0

Dogs host Wildcats -- minus Uga

Photo by Jennifer Milton

Photo by Jennifer Milton

ATHENS -- There will be a wreath placed over Uga VII's empty doghouse when Kentucky visits Georgia tonight.

Some Georgia fans may find it to be a fitting somber note for the final home game of the Bulldogs' disappointing season. Losses to Oklahoma State, Louisiana State, Tennessee and Florida have left some in the mood to place a wreath over the season.

The unexpected death of the latest in the line of beloved mascots only casts more gloom over the season.

Uga VII, the white English bulldog, died Thursday of heart-related causes before he could finish only his second season as mascot. Sonny Seiler, whose family owns the line of Uga mascots, said no replacement will be chosen before next year.

An empty doghouse? Even Georgia coach Mark Richt was caught off-guard by the news.

"I don't know if it's unprecedented or not," Richt said, adding it "will be kind of different" to have a game without the mascot the university claims to be the nation's most famous.

Georgia (6-4 overall, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) has a chance to finish the disappointing season on an upswing. The Bulldogs have won two games in a row, including last week's 31-24 win against Auburn, and could clinch second place in the SEC East by beating Kentucky (6-4, 2-4).

A win over Kentucky also would provide momentum for Georgia's final regular-season game at No. 7 Georgia Tech next week and boost hopes for a more prestigious bowl bid.

"This is a big game for us," said Georgia receiver Israel Troupe. "After we lost to Florida we sat down and talked about what we wanted to do toward the end of the season. That means a lot for us as a team. we haven't had the season we wanted to have, but finishing the season 4-0 would mean a lot to us."

Troupe, a former Tift County star, could make his first start as the fill-in for A.J. Green, the SEC's leading receiver who will miss at least one game with a shoulder injury. Georgia will also be without safety and Seminole County native Bacarri Rambo, who suffered a concussion while making a pivotal stop against Auburn.

Green's injury takes away Georgia's top threat. He has 47 catches for 751 yards and six touchdowns. No other Georgia receiver has more than 21 catches.

"It isn't going to change what they do but obviously he's a major, major guy in what they have been able to do offensively and he's been able to make a lot of great plays," said Kentucky coach Rich Brooks of Green. "They have other talented players as well. They weren't in the top five in the recruiting classes the last four, five years for nothing, so they have other players."

Troupe had two catches for 62 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown catch immediately after Green's injury, last week.

Kentucky also has injury concerns.

Brooks said wide receiver/quarterback Randall Cobb is questionable with a bruised shoulder. Quarterback Mike Hartline will miss the last two games of the regular with a knee injury.

Cobb is Kentucky's second-leading rusher with 396 yards and seven touchdowns while running out of the wildcat formation. He also leads the team with 32 receptions for 384 yards and four scores.

Freshman Morgan Newton has started Kentucky's last five games at quarterback. He has passed for 402 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Kentucky junior Derrick Locke has 741 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

Georgia and Kentucky became bowl-eligible with wins last week. Kentucky took a 24-13 win at Vanderbilt.

Kentucky has won at least six games in four straight years for the first time since 1953-56. The Wildcats will try for their first win in Athens since 1977.

Brooks said Kentucky needs another win, either Saturday night or next week against Tennessee, to lock up a bowl bid.

"The bottom line is whatever the circumstances are, this senior class has achieved something that no one else in school history has achieved," Brooks said. "We need to win to ensure ourselves of going to a bowl. Bowl eligible doesn't mean that you are in a bowl. With all probability with the way things are going, we would be. But I would rather not to leave it to chance."

While Kentucky fans hope to celebrate another bowl bid, Georgia fans are disappointed the Bulldogs are not in the running for a major bowl.

Richt has faced frequent questions about the possibility he may make staff changes after the season. He wouldn't address the speculation this week.

"I'll say this, and it's definitely good policy for me, it's not the answer you want, but my main focus is Kentucky," Richt said.

"That's where I have to keep my mind. That's what I have to focus on. Focusing on anything too far down the road is not healthy for me or the team, so my goal is to really make sure we are ready to play against Kentucky right now."