In senior linebacker Tony Taylor’s mind, it became official here Saturday afternoon when Georgia lost its fourth game in five weeks, 24-20 to the formerly doormat Kentucky Wildcats.
“Today the better team in the stadium won,” said Taylor in an equally accurate and stunning statement. “(Now) it’s more of trying to get this thing clicking for the younger guys. I’m trying to play hard for them so they can have something to grow off of and build off of next year.”
It has come to that for a Bulldog team (6-4, 3-4 SEC) that lost to Kentucky for the first time since 1996. All of Georgia’s warts were on display in front of 62,120 in Commonwealth Stadium, many of whom stormed the home turf after the game and tore down one goal post as joyous Wildcat players danced on the field.
The Georgia fans in attendance simply trudged home feeling like they’ve seen the same game for a month now. The Bulldogs lost the turnover battle (four to three), had another shaky game from place-kicker Andy Bailey and failed to make a key defensive stop as the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3) went 69 yards on 11 plays and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 3-yard Tony Dixon run with 1:21 left in the game.
“I’m sure that people are going to enjoy the opportunity to play us right now,” Coach Mark Richt said. “We’ll see if this team can bow its neck and gain some respect. That’s really what we have to play for right now. I’m sure we don’t have much of that around the football nation right now.”
These Bulldogs fell to 1-4 against Eastern division teams and now have lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same season for the first time since 1973 and the second since 1956.
“It hurts,” said junior cornerback Paul Oliver, who wasn’t aware it had ever happened in Bulldog history. “I don’t think any Georgia team ever did that, so to be the team to do that really sucks.”
Kentucky moved to within one win of becoming eligible for its first bowl game since 1999. It marked the first time since the 1996 win over Georgia that the Wildcats have beaten one of the three traditional Eastern Division powers – Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.
“We’ve won two in a row, and we actually get to look at the SEC standings (today) and see us above Georgia,” Wildcat coach Rich Brooks said. “That’s a wonderful thing. A win like this against a team Kentucky hasn’t beaten in years is a signature win for these players, and they’ll remember it for a lot of years.”
Georgia took a 20-17 lead with 4:37 left in the game when Danny Ware scored his first touchdown, a 3-yard run, since the second week of the season. The Bulldogs had a chance to win after Dixon’s score, but freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford overthrew A.J. Bryant and was picked off for the third time in the game.
Stafford’s first interception came at Georgia’s 2-yard line. The second came in the Bulldog end zone with Georgia 2 yards away from extending a 14-10 lead just before halftime.
The Bulldogs now have had 14 turnovers in the last three games, and Stafford has been responsible for nine of those. He finished 16-of-28 passing for 230 yards and one touchdown.
There was plenty of blame to go around, though. Bailey, who was forced into action due to aseason-ending injury to Brandon Coutu, missed field goals of 40 and 47 yards and missed an extra point after Ware’s touchdown that would have changed the tone of Kentucky’s game-winning drive.
“I feel like I let the team down,” Bailey said. “I could have made up for seven points that we didn’t have.”
Bailey’s missed extra point, his second in three weeks, gave Kentucky a mental boost before its final drive since it only had to get a field goal to send the game into overtime.
“I think that’s a little bit different, and I think that (Kentucky’s) mind-set was a little bit different. (The missed kick) is huge, but that’s no excuse,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “We didn’t make the plays we had to make in the end.”
Georgia finished the game with a season-high 389 yards, but that did nothing to soothe Richt after the game. After winning the SEC title two of the last four years, including just 11 months ago, he wakes up this morning in danger of finishing dead last in his division.
When he was reminded after the game that his team is the defending SEC Champion for another month or so, he shook his head.
“We did (win it), didn’t we?” he said. “Boy, it seems like a long time ago. It’s crazy, isn’t it?”