LEXINGTON, Ky. — Georgia’s defense held Kentucky at bay for the better part of three quarters on Saturday, but the Wildcats made things interesting in the final 15 minutes of the game. Luckily for the Bulldogs, their defense relied on the building blocks of the program to stave off the Wildcats’ late exploits.
After a 99-yard touchdown drive, Kentucky put together two late possessions that had the potential to reduce Georgia’s 10-point lead. The Wildcats’ effort failed both times, however, when Georgia forced a field goal attempt that missed the target and then was stopped with fourth deficit to seal a 16-6 victory.
“It was bent but didn’t break. We didn’t stop them. They ended up in the red and the fourth place wins were the difference in the game, you know? Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “Our ability to stop them on the fourth down was great, but our inability to get off the field on some of the third downs hurt some. Our offense was 6 of 12 in third, so they continue to be one of the most efficient third-place teams in the country.”
Looking at Georgia’s defense in the final minutes of the game, centre-back Little Mondon pointed out that the Bulldogs’ DNA traits of composure, connectedness, toughness and resilience are essential to getting the job done.
“It felt like we just had to work together, you know? Build that connection and serenity. We just had to remember the DNA traits that Coach Smart and the other coaches are really trying to instill in us,” said Mondon, who had 11 tackles and a quarterback in the rush. “You really have to type everything. There is not really one that is more important than the other.”
Mondon and the Bulldogs kept Kentucky at bay for most of Saturday’s game, and in three quarters the Wildcats had just 124 yards under their belt — including just 5 in the third quarter. That narrative changed a lot in the final quarter, however, when a wall-backed offense from Kentucky finally responded.
The Wildcats took their own 1-yard down line with 14:54 to go and started with a bang Will Levis connected deep down with Barion Brown for a 42-yard gain on the fourth play of the drive. Levis and the Wildcats didn’t let up there, gaining 24 yards over the next four games before Levis found Brown again, this time for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Georgia defense forced Kentucky’s two-point conversion into an incomplete to keep it a two-possession game, but the damage that had been done was undeniable. Still, according to cornerback Kelee Ringothere was no panic among the Bulldogs.
In Ringo’s opinion, this situation arose for the Georgia defense to prove themselves.
“To be honest, we had to rely on our technology and our identity. Just being tough out there, staying connected and just keep working,” said Ringo, who had two tackles and an interception. “Honestly, I feel like when we play more together and everyone is in sync with each other, we definitely play our best ball.”
A faltering drive on Georgia’s subsequent possession returned the ball to Kentucky, who found themselves on their own 10 with 6:55 left. Levis made another big play through the air by finding Brown for a 47-yard gain, and by the seventh play of the drive the Wildcats were up to Georgia 17.
The Bulldogs’ defense unbuckled from there.
Javon Bullard and Robert Bel brought down Levis for a 4-yard sack in second and ninth place before Levis’ third and twelfth passes went wide. Instead of trying to convert the long fourth down, the Wildcats sent kickers Matt Ruffolowho missed wide left from 38 yards to return the ball to Georgia with 4:17 left.
The Wildcats got the ball back one more time before the end of the game, but the magic of the fourth quarter of yore was nowhere to be found. Jalon Walker and Mikel Williams combined for a big tackle for the loss on the third down before Levis’ fourth down pass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.
Though Kentucky threw up 147 passing yards in the fourth quarter, Mondon said he knew what kind of team Georgia had and he had faith that the players who gave up those games would ensure it doesn’t happen again. Ringo, meanwhile, explained how Georgia ended the game, which showed just how capable this group really is.
“[It took] Toughness man,” said Ringo. “Knowing that you have a brother next to you [and] our connection every single day. Whether someone messes up the field or not, just being able to represent them and knowing that they can definitely do their job too. So it’s a great feeling to just go out there and know that your brother is a very physical player and is definitely able to do his job.”