D'Andre Swift, Georgia Beat Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky 34-17 to Clinch SEC East

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2018

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 03: Mecole Hardman #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs returns a punt 65 yards to set up a touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field on November 3, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs dominated the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats 34-17 on Saturday at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky, to clinch the SEC East crown.

Georgia and Kentucky entered the game with identical 7-1 records, with 5-1 marks in the SEC, but the Wildcats were no match for Georgia's hard-hitting defense and high-octane running game.

Georgia will play in the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive year, and it will likely meet the winner of Saturday night's contest between undefeated Alabama and one-loss LSU.

The Kentucky offense struggled mightily Saturday, gaining 310 total yards, many of which came during garbage time.

Georgia did most of its offensive damage on the ground, as D'Andre Swift rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns, and Elijah Holyfield added 115 yards and a score.

Quarterback Jake Fromm wasn't called upon much, but he played a clean game and finished with 113 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions on 14-of-20 passing. Fromm did lose a pair of fumbles, though, which caused freshman quarterback Justin Fields to get some snaps in running situations.

The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on their first possession and carried a 14-3 lead into halftime before they put the Wildcats away with big running plays in the second half. That included Swift's 83-yard, third-quarter touchdown run:

A lack of big offensive plays doomed the Wildcats, as quarterback Terry Wilson barely put a dent in the Georgia defense with 226 yards and one touchdown through the air. He also rushed for just 12 yards.

Running back Benny Snell Jr. did run for a touchdown late in the third quarter and finished with 73 yards on the ground, but Kentucky couldn't overcome Georgia's lead.

Had Kentucky won, it would have marked the Wildcats' first appearance in the SEC title game.


Swift, Holyfield Are Biggest Keys to a Georgia SEC Title

Regarding the Georgia offense, there is usually a great deal of focus on Fromm because of his status as a sophomore quarterback.

While the Bulldogs need Fromm to play relatively mistake-free football down the stretch, he hasn't shown this season that he is capable of winning games on his own yet. Because of that, Georgia needs to employ a game plan similar to its Saturday efforts when it plays either Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship Game.

Swift and Holyfield pounded the Kentucky defense into submission, allowing Georgia to become the first team to score more than 20 points against the Wildcats all season.

On the heels of the first 100-yard rushing game of his career last week, Swift was even better in helping Georgia clinch the SEC East. In addition to his 83-yard touchdown run, Swift made the defense look silly on a 20-yard touchdown run in the second quarter:

Swift has home run potential every time he touches the ball, and he's Georgia's best source of big offensive plays. Still, it's impressive that he performed so well against Kentucky, which has one of the nation's stoutest defenses.

In fact, the Wildcats hadn't allowed a run as long as his 83-yard touchdown in five years, per ESPN Stats & Info:

While Swift is the big-play guy, Holyfield is a grinder who specializes at wearing down opposing defenses with his hard-charging style.

Michael Collins of FanSided noted Holyfield makes life miserable for would-be tacklers:

That was clear during the third quarter when Holyfield carried defenders on his back into the end zone on a four-yard touchdown run:

Holyfield is especially effective when Georgia has a lead, since he can keep the chains moving and bleed clock while keeping the opposing offense on the sidelines.

He has been so impressive this year that Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller views Holyfield as Georgia's go-to running back:

Regardless of who the No. 1 back is, the Bulldogs have a special combination, much like they did last year with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Swift and Holyfield may not be at the same level, but they aren't far off, and that suggests Georgia must ride them hard down the stretch.

Chubb and Michel were key in getting Georgia to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game last season, and they nearly helped the Bulldogs knock off Alabama.

Fromm isn't likely to put up big passing numbers against Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship Game, but if Georgia commits to the run and plays a physical style, it has a chance to win the SEC for the second consecutive year.


Poor QB Play Stands Between Kentucky and Elite Status

With a dominant defense and a talented running back in Snell, Kentucky has nearly all the pieces needed to be one of the country's top squads.

Prior to Saturday, no team had scored more than 20 points in a game against the Wildcats, and their only loss was a razor-thin 20-14 loss to Texas A&M.

The defense wasn't its usual self Saturday, but the bigger issue was Wilson's play under center.

He did complete 23 of his 29 pass attempts and didn't turn the ball over, but the vast majority of his completions came underneath.

He also rushed for only 12 yards, even thought that's perhaps the strongest part of his game.

It was apparent near the end of the second quarter that head coach Mark Stoops doesn't have supreme confidence in Wilson, since he didn't allow him to throw it after the team recovered a Fromm fumble, per Jon Hale of the Courier Journal:

Wilson did throw a touchdown in the second half, but even that was somewhat fortuitous since it deflected off a Georgia defender and into the hands of running back Asim Rose.

Had that pass been intercepted, the final margin would have been even more lopsided in favor of the Bulldogs.

Kentucky has a fairly easy schedule down the stretch with games against Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State and Louisville. If the Wildcats run the table like they should, they'll be in prime position to take part in one of the premier non-CFP bowl games.

A win in that contest would give Kentucky an 11-2 record, marking its best effort since 1950.

The Wildcats won't be able to compete with teams like Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Notre Dame until they figure out their quarterback situation, however.

Wilson may be the best option for now, but Kentucky needs a more productive player at the position to turn in a repeat performance in 2019.


What's Next?

Georgia will host the dangerous Auburn Tigers next week in a game the Bulldogs may need to win to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive.

Meanwhile, Kentucky will face the Tennessee Volunteers on the road, as they look to ensure placement into a high-profile bowl game.


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