LEXINGTON, Ky. - Ventrell Jenkins saw the tears in Jacob Tamme's eyes, and knew it wasn't just another game.
Walking into the tunnel at raucous Commonwealth Stadium two years ago following Kentucky's stunning 24-20 upset over Georgia, the then-sophomore defensive lineman caught the normally reserved Tamme - a junior tight end at the time - letting go after the Wildcats' first win over the Bulldogs in a decade.
'I knew it was special then,' Jenkins said. 'After that win, that's when we came together and no longer accepted moral victories. It brought us to a point in this program where we understood what it takes to win big games.'
The win helped propel the Wildcats into a bowl game and ignited the program's resurgence under coach Rich Brooks. Kentucky is 17-9 since that chilly November afternoon when the fans tore down the goal posts and tried - unsuccessfully - to carry the 285-pound Jenkins off the field.
A win over the suddenly reeling 14th-ranked Bulldogs (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) would probably be met with a more sedate celebration, perhaps a sign of how far the Wildcats (6-3, 2-3) have come and how quickly the preseason No. 1 team has fallen.
The Bulldogs were humbled 49-10 by Florida last weekend, the kind of whipping the Wildcats know all too well. The Gators pummeled Kentucky 63-5 on Oct. 25, the kind of resounding defeat that Brooks worried could derail a promising season. Yet the Wildcats rallied with a warts-and-all 14-13 win over Mississippi State that made them bowl eligible for the third straight year - the first time that's happened since the 1950s.
'This team over the last three years has been doing a lot of first-in-a longtime type things. I think (beating Georgia) was just one step in that direction,' Brooks said. 'It was a significant step because it was a team that we hadn't beaten in quite awhile. There are still a lot of those guys (teams) out there.'
Maybe, but the Wildcats would like to turn beating the Bulldogs into a habit. They've done a decent job against Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, ripping his helmet off and leaving him with a busted lip and a little bump on his head during the win two years ago, a game Stafford called the lowest point of his career.
'The coaches actually showed (me the tape) the other day, it was pretty funny looking,' Stafford said. 'The swollen face. It was bad.'
Last week's woeful performance against the Gators wasn't much better. The Bulldogs were pushed around by the Gators as Stafford threw three interceptions to end any outside shot they had at an SEC crown and a national title. Now the Bulldogs can simply hope to restore a little order in the SEC universe, starting with the Wildcats. Georgia has owned Kentucky for decades and leads the series 48-11-2.
Then again, the Bulldogs know they're not in a position to take anything for granted.
'I'm glad we have a 12:30 kickoff,' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. 'The sooner the better for us. We have to get back to work and get back to playing football.'
Smart football at that, something in short supply against the Gators. Georgia turned it over four times, missed two field goals and couldn't stop the Gators when it mattered.
The time for pouting, however, has come and gone.
'We have to focus on Kentucky now and try to finish out our season strong,' said running back Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 124 yards and a score in last year's 24-13 win over the Wildcats. 'The guys are upbeat about it. We can't do anything about that loss but just learn from it. You don't want to go through that again so you have to turn your attention to another team.'
The Wildcats have certainly turned their attention to Moreno, whose Heisman Trophy stock may have dropped as the Bulldogs have struggled, but whom the Wildcats still consider the best back in the nation.
'He's nasty when he runs the ball, just the type of effort that he gives,' said Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson. 'We've got to try and slow him down, try to keep him in check.'
If Kentucky is to have any chance, it'll have to do it with defense because the offense ranks in the bottom half of the conference in every major statistical category. Brooks said at the beginning of the season he hoped freshman quarterback Randall Cobb or sophomore Mike Hartline would take control of the position.
Two months later, he's still waiting. Playing both isn't his preference, but for now it will have to do. The one thing they haven't done is turn it over. The Wildcats are second in the SEC in turnover margin at plus-6, the main reason they're still dreaming of a sunny, warm bowl destination.
Beating the Bulldogs would be a major step toward celebrating New Year's in shirt sleeves and shorts.
'I just think that we are a better team and in a better position to be in a better bowl then we have been in,' Johnson said.
SideBar: No. 14 Georgia at Kentucky
When: Today, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Lexington, Ky.