LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Georgia Bulldogs looked the part of a reigning Southeastern Conference football champion Saturday.
They also played an effective role of spoiler.
In what was billed as the biggest game in Kroger Field history, the No. 6 Bulldogs sucked the drama out of a winner-take-all showdown for the SEC East crown by rushing for 331 yards during a 34-17 pounding of No. 11 Kentucky. Sophomore running back D'Andre Swift rushed for a career-high 156 yards and two touchdowns to lead Georgia, with junior Elijah Holyfield posting a career-best 115 yards and a score.
"We're just putting more people on notice," Swift said. "I think me and Elijah are a great 1-2 punch, and I think people are starting to notice."
Swift and Holyfield stole the show from Kentucky's Benny Snell Jr., who entered as the SEC's leading rusher this season but was held to 73 yards on 20 carries. The Bulldogs actually swiped all joy from the Wildcats faithful, who were hoping for the first Eastern Division title in program history.
Instead, Georgia will make a second consecutive trip to Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium in early December as the East beasts. The Bulldogs never had swept their East foes in a season until last year, and they have turned the trick again, winning every divisional game these past two seasons by double digits.
"This is huge," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "It has not been easy, and it's never easy. People sometimes get spoiled when you win. These are good programs and these are good teams. Give our kids a lot of credit, because our backs were against the wall two weeks in a row, and they came out fighting.
"We make things extremely difficult at times, but we just keep playing and keep playing physical. A lot of credit goes to our offensive line today. To rush for 331 yards against anybody in the SEC is pretty tremendous."
The Bulldogs clinched the East last year on the first weekend of November as well, but it was by the combination of a win over South Carolina and Kentucky getting eliminated with a loss to Ole Miss.
"Last year, we found out on the bus," Holyfield said. "This time, we got to come up here into hostile territory and win it ourselves. It feels special, and we want to finish out this season the right way."
Georgia, No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC with visiting Auburn (6-3, 3-3) on deck. Kentucky (7-2, 5-2) is at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) next Saturday.
"Really, you just have to give credit to Georgia," Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. "They beat us in all phases. They really played a good football game. I thought they moved us, and they made us miss."
Having already asserted themselves with a 14-3 halftime advantage, the Bulldogs took their opening possession of the second half and drove 78 yards in nine plays, extending their lead to 21-3 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Holyfield.
Their next drive was much quicker, as Swift broke free for a career-long 83-yard touchdown that made it 28-3 at the 7:56 mark of the third quarter.
"Those guys run the ball hard," Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said. "They're obviously great football players, and it's also a testament to our offensive line mashing and moving people. Our tight ends and receivers were doing the same things, because you don't break off those large chunks of yards without help from the outside."
Mecole Hardman set the tone for Georgia's productive afternoon with a 65-yard punt return to Kentucky's 23-yard line for a quick opening possession for the Bulldogs that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Isaac Nauta.
"Mecole had a huge momentum play," Smart said. "It set the tone for the rest of the game."
The opening score by Georgia held until the midway mark of the second quarter, when a 34-yard field goal by Kentucky's Chance Poore made it a 7-3 game and capped a 15-play, 50-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes and 56 seconds. The Bulldogs answered with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that peeled 5:55 off the clock and resulted in a Swift 20-yard touchdown run that extended Georgia's advantage to 14-3 with 2:28 left in the half.
Georgia established an 11-point lead at the break despite fumbling at Kentucky's 26-yard line in the final minute of the first quarter and again at the Kentucky 27 in the final minute of the half. The first gaffe was the result of a high shotgun snap from freshman center Trey Hill, who was replacing injured senior Lamont Gaillard. Fromm never got control of the second-quarter snap before Swift ran by and knocked the ball loose.
Wildcats senior standout outside linebacker Josh Allen recovered both fumbles.
"One snap was kind of high, and I wasn't quite prepared for it," Fromm said. "The other one was a combination of different things, and I didn't quite have my eyes on it. It's not a big deal. That's something that we can kind of clean up pretty quickly."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.