Dawgs again turn to fill-in starters against KY

LEXINGTON, Ky. - It has become an October tradition for Georgia. Every year it seems Georgia has to figure out a way to play Kentucky without at least one key offensive starter.

Two years ago, quarterback Cory Phillips had to make his first start for the injured Quincy Carter, and Phillips passed for 400 yards in a 34-30 win.  Last year, Georgia was without starting tailback Musa Smith, who was missing his first game with a groin injury. Fullback Verron Haynes took the lead role by rushing for 86 yards with two touchdowns and catching three passes for 73 yards and another touchdown in a 43-29 win.

Today, Georgia has to replace more key starters.

Jon Stinchcomb, the team's top offensive lineman, and Fred Gibson, the second-leading receiver, are definitely out with knee and thumb injuries, respectively.  Smith, the team's leading rusher, will make the trip but is very questionable after suffering a broken thumb in last week's win over Vanderbilt.  Finally, kicker Billy Bennett is recovering from food poisoning and has not practiced all week. Coach Mark Richt said he will decide Bennett's status after watching warmups before  today's 3:30 p.m. kickoff, assuming Bennett is able to kick at all.

Stinchcomb, Gibson and Smith had surgeries on Tuesday. Smith practiced Thursday, when there was no contact, but Richt said Smith's thumb would have been too tender Thursday to play in a game.

It seems likely that if Smith is able to play, it will be only in limited situations - possibly short-yardage plays - behind redshirt freshman Tony Milton, who is expected to make his first start at tailback.

"I'm just filling in for Musa,'' Milton said. "I'm his biggest fan, honestly. I can't wait for him to return.''

Though Stinchcomb will be missed, seniors Kareem Marshall and George Foster have solid experience as starters at offensive tackle. Similarly, Gibson's big-play ability will be missed at receiver and on kickoff returns, but Georgia still features veterans Terrence Edwards, Damien Gary, Reggie Brown and Michael Johnson at receiver.

The task of replacing the injured players, combined with the realization of what is at stake for No. 5 Georgia (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference) should take care of any concerns about proper focus today. Additionally, a recent history of hard-fought games in the series has earned Kentucky (5-2 overall, 1-2 SEC) respect from Georgia veterans.

"This is one of the best teams in this league,'' Edwards said. "They're just not getting much attention.''

In its last visit to Lexington, Ky., two years ago, then-No. 12 Georgia struggled to a 34-30 win, despite 528 yards passing from Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who is now a junior. That still ranks as the most passing yards Georgia has allowed.

Georgia's last two wins in Lexington have come by a total of six points, and the Wildcats beat Georgia at Commonwealth Stadium in 1996.

"I remember watching my brother (former Georgia running back Robert Edwards) and they would go there and struggle,'' Edwards said.  "With the quarterback they have, the offense they have and the defense they have, we especially can't take these guys lightly.''

Kentucky leads the SEC in scoring. The big difference in the program in the two years under Coach Guy Morris has been better balance and total team emphasis, as opposed to the one-dimensional pass-happy days under Hal Mumme.  Led by SEC rushing leader Artose Pinner, Kentucky is ahead of Georgia in the league's rushing stats, and it is a solid 31st in the nation in scoring defense. It also boasts productive special teams, led by Derek Abney, who has  returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.

Kentucky has led in the second half of its losses to Florida (41-34) and South Carolina (16-12), and its players have so much confidence that one of the hot topics of the week has been plans to tear down the goal posts after today's game.

This would be Kentucky's first win over a top five team in Lexington. The last time the Commonwealth Stadium goal posts came down was after a win over Alabama in 1997.

Said Lorenzen this week: "I'm going to be the one sitting on the goal posts this time.''

On Monday, Morriss even said he'd personally assist in tearing down the goal posts, but later in the week he said he did not want the team involved.

"We're not worrying about the goal posts,'' Morris told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We're worried about Georgia. If we can get a win, then we'll let the fans worry about the goal posts.''

Georgia is worried about taking care of business in the SEC East. If the Bulldogs can beat Kentucky today and Florida next Saturday night, they would clinch their first berth in the SEC championship game. Richt told his players early in the week about what is on the line.

"A chill went through my body,'' Edwards said. "I hadn't looked at that.''

In order to have a trip to the SEC championship game on the line in next week's game at Florida, Georgia first must have big games from its reserves today.  When told of the roles fill-in starters played the last two years against Kentucky, Milton smiled.

"You never know,'' Milton said. "Lightning might strike three times.''

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