By GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Between Kenny McIntosh and Jack Podlesny, top-ranked Georgia got all the important points it needed on a day where style points weren’t possible.
McIntosh rushed for a career-best 143 yards, including a crucial 9-yard score late in the third quarter, and the Bulldogs withstood Kentucky’s fourth-quarter rally Saturday for a 16-6 win and its second consecutive unbeaten season in the Southeastern Conference.
The Bulldogs (11-0, 8-0 SEC, No. 1 CFP) clinched the Eastern Division title last week and sought another perfect finish in league play. They came away as just the third SEC team since 1992 to post consecutive 8-0 league marks, following Alabama (2008-09) and Florida (1995-96).
Georgia’s success wasn’t easy in cold, windy conditions, and it settled for three Podlesny field goals before McIntosh’s TD provided a needed cushion.
“With these weather conditions, we’re going to play these kind of games like this,” coach Kirby Smart said. “But I’m really proud of when our guys’ backs are against the wall, how they come out fighting with what they do.
“Certainly, we could’ve played better, probably in the red area. They could have stopped some drives defensively; we gave them a couple of conversions on penalties. I have to give Kentucky a lot of credit for bouncing back and being a really physical football team.”
Georgia’s chance to pad the lead ended on downs at Kentucky’s 1. The Wildcats to made it interesting with a 99-yard drive that ended with Will Levis’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Barion Brown. Levis’ two-point conversion pass failed, and the chance to make it a one-score game died when Matt Ruffalo’s field goal hooked left after a low, rolling snap.
Kentucky (6-5, 3-5) then turned it over on downs and lost for the fifth time in seven games.
McIntosh rushed a career-high 19 times with a 26-yarder for the Bulldogs, who outgained Kentucky 365-297 and 247-89 on the ground.
“It was real big,” McIntosh said of his TD. “We had been driving the ball the whole field, but we knew that we needed to score on that drive to come out strong and get the ball rolling on the ground. We had preached during halftime that we needed to go out there and start stronger and be physical on the line of scrimmage.”
The senior back’s previous best was 90 yards on 16 attempts against Florida last month.
“Kenny ran the ball really well tonight,” Smart added. “Probably could’ve had more, but he had to share with some other guys.”
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett completed 13 of 19 for 116 yards with an interception.
Levis completed 20 of 31 for 206 yards with an interception for Kentucky, which dropped its 13th in row against Georgia.
The Wildcats had been picked to finish second behind Georgia in the East and were ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP Top 25 in late September before spiraling downward with painful division losses to South Carolina, No. 5 Tennessee and last week’s shocking 24-21 home loss to Vanderbilt that snapped the Commodores’ 26-game SEC losing streak.
Georgia’s second-ranked scoring defense (11.6 points per game coming in) remained stingy in holding Kentucky to just 119 yards before halftime and scoreless through three quarters. Kentucky’s 99-yard TD drive after making a goal-line stand spoiled the Bulldogs’ shutout bid, but they limited the Wildcats to just 3 of 11 on third down and 1 of 3 on fourth.
It wasn’t pretty, but Georgia should maintain its perch atop the AP Top 25 and College Football Playoff rankings.
Georgia: Denied their usual offensive explosiveness by Kentucky’s stiff defense, the Bulldogs had to settle for whatever they could get. The numbers ended up decent, converting 6 of 12 third-down chances and edging the Wildcats in time of possession (30:02-29:58). Their stingy defense pitched a shutout for three quarters, highlighted by Kelee Ringo’s end-zone interception of Levis, and held off Kentucky’s last-ditch attempts to make it close.
Kentucky: With nowhere to go but up after an all-around disastrous performance against Vanderbilt, the Wildcats did everything they needed to do in slowing down Georgia and coming up with a couple of critical defensive stops. They still faced a 16-point hole, though Levis did his part with his arm and feet to get them on the board against a bullish ‘Dawgs defense.
“After a tough loss a week ago, getting them motivated to compete at a high level (was our priority),” coach Mark Stoops said. “It took a lot of digging and soul-searching and the competitive nature of our players to reinvest and commit and to put in that kind of effort. We came up short, but the effort, the preparation was there.”
Georgia faces in-state rival Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Kentucky hosts in-state rival Louisville on Saturday, seeking its fourth consecutive series victory.
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