ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Mark Richt’s belly slide across Georgia’s locker-room floor had a good start and painful finish — just the opposite of his team’s path to the SEC championship game.
Georgia’s defense made up for a day of struggles on offense as the No. 13 Bulldogs beat Kentucky 19-10 on Saturday to win the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
Georgia will return to the SEC title game on Dec. 3 for the fourth time in Richt’s 11 years as coach — but the first time since 2005. The six-year absence left Richt a little rusty on his postgame celebration technique, as he found out when he tried to slide across the plastic which covered Georgia’s water-soaked locker room.
"I thought it would be great to run across and slide like back in the day," Richt said. "What I didn’t realize was the other side of the plastic was dry, and I stuck."
Richt said he couldn’t breathe and then players jumped on top of him.
"It was a bad idea," he said with a painful smile. "It hurt."
The Bulldogs (9-2 overall, 7-1 SEC) have won nine straight following an 0-2 start that included a home loss to South Carolina.
Aaron Murray threw a touchdown pass to Marlon Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter and Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including three from 39 yards.
Kentucky was held to 23 yards rushing on 21 carries and 165 total yards.
Punter Drew Butler said the postgame celebration "was a lot of fun, especially after the locker-room atmosphere of the first two games."
Georgia has its longest single-season winning streak since an 11-0 regular season in 1982 under Vince Dooley. The Bulldogs will close their regular season at Georgia Tech next week.
Georgia struggled on offense after losing top rusher Isaiah Crowell to a left ankle injury after only two carries. Crowell’s top backup, Carlton Thomas, was held out because he violated a team rule, according to Richt.
Georgia was left with Ken Malcome and Brandon Harton, who rushed for 101 yards, at tailback.
Georgia fans chanted "SEC! SEC" with less than 1 minute remaining as players emptied a cooler on Richt. He said he was doused with a bigger cooler in the locker room.
The Bulldogs won SEC titles under Richt in 2002 and 2005 and lost in the 2003 SEC championship game.
Kentucky (4-7, 1-6) was held to 2 yards in the third quarter. The Wildcats led 10-6 in the second quarter after Maxwell Smith’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Robinson.
The loss eliminated the Wildcats, who have appeared in a school-record five straight bowl games, from postseason consideration.
"A lot of people knew how much this week meant for Georgia and no one talked about what we were playing for," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. "We’re playing for pride, our university and an extra win. The game that this team played proved they played for each other as well. I am proud of them."
Georgia went into the half ahead 12-10 on Walsh’s four field goals before finally reaching the end zone as the fourth quarter started. On third down from the Kentucky 7, Murray stepped up and passed to Brown in the back of the end zone.
"Actually, it was the wrong route," said Brown, who added he improvised to get open.
Murray completed 16 of 29 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Kentucky’s Smith completed 17 of 35 passes for 133 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a fumble.
Crowell, a freshman who began the day with 821 yards rushing, ran straight ahead for 6 yards on his first carry and then limped off the field with the left ankle injury after running for 5 yards on his second carry. The freshman limped to the locker room later in the first quarter and returned but remained on the sideline, standing unsteadily on his sore ankle.
He had only a sock on his left foot as he sat and watched in the second half.
Crowell’s status for Georgia’s final regular-season game at Georgia Tech next week is uncertain.
Harton and Malcome each lost fumbles. Harton had only 12 yards rushing in the first half but finished with 101.
Kentucky moved 65 yards on its first possession and took a 3-0 lead on Craig McIntosh’s 32-yard field goal. It was a promising start to what proved to be a disappointing day for Kentucky’s offense against Georgia, which ranks fourth in the nation in total defense.
The Wildcats were held without a first down in the second half until there were about 3 minutes remaining in the game.
"Their ’D’ is good and made plays when they needed to, and we didn’t execute well enough," said Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders, who led the Wildcats with 37 yards rushing.