ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia head coach Mark Richt was watching the Kentucky-South Carolina game on Saturday night along with plenty of other interested observers.
“It looked like South Carolina had completely taken control of the game,” Richt said. “And at halftime something changed.”
The same might be said about the SEC East race, along with Georgia’s hopes of still playing for something meaningful.
A rash of upsets, including Kentucky’s comeback win over South Carolina, has left the division picture muddled. Georgia (3-4, 2-3) is just a half-game out of first place in the division (South Carolina leads at 2-2).
That sets up almost an elimination game with Kentucky on Saturday. Each team has three conference losses.
Winning the East is still probably a longshot for Georgia, which owns a loss to first-place South Carolina, and still has to play at unbeaten Auburn. The Bulldogs would probably have to win out or hope South Carolina loses twice and the two teams end up in a tie with another team at 4-4.
That would be unprecedented. Since divisional play started in 1992, no East Division winner has lost more than twice.
In fact, only twice has a team won a division in the SEC with three losses — nine years ago, when LSU and Auburn were each 5-3 and in 1993 when Arkansas (4-3-1) was the only team in the West with a winning record.
Still, for a team that was reeling two weeks ago, it’s a refreshing turnabout.
“People always say year in and year out that anybody could win on any given weekend,” Richt said. “And that’s about what’s happening right now.”
Still, the Bulldogs likely will have to go to Kentucky without a key player.
Georgia sophomore Branden Smith, a cornerback and punt returner who occasionally plays offense, is doubtful again with a concussion.
“We know he had two concussions relatively close together,” Richt said. “So there’s not going to be a mad rush to get him in there until we fell really good about it.”
Richt said reserve safety/linebacker Nick Williams (hamstring) is close to returning.
Kentucky tailback Derrick Locke, who missed the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury, is improving but remains doubtful, according to Wildcats coach Joker Phillips.
But the coach added that Locke’s shoulder has improved and he still has a chance to play.
Locke still ranks third in the SEC in rushing yards despite missing the South Carolina game.
Note: Georgia’s only true freshman starter was almost a Wildcat. Right guard Kenarious Gates was committed to Kentucky until two days before signing day, when the Grantville native got an offer from the Bulldogs.
Phillips said the Wildcats tried “really hard” to keep Gates, but didn’t indicate any hard feelings.
“Georgia is (who) he had grown up loving, and I understood that,” Phillips said. “When they offered him a couple days before, it was hard for him to turn it down.”