Kentucky Football Blues

Lexington Herald-Leader football writer Chip Cosby and I are thinking along the same wavelength, as it pertains to the failings of the UK football team.  Cosby penned an excellent article concerning the mistakes UK has made, not only this season, but also in seasons past, that have cost the 'Cats victory, or at minimum, a much better showing against SEC foes.  Having already researched a post regarding UK's many mistakes this season, and the negative impact those mistakes have had on the team, I will forge ahead with my thoughts, using Cosby's piece as an excellent companion article. 

I sit in amazement whenever I watch a PGA Tour event.  Being a self-described "hack" when it comes to playing the links, I have a great appreciation for the skill on display when I witness Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson strike the ball with a deftness reserved for those with (what can only be described as) God-given ability.  But, even the best golfers in the world mis-hit the blasted little white ball on occasion, oftentimes ending up amongst the local forestry.  Now, when this unfortunate circumstance prevails itself upon the amateur golfer (or at least those with double-digit handicaps), a score well over par is usually the penalty for such a wayward shot.  Conversely, the professionals almost always find a way, a path which to take, that leaves the ball on the green, or at least nearer the cup. 

The pros simply have the skill, knowledge and experience it takes to extract oneself from near disaster, whereas, us amateurs find ourselves abusing the trees our ball lies among.  The talent to recover from mistakes ... it's just one ability that separates the duffer from the professional.  And the Kentucky football team is no different than the duffer, at least at the moment.

I don't intend to disparage the football 'Cats, rather, my intent is to illustrate the self-defeating ways and means of this team, and to show the high cost of the unusually high number of mistakes the Wildcats have saddled themselves with this season.  And while I like the team, and believe they are talented, they don't yet possess the ability needed to overcome so many miscues, and still come out victorious against the elite teams of the SEC. 

Ironically enough, the pattern of self-destruction began during the second quarter of a win, albeit, a win whose margin of victory should have been much greater:

UK 31  Louisville 27

Kentucky Penalties -- 8 for 95 yards.

Kentucky Turnovers -- One interception, and two fumbles.

Turnover Margin -- UK - 3  U of L - 2

  • Second Quarter -- Louisville running back Victor Anderson rushed the ball for zero gain on 2nd & 10.  Instead of the Cards facing a 3rd & 10, a face mask penalty was whistled on UK, resulting in the line of scrimmage being moved from the U of L 33, to the U of L 48 yard line.  Result of the drive -- UK took over on downs.
  • Late Second Quarter -- UK had a 1st & Goal on the U of L five-yard line, up 17-7.  A false start penalty against UK placed the ball back five yards to the 10 yard line.  Result of the drive -- Zero points for UK due to a combination of the penalty, and poor clock management.
  • Third Quarter -- On the opening kick-off of the second half, U of L's Trent Guy returned the kick 65-yards to the UK 34 yard line.  Result of the long return -- A Ryan Payne 23-yard field goal. 
  • Third Quarter -- On the ensuing kick-off return, UK fumbled the ball away, giving U of L the ball on the UK 44 yard line.  Result of the turnover -- A U of L missed 28-yard field goal.
  • Third Quarter -- A U of L interception results in the Cards taking over possession of the ball on the UK 25 yard line.  Louisville gained a net zero yards on the position.  Result of the turnover -- A Ryan Payne 42-yard field goal.
  • Third Quarter -- A UK fumble gave U of L the ball on the Louisville 41 yard line.  Result of the turnover - A U of L touchdown.
  • Fourth Quarter -- UK intercepted a Justin Burke pass.  Sam Maxwell returned the pick 17-yards to the UK 36 yard line, but a UK clipping penalty on the return resulted in the 'Cats losing precious field position: Instead of taking over near mid-field, UK took possession on their own 21 yard line.  Result of the drive -- A UK punt.  

Of U of L's 27 points, 13 came via UK mistakes.

UK, on that day, was good enough to overcome penalties, turnovers, and clock mismanagement, in large part due to Louisville's own generosity with the football.  Also enabling a UK victory is the fact that, inarguably, U of L is not in the same stratosphere, talent-wise, as South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, or any of the remaining games on UK's schedule with the exception of Eastern Kentucky, and Louisiana-Monroe.  And the Cards certainly are light-years behind what were to be UK's next two fortunate opponents, Florida and Alabama.

Florida  41  UK  7

Kentucky Penalties -- 9 for 69 yards.

Kentucky Turnovers -- Two interceptions. 

