Mike Hartline is playing as well as any quarterback in the SEC this season.
The Georgia Bulldogs have enjoyed their stay in Athens, GA these last two weeks, as both the offense and the defense seemed to find their rhythm. Now, it's time to take their show back on the road again as the surging Bulldogs will take on the feisty Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington.
For many, this game will be the true barometer of whether or not Georgia's last two wins were a result of good play or bad opponents—some aren't so sure it's not more the latter than the former.
Either way, it's time to see how much improved this offense and defense is against a better, more challenging, opponent.
Here's what you need to know about Kentucky.
1. Their Pass Offense Is Good
The Wildcats are currently ranked 25th in the nation—second in the conference—in passing offense. The maturation of Mike Hartline has been the difference.
The senior is comfortable in this offense, proficient in calling plays and confident in his ability to lead this team back—no matter what the deficit. He is playing his best football of the year, so far, and was a major catalyst in the Wildcats big win over South Carolina last week—passing for 349 yards and four touchdowns.
2. The Offensive Line Is Better-Than-Advertised
The Wildcats had to replace four players from last season's unit, but that hasn't seemed to matter much. This group has developed a great chemistry together, and have done a tremendous job of keeping Mike Hartline upright this season—allowing only six sacks through seven games.
3. They Are Porous Against the Run
They managed to keep South Carolina (who lost their leading rusher in the second half) and Akron (who ranks 100th in rushing offense this season) under 100-yards rushing, but they have consistently given up 175-yards or better to every other opponent they have faced this year—including 211 yards to Mississippi and 311 yards to Auburn.
Note: The Wildcats have given up 45 rushing plays that have gone for 10 or more yards this season.
4. That Said...They Have Issues with Mobile Quarterbacks
Trey Burton of Florida had his biggest game of the season against the Wildcats (scoring five rushing touchdowns), Jeremiah Masoli of Ole Miss scored four times (scrambling for one touchdown and tossing three more) and Cam Newton of Auburn tallied 198-yards and four scores. Quarterbacks who have the potential to run and roll out of the pocket, give the Wildcats fits.
5. They're Defensive Line Is Capable of Dominating—If They Get on a Roll
The defensive line is young, but hungry. They have had a few really good performances this season—three weeks ago against Ole Miss, they tallied eight tackles for loss (TFL)—and some not so good. However, they remain focused and ready to meet the challenge each week.
Mark Crawford, a JUCO transfer from Kansas, has been a great leader on the line and provides the emotional spark the team needs when things get tough. Keep an eye on him at defensive tackle. He's already got 3.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks on the year.
6. Randall Cobb Is Still the Man
The junior wideout is responsible for 1,155 total yards for the Wildcats this season and remains a weapon that has to be accounted for at all times. He, along with Derrick Locke, remain two of the most important pieces to the success of Kentucky's offense.
7. Chris Matthews May Have Had His Coming-Out Party Last Week
Senior wide receiver Chris Matthews was an enigma for South Carolina last week. He finished the game with 12 catches for 177 yards and one touchdown. It was his second 100-yard receiving game of the year (the first came against Florida).
If Derrick Locke is forced to miss more time (leaving Cobb to perform more rushing duties), Hartline will be tossing plenty more passes Matthews' way—at 6'5", 219 pounds, he makes for an ample target.
8. Their Third-Down Defense Hasn't Been as Impressive in Conference Play
Kentucky has held their non-conference opponents to less than 22 percent on third downs this season. However, in SEC play, they have been susceptible to allowing teams to extend their drives via conversions. SEC opponents convert at just over a 50 percent clip.
9. Their Red Zone Defense Is Pretty Bad
If an opponent can get inside the 20, they are likely going to get six. This season, the Wildcats have allowed the opposition into the red zone 25 times—19 of those resulted in a touchdown.
Note: They are dead last in the SEC in this category.
10. Their Second-Half Defense Is Tough
The Wildcats over the last two weeks have done a phenomenal job of making half-time adjustments on defense—outscoring their opponent 38-6. On the flip side, they've been walloped in the first half, of those same games, 59-27.
If a team can jump out early and contain the Cats late, they stand a chance of escaping Lexington with a win.
*Most stats used in this article are available via courtesy of cfbstats.com.
(This article appears courtesy of The Lady Sportswriter)