip on downs.

Georgia came in at #2 nationally for 90% conversions.

5. More injuries

Georgia played its eighth game of the last nine without star wide receiver AD Mitchell, who did not make the trip to Kentucky. After suffering a sprained ankle in the first game of the Samford game in week two of the season, Mitchell only played five snaps against Auburn when he potentially aggravated the injury.

Freshman wideout De’Nylon Morrissette also did not travel on Saturday. Smart said he deals with hamstring and knee problems.

Starting right guard Tate Ratledge made the trip but did not play. He suffered a shoulder subluxation last week. Redshirt student Devin Willock, who normally plays left guard, started at right guard. Senior Warren Ericson snapped a few snaps there too.