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Defense leads Georgia back to SEC title game

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith, second from left, fumbles the ball while tackled by Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones (29) as teammate Christian Robinson (45) recovers the ball during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 in Athens, Ga. No. 13 Georgia beat Kentucky 19-10 to clinch a spot in the SEC championship game. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith, second from left, fumbles the ball while tackled by Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones (29) as teammate Christian Robinson (45) recovers the ball during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 in Athens, Ga. No. 13 Georgia beat Kentucky 19-10 to clinch a spot in the SEC championship game. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Todd Grantham told his Georgia defense there would be games like this.

Georgia's top tailback, Isaiah Crowell, lasted only two carries on Saturday against Kentucky before leaving with an ankle injury.

Crowell's top backup, Carlton Thomas, did not play after breaking a team rule. Combine that with a bunch of turnovers and the Bulldogs managed only one touchdown.

But with a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game on the line, Grantham's defense delivered yet again.

"We always talk about situations like that, being able to put it on us," Grantham said after No. 13 Georgia's 19-10 win over Kentucky on Saturday.

"Obviously we know there are good defenses in the league, and we want to rank up there with them."

Georgia clinched the SEC Eastern Division title and a spot in the Dec. 3 conference championship game in the Georgia Dome.

Asked Sunday about Crowell's status for this week's final regular-season game against Georgia Tech, Richt said, "My guess is he'll be ready to go."

Richt said Crowell's left ankle "didn't seem to swell too badly." Richt said he did not know if Thomas will play.

Grantham, Georgia's second-year defensive coordinator, has been the architect of one of the most dominant defenses in Mark Richt's 11 years as head coach.

Georgia ranks No. 2 in the nation against the run, behind only Alabama. It is No. 4 in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense after holding Kentucky to 23 yards rushing on 21 carries and 165 total yards.

"Our defense stoned them again," Richt said. "Twenty-three yards net, that's pretty fantastic. They didn't throw that well either. Our defense played lights out, I thought.

"When you stop the run the way we do, it does make life a whole lot easier."

The defense has helped Georgia (9-2) win nine straight games after opening the season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina.

"This is what we like," said cornerback Branden Smith, who had an interception. "We like taking it. We like it with the pressure on us."

Perhaps only a coach could appreciate the win over Kentucky. Georgia did not budge from its spot at No. 13 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday even after four teams lost that were ahead of the Bulldogs last week.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips was impressed by Georgia's defense.

"It's hard to play against a defense that is as good as Georgia," Phillips said. "This is one of the best defenses in the conference. We've seen Georgia hold some good teams to just a few points. It's a tough to play against a team with great personnel, great schemes and athletic players."

Georgia will play at No. 25 Georgia Tech on Saturday before advancing to the Dec. 3 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones continued to play a lead role on a defense which has no shortage of big-play candidates.

Jarvis Jones recorded 2 ½ sacks to give him 12 ½ for the season. He is tied for second in the nation and is only 1 ½ behind David Pollack's school-record 14 in 2002. He also had seven tackles and forced a fumble.

"After the beginning of the season we were a little down, but you just have to keep fighting and that's what we did," Jones said. "Now we're headed back to Atlanta and it's a really good feeling."

Linebacker Alec Ogletree led Georgia with eight tackles, including two for losses, and a sack. Brandon Boykin also had an interception.

There's no time to savor the SEC Eastern Division title Georgia Tech's spread option offense will be a different test for Grantham's defense and an intriguing matchup of strengths.

Georgia Tech will bring the nation's No. 2 rushing offense against Georgia's rush defense in the annual contest for state bragging rights.

"We know we've got to change gears here real fast as Georgia Tech is such a huge game for us," Richt said. "We know exactly what's at stake for us next week. It's going to be very difficult to get ready without an open date or any extra time."

Asked if Crowell or Thomas will have a chance to play this week, Richt said "I don't know. That's a good question."