UK vs. South Carolina: "Old" Kentucky beats the 'Cats (with an assist from Stephen Garcia)

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My father was the first one to say the words.  Saturday afternoon, sometime in the third quarter of UK's demoralizing 24-17 setback to South Carolina.  Ya knew it had to be said ... "now that's 'old' Kentucky."  And he was right.

What I witnessed yesterday, on a perfect football afternoon, was a throwback, and I'm not talking about team jerseys.  It's hard for a team to give up only 274 total yards, while at the same time allowing 24 points.  But Saturday it was "old" Kentucky, they can find a way to give up only a paltry 274 total yards and still lose.  Of course losing is made easier when a team gives up an 81 yard touchdown scamper off of a blocked 29 yard field goal attempt (I think the entire Carolina team had a shot at blocking the kick ... the penetration they got on the rush rendered the kick futile).  "Old" Kentucky was also kind enough to give a helping hand to Carolina by not covering their lane assignments on a kick-off, thus creating gaps, and allowing for an 84 yard kick-off return.  Which set up a 16 yard touchdown pass.  Kentucky only gaining 218 total yards also helped the Carolina cause. 

A study of the futility led me to a few conclusions as to why I feel "old" Kentucky made an uninvited appearance at Commonwealth Saturday.  My conclusions, in no particular order: 

Giving up a big play after a touchdown -- "Old" Kentucky made a habit of giving back momentum.

I know one play in a college football game doesn't generally win or lose the contest, but there are times when one play can drastically change the tenor of a tilt.

Ask any athlete who has played in front of big crowds if momentum is important. 

After Trevard Lindley intercepts a Chris Smelley pass early in the game, and returns it for a touchdown, UK turns around, and on the ensuing kick-off gives up an 84 yard return.  Followed by a 16 yard touchdown pass.  Within a matter of game-seconds, the Commonwealth crowd goes silent, and "mo" evaporates. 

That was an opportunity for Kentucky to put SC away early.  A lost opportunity.  Vintage "Old" Kentucky.

Second down and long -- "Old" Kentucky constantly found itself running for one and two yards on first down.

UK had 23 second down offensive opportunities, 15 of those opportunities were 2nd & 8 or longer.  On average, UK faced a 2nd & 7. 

UK is not getting the job done on first down; too many one and two yard runs, too many incomplete or very short passes, too many 2nd and longs.  When an offense (albeit a young offense) is struggling as UK's is, the coaches (and players) absolutely HAVE TO FIND A WAY to consistently gain four, five, or six yards on first down.  This stat is also partly responsible for UK not throwing long more often.  When a team is stuck in 2nd and 3rd and long, it's much riskier to go deep, because if the pass isn't completed they're either going to have to punt, or pray for a 3rd and long conversion.  Offensive coordinators are much more open to going deep when it's 2nd and 2 (except for Steve Spurrier).

Third down conversion attempts -- "Old" Kentucky always threw well short of the needed first down yardage.

Now that's funny ... UK converting on third down.  Yesterday, UK was one for 16 on their third down plays.  As maddening as that stat is, a look at the play selection on third down is even more dramatically disappointing:

  • 3rd & 12 -- Three yard pass to Maurice Grinter.
  • 3rd & 8 -- Three yard rush by Mike Hartline.
  • 3rd & 10 -- Eight yard pass to Dicky Lyons.
  • 3rd & 5 -- Two yard pass to Randall Cobb.
  • 3rd & 3 -- Two yard rush by Derrick Locke.
  • 3rd & 10 -- Five yard pass to Locke.
  • 3rd & 4 -- Two yard pass to Moncell Allen.

Five of those seven opportunities were passes thrown well short of the first down marker.  "Old" Kentucky, indeed. 

South Carolina's 3rd down "Visor" magic -- "Old" Kentucky couldn't stop Spurrier if every Commonwealth lovely were threatened with repatriation to the Palmetto State. 

South Carolina was eight for 17 on their third down attempts, holding true to their 47% season average.  It takes all the drama out of the game; when one knows a conversion is imminent, one loses interest, and ever so slowly, sanity.