Turnover Margin -- UK - 2 Florida - 0

  • First Quarter -- On UK's first drive of the game (from their own 20 yard line), a Derrick Locke five-yard gain was negated by an illegal motion penalty, immediately followed by a UK false start penalty which cost UK an additional five yards.  Florida then sacked UK quarterback Mike Hartline for a loss of nine yards.  Result of the drive -- Lost field position, and a 34-yard UK punt from their own five-yard line. 
  • First Quarter -- On the Gators ensuing possession: It's 1st & 10 from the UK 36.  Florida quarterback Tim Tebow threw an incompletion, but a Wildcat holding penalty resulted in the ball being spotted at the UK 26 yard line.  Result of the drive -- A Florida touchdown.
  • First Quarter -- UK had a punt blocked thanks to a missed blocking assignment.  Result of the block -- A Florida touchdown.
  • First Quarter -- On the ensuing kick-off, UK's Winston Guy returned the ball to the UK 14 yard line, but an illegal block on Kentucky sent the ball back seven yards to the UK seven-yard line.  Result of the drive -- Lost field position and a UK punt, which resulted in ...
  • First Quarter -- Florida took over possession at their own 42 yard line following the UK punt.  Result of the short field -- A Florida touchdown.
  • Late Second Quarter -- On the possession following a UK 59 yard drive for six, and down 31-7, UK gained ball possession on their own 22 yard line.  Here is the series that followed: 1st & 10 -- Hartline nine-yard completion to Chris Matthews; 2nd & 1 from the UK 31 yard line -- A Locke one-yard gain for the first down is wiped-out by a UK holding penalty; 2nd & 10 from the UK 22 yard line -- A Hartline 20-yard pass completion to Matthews is negated by a UK holding penalty; 2nd & 21 from the UK 11 -- Three-yard rushing loss, resulting in a UK punt.  UK gained a positive 30 yards on the possession, yet lost a total of 14 yards due to penalties.
  • Opening Drive of the Third Quarter -- On 1st & 10 from the UK 24 yard line, a Hartline 21-yard pass to John Conner is negated by a pass interference penalty on a UK receiver not involved in the play.  Kentucky lost 12 yards on the play, and instead of facing 1st & 10 from their own 45 yard line, they instead were left with 1st & 22 from their own 12 yard line.  Result of the infraction -- A UK punt.
  • Late Third Quarter -- A Florida interception resulted in the Gators taking over the ball at the UK 49 yard line.  Result of the mistake -- A Florida fumble.
  • Fourth Quarter -- A Florida interception returned by the Gators to the UK eight yard line.  Result of the turnover -- A Florida touchdown.

Through the carnage inflicted upon themselves, UK's mistakes awarded the Gators, either directly or indirectly, 28 of their 41 points.

Alabama 38  UK 20 

UK Penalties -- 7 for 78 yards.

UK Turnovers -- Three interceptions, and one fumble.

Turnover Margin -- UK - 4  Alabama - 0

  • Opening Kick-off -- The Tide's Javier Arenas returned the kick 60-yards to the UK 37 yard line.  On 1st & 10, Greg McElroy threw an incompletion, but a personal foul penalty on UK moved the ball to the Kentucky 17 yard line.  Result of the penalty -- A Tide touchdown.
  • 1st Quarter -- On UK's following possession, an Alabama interception is returned to the UK 37 yard line.  Result of the turnover -- An Alabama punt.
  • End of Second Quarter -- With the score standing at 14-6 'Bama, UK had the ball at mid-field, but a UK fumble was returned by the Tide 45-yards for a touchdown.
  • UK's First Possession of the Second Half -- On 1st & 10 from the UK 46 yard line, a Derrick Locke 18-yard rush was negated by a 15 yard personal foul penalty.  This resulted in UK facing 1st & 7 from the UK 49 yard line, instead of 1st & 10 from the UA 36 yard line.  On the next play, a Tide interception was returned 21-yards to the UK 38 yard line.  Result of the penalty and turnover -- An Alabama touchdown.
  • On UK's Next Possession -- After a dropped pass, a 16-yard completion to Derrick Locke, and a Locke one-yard gain, the Tide intercepted a UK pass and returned it to the UK 47 yard line.  The result of the turnover -- An Alabama field goal. 

Of Alabama's 38 points, 24 were the direct result of either UK turnovers, or penalties.  The 'Bama game was there for the taking, if not for the 12-gauge UK had aimed directly at Big Blue's foot -- Kentucky held the Tide to almost 150 yards under their per game average, and UK ran the ball much more effectively than any other Tide opponent this season, but it was all for naught.

Sifting Through the Wreckage

Like the duffer maddeningly slicing the ball into the woods, UK simply is not good enough to give up 62 points (out of 106 scored) off turnovers and mental mistakes through an entire season, much less over only three games, and expect to win more than they lose.  Even though the program has made great strides over the previous five years, the 'Cats' margin for error is super model-slim.  And beating good teams while constantly playing out of the rough, is a level of achievement yet to be attained by the gridiron 'Cats.

Allow me to venture out on a limb and say: UK must play every SEC game with focus and determination.  The 'Cats must display discipline, and good decision-making.  And in order to win football games in the SEC, one must play winning football, and winning football is relatively mistake-free football.  Giving up field position, thus leaving opponents with short fields, and committing careless turnovers, runs contrary to winning football.  And those mistakes must dissipate with the morning dew if UK aspires to play in a fourth straight bowl game.

With South Carolina and Auburn, both now ranked in the Top 25, hosting the 'Cats over the next two weeks, UK must, like the golfer, find the rhythm that enables optimum results.  And if a 2-4 record doesn't seem appetizing, Kentucky must hit the practice (range) with a common purpose --  Reducing mental errors, and beating to death the turnover bug that currently has a stranglehold around this teams psyche.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!

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