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Bulldogs crush mistake-prone Wildcats

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Suddenly, Georgia's early fall swoon seems like a long time ago.

Washaun Ealey ran for 157 yards and set a school record with five rushing touchdowns and the surging Bulldogs pounded mistake-prone Kentucky 44-31 on Saturday to remain in the thick of things in the jumbled SEC East.

Georgia (4-4, 3-3 SEC) won its third straight behind Ealey's churning legs and an aggressive defense that forced the Wildcats (4-4, 1-4) into four turnovers, consistently giving the Georgia offense a short field to work with.

"I feel like I am doing stuff that I should have been doing during the offseason and right now we're on a roll and hopefully we can stay that way," Ealey said.

Ealey's five rushing scores broke the school record of four, set most recently by former running back Robert Edwards in 1997. Ealey also matched Edwards' record for total touchdowns in a game set in 1995 against South Carolina.

"I feel like I played up to my potential and I have to keep doing it," Ealey said.

Kentucky outgained Georgia 423-290 but couldn't overcome an 18-point halftime deficit for the second straight week.

"I'd like to see what type of football team we truly have ... we'll only see that when we see this team play for four quarters and we have not done that yet," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.

Mike Hartline threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns for the Wildcats but Kentucky's mistakes often left the Bulldogs with little work to do to reach the end zone.

Only once did the Bulldogs start a touchdown drive on their side of midfield. They didn't have to as the Wildcats kept finding ways to self-destruct.

Three of Kentucky's four turnovers came in its own territory, and early gambles on fourth down and an onside kick didn't work.

Instead, they turned into points for the quickly improving Bulldogs, who are averaging 42.6 points during their current three-game run. Georgia plays rival Florida in Jacksonville next week.

"We're playing with a lot more confidence right now," said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "For whatever reason we're knocking a lot more balls out and when the ball's on the ground it's closer to us and we're getting on it."

Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray was a pedestrian 9-of-12 for 113 yards and no touchdowns for Georgia, but didn't turn it over either. It was too easy to hand the ball off to Ealey, who gashed the Wildcats with regularity.

"This is Georgia football right here," Murray said. "The offensive line had a tremendous day opening the holes. Washaun, I think, pretty much had his best game of his career today."

Ealey had plenty of help. Cornerback/kick returner Brandon Boykins tied an SEC record with the fourth kickoff return for a touchdown in his career as the Bulldogs built an 18-point halftime lead and cruised.

Phillips joked earlier in the week he was considering giving his players orange slices as a pregame meal in hopes of convincing their bodies that it was halftime following a series of lethargic first-half performances that forced the Wildcats to play catchup.

If he did, it didn't work.

For the third straight week, the Wildcats dug themselves into a massive hole behind a series of miscues.

Hartline fumbled on the game's third play, and Ealey scored his first touchdown four plays later. The Wildcats responded with a 41-yard field goal, but Boykins needed all of 17 seconds to take the momentum back.

The junior took the ensuing kickoff at the goalline, raced straight up the field before bouncing to the outside and zipping 100 yards for a touchdown. The score was Boykins' fourth career kickoff return for a touchdown, tying an SEC record shared by former Tennessee star Willie Gault and former Arkansas star Felix Jones.

"I told them just to give me two seconds, hold your block for two seconds and I promise you I'll get through it," Boykins said. "Everybody made a commitment to do that and it was pretty after that."

Kentucky's charity was just beginning. Hartline was stuffed on fourth down at the Kentucky 38 and the Bulldogs quickly made it 21-3 on a 2-yard plunge by Ealey. Sophomore running back Donald Russell then mishandled a pitch coming out of the end zone and the Bulldogs recovered at the Kentucky 5.

"If you want to be a great defense, you have to cause turnovers and that's what we want to be," said Georgia linebacker Justin Houston, who had 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.

Ealey scored again three plays later, and the rout was on as the Bulldogs did what South Carolina couldn't do a week ago: put the Wildcats away.

He capped Georgia's only sustained touchdown drive of the night -- 70 yards in seven plays -- with a 1-yard dive on the opening possession of the second half to boost Georgia's lead to 35-10.

"That was huge," Murray said. "We really just ran right down there, got points on the board that first drive and that really set us up for the rest of the half."

The teams traded scores from there, as Georgia took another step toward putting a nightmarish four-game losing streak earlier this season firmly in its rearview mirror.