In the Rearview Mirror: Kentucky at South Carolina

Well, it happens most years to Kentucky, and it has happened again this year -- a major injury to a player will define the season, one way or the other.   WHAS11 is reporting that Mike Hartline will be out for the season.  Some are suspecting an MCL tear, but I can almost promise you one or both of the cruciate ligaments, the ACL or the PCL, are torn.  Knees are not designed to move the way Hartline's moved.  The MCL could also be damaged, but unlike the ACL or PCL, the MCL has a blood supply that allows it to heal without surgery, and heal even faster with it.

But this isn't an anatomy lesson, this is football commentary.  Losing Hartline, according to Corey Peters, will make some fans happy, but I'm quite certain nobody is happy he was injured.  It does not make me happy.  Mike Hartline might not have been the kind of quality SEC quarterback a team needs for success in this league, but he was by no means lousy, and he was showing all his doubters, including me, just how good he could be yesterday.  Unfortunately, football is among the cruelest of all college sports, and this is another example of just how mercilessly cruel it can be.

With perfect 20/20 hindsight, we can see clearly a number of missed opportunities Kentucky had to either win or put the game into overtime which were blown either by the players or the coaching staff.  This loss was, as most are, a team effort, and the entire team lost this football game by making one too many mistakes.

So for the record, let's recount why Kentucky lost this game:

  • Inability to guard Alshon Jeffery --Gamecocks burn Cats' young corners

    "It was a learning experience, and the thing we can build upon is that they were in great position," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "It's not like they were beat. Now we just have to teach them to look for the ball and have the confidence to try and make a play."

    Yeah, Brown's right. It isn't as though the missed an assignment, or fell down, or were ten yards behind. They just didn't make the play, mostly because they did not know where the ball was until it was too late.

  • The Gamecocks planned to pick on UK's young cornerbacks --Gamecocks get Cats once again - Sports - The Sun News

    Kentucky was without both of its starting corners, including All-American candidate Trevard Lindley, because of injuries. Garcia said the plan was to go after their replacements - sophomore Randall Burden and freshman Martavius Neloms, making his first career start. "We've been practicing all week, throwing fade routes and quick slants," Garcia said. "It worked out pretty well."

    You have to give South Carolina props for doing exactly the right thing at the right time.  The touchdowns to Jeffrey were no accident -- they were practiced.

  • The fake field goal gone wrong -- Wildcats lose QB, game " Evansville Courier & Press

    "That fake field goal was a dumb call by me," Brooks said.

    Indeed it was, coach.  'Nuff said.

  • Despite gashing the Gamecocks defense on the ground and through the air, UK had too many drives stall outside the red zone, and penalties that killed the drives.

    Column: Mistakes cause disappointment week in and out for Cats | The Kentucky Kernel

    Because that’s what UK always does. They challenge South Carolina and play them close every year. Every year they lose. It’s always something.

    But usually, it’s because UK always causes that something. Sure, not having Hartline hurt, but was it the difference in the game? Not when UK showed it could still march down the field and score without him.

  • Despite the fact Randall Cobb moved Kentucky all the way down the field for their last touchdown, for some reason, Phillips decided he would rather have his second-string quarterback throw the football for the two-point conversion than let Cobb use his amazing, multiple skill set that piled up 229 all purpose yards.

    I don't know about you, but I'm calling that a mistake.  I'll even call it an inexplicably foolish one.

  • Two dropped touchdown passes, one by Cobb and one by T.C. Drake.  Okay, I'll cop to the argument that the pass to Drake was not that great, and it would have been a really good catch.  But it was plenty catchable, and against SEC teams on the road, you have to make those.

    The Cobb drop was not really forgivable.  It hit him right in the hands, and he just dropped the football.  So as well as Cobb played, we see that he is mortal, after all.

  • Two huge special teams faux pas put South Carolina in scoring position.
  • The five-yard punt by Tydlacka really hurt us, and at a very bad time.  It wound up in the end zone.

There were more, obviously.  Corey Peters was out of position on a play that allowed a USC touchdown, several costly penalties, and more.

Despite all this, UK played well enough to win, and showed it could move the ball on almost any defense.  It showed that last week versus Alabama also, so I think there is no real doubt that UK can score on almost anyone in this league.  What UK has not proved it can do is play a mostly error-free game, and a team like Kentucky simply has to do that, because we are almost always going to suffer from a talent deficit, and even though the talent gap is much less against a team like South Carolina than a team like Alabama or Florida, it is still a factor.

But we can't just look at the bad.  Kentucky played perhaps their most complete game of the season on both sides of the ball, despite the loss.  The loss of three critical starters was surely a major factor in this game, and in spite of that, but for some inexplicable mistakes, Kentucky still would have likely won this game.  If only one of the two dropped passes had been secured and everything else remained the same, the cats would have won.

Defensively, Kentucky did a solid job against the USC running game for three quarters.  It's hard to sustain that all game, particularly with all the three-and-outs UK began suffering in the middle of the game, tiring the defense and opening up the run a little bit for the Gamecocks.  The UK D-line got really good pressure on Garcia, and sacked him three times.  The offensive line opened up holes for Locke, who seemingly couldn't stand up yesterday and tripped over his own feet half a dozen times.  Still, he stumbled his way to 155 all-purpose yards.  But even that pales compared to Randall Cobb's great game -- 229 all-purpose yards, all but 55 of them coming on the ground.

The loss of Hartline for the year (trust me, it will happen) is a big problem.  It places UK pretty much back in the spot we were in last year when Cobb went down with injury -- without our best on offense.  Will Fidler may step up and impress, and I am not ruling that out.  I am not ruling out Morgan Newton, who seems to be the only other QB ready to take a snap, rising up from his freshman status to lead us to victory should Fidler falter.  What I am saying is that history is against the likelihood of either scenario.  More likely, UK will simply suffer offensively.

So now, it's on to Auburn Tigers.  This game is past, and we must now go down to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face an angry Tiger team that is smarting from an emasculation in Fayetteville this past weekend.

Oh, goody.

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