Georgia vs. Kentucky
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lexington, Ky.
TV: MyATLTV (Charter channel 3)
BY DAVID HALE
ATHENS — Mark Richt still has a copy of the picture taken of his quarterback the last time Georgia traveled to Lexington, Ky.
Matthew Stafford, then a true freshman, left the game with a softball-sized bruise across his forehead and scabs decorating the bridge of his nose.
Richt still has the photo, and this week he asked Stafford if it would be OK for him to pass it around the locker room as a bit of motivation for the Bulldogs as they return to Commonwealth Stadium for the first time since losing, 24-20, to Kentucky two years ago.
"I told him it was fine," Stafford said. "Things like that don’t really motivate me too much, but if he thought it would help the other guys, I was OK with it."
The injuries were a result of his helmet being ripped off during the game, but that was hardly the worst thing that happened to Stafford that day. It was the fourth loss in five games for Georgia, a game in which he was intercepted three times, and it was one of the lowest points of Stafford’s career.
"I think about it every now and then," Stafford said, "and it was a tough one."
It’s perhaps fitting then that his return trip to Kentucky follows another low point.
Stafford had not been intercepted three times in a game since that loss to the Wildcats until last week, when Florida picked off three of his passes in the second half en route to a 49-10 win that ended Georgia’s hopes for a national title and put its SEC East hopes on life support.
Monday’s practice was grim, with the realization of what happened against the Gators hanging over the practice fields like a black cloud. By Tuesday, however, Richt said the team was in better spirits, the practice was sharp and the intensity was high.
"It’s Kentucky," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "We’ll see if we can get our swagger back."
Perhaps the best medicine for Georgia is simply getting back to work, Richt said. While the 12:30 p.m. kickoff time against a team that has traditionally been a second-tier program in the SEC could add to the dangers for Georgia this week, linebacker Rennie Curran said the Bulldogs aren’t likely to overlook Kentucky, and their leadership is making sure the bad memories of the Florida game haven’t interfered with their preparation for the task at hand.
"We’ve got a good group of seniors, and we’re full of leaders and playmakers," Curran said. "We’re going to be fine in the long run. Just coming off this loss and knowing how it affects our season, making it that much harder to go where we want to go, it just disappoints us a little bit. But I know for a fact we’re going to bounce back."
Rebounding from the Florida debacle might be a bit easier for the Georgia defense, which won’t be intimidated by a no-name group of starters on the Wildcats’ offense. Kentucky’s top two playmakers — wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. and running back Derrick Locke — are both out for the season with injuries.
"They have had a couple of rough injuries on offense," Richt said. "They are trying to replace those guys, which we all know when you have injuries like that, it’s very difficult to replace."
The Wildcats’ best playmaker is freshman Randall Cobb, who has played wide receiver, running back and quarterback this season. He’ll share snaps with starting quarterback Mike Hartline, adding an extra wrinkle to the Wildcats’ playbook.
Running backs Alfonso Smith and Tony Dixon both gashed the Bulldogs for big runs two years ago in Lexington. It was Dixon’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:21 remaining that sealed the win for Kentucky.
"History’s history, it’s in the past," defensive end Jeremy Lomax said. "Hopefully Mr. Dixon won’t have another good day against us."
Stafford may have a chance at redemption, too.
Kentucky’s defense thrives on man coverage, making downfield passes both dangerous and potentially rewarding.
"They play so much man coverage that it’s just an every-day deal for them," Richt said. "That was the very first thing I noticed watching film."
I told Coach (Mike) Bobo they’ve got a lot of confidence."
So, too, does Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green, who leads the SEC in receptions and receiving yards.
Green said Kentucky’s defensive scheme will give him and Stafford a chance to make some big plays.
"They run a lot of man coverage, so they’re going to put us on an island by ourselves with just a corner," Green said.
Of course, none of that will matter if Georgia heads to Lexington with its focus still on the events that unfolded last week in Jacksonville, Fla., Irvin said.
So while he’s hoping his team is ready to play, he said the first few minutes of action today will tell a lot about what kind of team the Bulldogs are. As Stafford’s picture proves, they’ve been bumped and bruised before. What matters, Irvin said, is how they respond.
"If we go out there feeling sorry for ourselves against Kentucky, they’re going to put 50 points on us," Irvin said. "But we’ll be ready. We haven’t given up. We haven’t lost hope around here. We’re still Georgia. We still can beat any team, any day."