Carolina's offense and Kentucky's newly generous defense provided the following 3rd down opportunities and results:

  • 3rd & 8 -- Twelve yard pass completion.
  • 3rd & 11 -- Eleven yard pass completion (what a coincidence).
  • 3rd & 14 -- Twenty-seven yard pass completion.
  • 3rd & 10 -- Thirteen yard pass completion.
  • 3rd & 12 -- Seventeen yard pass completion.
  • 3rd & 5 -- Twenty-four yard pass completion.

I don't agree at all with the whole, "giving is better than receiving," life philosophy. 

Another Spurrier QB makes his bones at UK's expense -- "Old" Kentucky was on the receiving end of a number of career best games by Spurrier-coached quarterbacks.  

If Stephen Garcia didn't win the starting quarterback spot with his performance versus UK Saturday, then I encourage him to seek a transfer to Kentucky; he can be my quarterback anytime.

His success shouldn't come as a surprise.  The 6"2', 221 pound redshirt freshman (out of Tampa, Florida) was a highly heralded recruit out of high school.  Garcia was the fourth rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.  He was also the 12th best prospect in Florida.  He was rated a 4-star recruit. 

Garcia threw for 8,081 yards in his high school career (good for fourth in Florida high school history), and 83 touchdowns (sixth in Florida high school history).  He rushed for another 1,345 yards (on 263 carries) and 17 touchdowns. 

Saturday, he announced his presence with authority.  His stat line is impressive: 10-14 for 169 yards.  He ran six times for a positive yardage total of 38 yards, but he was sacked three times for a loss of 16 yards, so his stat line reads six rushes for 22 yards.  He was much more dangerous than that.

After starting Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley (9-23 for 105 yards and 2 picks) was justifiably yanked by Steve Spurrier at the 6:46 mark of the third quarter, Garcia torched the 'Cats on the ground and through the air.  Garcia led Carolina on drives of 50, 60, 58, and 38 yards, resulting in three field goal attempts (only one make) and one touchdown.  Conversely, Smelley's longest drive of the day was his first, which was good for 38 yards (he had four drives of less than 13 yards).

Garcia isn't a change of pace quarterback, he's a change of game-plan quarterback.  And he was made that way by Kentucky.

A rundown of UK stats, comment included

Mike Hartline played his worse game as a 'Cat.  He was 23-43 for 152 yards and two interceptions.  Twenty-three completions for 152 yards; that's an average of 6.6 yards per catch.  Not good.

Hartline seemed off.  He overthrew more than a few receivers, and was on-target too few times.  He did once again have some drops, but not to the extent of the earlier games. 

I've been a big Hartline defender, I hope he doesn't make me regret making that decision.

UK's running game was once again M.I.A..  After Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb both had single carries for nine yard gains on Kentucky's first possession of the game, a UK back never ran for more than five yards.  As a team UK rushed for a 2.8 yards per carry average.

This area remains the solid favorite to win the "Most Disappointing Aspect" of UK's team.  It's time to quit talking, and start achieving.

The fourth quarter belonged to Carolina.  For the game, time of possession was almost dead-even at 30:43 to 29:17 ( SC with the slight edge), but in the fourth quarter Carolina owned the pigskin for 10:42.  Leaving UK with the ball for only 4:18.

The final result, UK giving up 10 fourth quarter, game-deciding points.

Tim Masthay continues to impress.  Masthay punted six times for an outstanding 46.7 average.  He did have a 36 yard punt, which is about six yards short of his average, but heck, the guys human.

He also had a kick-off that was a frozen rope (line-drive), which left the coverage about fifteen yards from the return man (Captain Munnerlyn) on the catch.  This is not advantageous.  The coverage recovered quickly, but a number of lane assignments were abandoned, resulting in the long return (84 yards).

Masthay is culpable, but the coverage had 10 guys to make up for his mistake.  None did.

All in all ...

A game to forget for the fans, a game to learn from for the players. 

I certainly don't see this game as a death knell for the season, it just makes the Arkansas game this coming Saturday the biggest game most of UK's players have ever played in.  Can anyone say "must win?" 

If UK had played horribly against Alabama, I'd feel much more gloom and doom, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for a Petrino beat-down.  If not, a season to forget could soon follow.

I'll be accepting applications from anyone interested in performing an exorcism.  Previous successful experience is a must, for the ghosts of "old" Kentucky must be vanquished, and right quick. 

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!

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