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Georgia on brink of SEC East title

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Georgia is on the brink of completing an
improbable comeback, from 0-2 to the SEC championship game.
The No. 13 Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) can
clinch the Eastern Division title and a spot in the championship
game in Atlanta by beating Kentucky on Saturday.
If Kentucky beats Georgia, South Carolina would win the East in
a tiebreaker.
Mark Richt knows the key for Georgia's eight-game winning streak
is turnovers.
Georgia has not lost the turnover margin in the winning streak.
It ranks second in the SEC, behind LSU, with a plus-nine turnover
margin.
Turnovers also are a key for Joker Phillips' Kentucky team. The
Wildcats (4-6, 1-5) have struggled in the SEC this year, but they
are 7-1 under Phillips when they win the turnover margin.
The Bulldogs are coming off their most impressive win, a 45-7
romp over No. 24 Auburn.
"We never lost confidence in ourselves, our teammates or our
coaches," said quarterback Aaron Murray. "We've just been
chipping away, chipping away and we gained confidence."
Georgia has beaten Tennessee, Florida and Auburn in the same
season for the first time since 1981, but the Bulldogs must stretch
their winning streak to nine for a spot in the SEC championship
game.
Turnovers were the difference when Kentucky beat Georgia in
Athens in 2009.
Kentucky scored 14 points off Georgia's four second-half
turnovers to beat the Bulldogs 34-27 for their first win in Athens
since 1977. Georgia had a 487-260 advantage in total yards but was
doomed by its minus-4 turnover margin.
"Certainly, two years ago we were up by 14 I think at half and
turned it over four times in the second half," Richt said. "It
didn't help us at all."
The 2009 home loss to Kentucky was part of a downturn in the
Georgia program that continued with a 6-7 finish in 2010, including
a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida.
"It was tough coming off of that losing season, especially
after that loss in the bowl game," said senior tight end Aron
White. "We did have some great seniors on that team and to have
them come through and be a part of some great teams and then fall
to that low point last year, it hurt us as a class to see those
guys who were mentors to us and became our brothers go out and kind
of have that memory of the end of their senior year.
"We talked about it early on in team meetings about that's not
going to be us. We're not going to be that team. That's not what
Georgia is about."
The losing record left Richt on the hot seat, and the pressure
picked up when Georgia opened this season with losses to Boise
State and South Carolina.
Even while others were pointing out Georgia's weaknesses and
doubting Richt's future as the Bulldogs' coach, Richt spoke with
confidence that this could be a special team.
Richt's confidence has been rewarded. Georgia ranks fourth in
the nation in total defense. The defense is led by Jarvis Jones,
who is third in the nation with 10 sacks, and Bacarri Rambo, who is
second in the nation with seven interceptions.
"We're doing things that good defenses do," Richt said.
"We're stopping the run most of the time, we're big up front,
we're very physical, we play hard and we've been causing a lot of
fumbles."
The offense is balanced, with freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell
running for 821 yards despite being suspended for one game. Murray,
a sophomore, has set a team record with 27 touchdown passes,
topping Matthew Stafford's 25 in 2008.
Georgia's senior day provides a reminder that this is a young
team. Georgia has three senior starters on its offensive line -
center Ben Jones, left tackle Cordy Glenn and right tackle Justin
Anderson - but almost all of its top skill position players are
underclassmen.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin and defensive end DeAngelo Tyson are
the only senior starters on defense.
Kentucky is trying to protect its slim bowl hopes and bounce
back from a 38-8 loss at Vanderbilt.
Phillips said Thursday Kentucky will be missing two defensive
starters, linebacker Ridge Wilson and safety Martavius Neloms.
Wilson injured his shoulder against Mississippi two weeks ago
and missed the loss to Vanderbilt. Neloms left the Vanderbilt game
with a high ankle sprain.
"We're beat up, banged up, but got to go," Phillips said.
The good news late in the week was Phillips announcement that
linebacker Winston Guy (shoulder) is expected to start.
Offensive guard Stuart Hines said Kentucky can salvage its
season by beating Georgia and Tennessee.
"If we come out of those on the winning end, it's going to be a
real season saver for us," Hines said. "We've had tough times
throughout the whole season. We had a couple of games where we were
doing better. Then we had the game at Vandy where we fell off a
little bit. So we're looking to get back on track and we can still
save the season and make something out of it."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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