No, Kentucky didn't lose the football game to Louisville, but they did everything within their power to give the contest away. And along the way, they broke the Cardinal Rules of winning football: The 'Cats turned the ball over in bunches (three in a 7:04 time-span of the third quarter), they committed four 15 yard penalties (one which sustained a U of L drive, another negated an incomplete pass by Burke), and displayed pathetic clock management at a critical juncture of the game.
Commit those sins against any of their eight SEC opponents, and a freshly laid egg will be all UK has to show for their efforts come season's end. I don't mean to take away anything from Louisville's performance -- They played an outstanding game. And if quarterback Justin Burke (15-28-1 for 245 yards and two touchdowns) continues to play as well as he did Saturday, the Cards will win more than they lose -- But, the SEC is an unforgiving league, a league where mistakes are made to be paid for. And Saturday, Kentucky got lucky, not that the 'Cats didn't play well in three of the four quarters, but they should count themselves among the fortunate to come out victorious.
Let's begin our examination with a look at the ...
Most of us are aware of the clock operator's (now timing the arrival of grizzly bears in northern Alaska) error which occurred at the end of the first half -- With the clock ticking away, Mike Hartline hit Chris Matthews for a 19 yard gain, taking the ball to U of L's five yard line. A false start penalty on UK's next play resulted in the 'Cats being pushed back to the 10 yard line, where UK was facing 2nd & Goal with 15 seconds remaining on the clock. Hartline then passed to Matthews again, this time for no gain, but, the clock never started. Seeing the wisdom of at least attempting to show he knew what he was doing, the clock operator did eventually start the clock (after the play was completed), and the digits began to tick-off (the entire crowd) until it reached 00:00.
Now, one must understand that the official time is kept on the field by a referee. It doesn't matter what the scoreboard clock reads, the official time is kept on the field. This, someone, anyone on UK's football staff should know, and a timeout should have been called. But instead, the official clock (on the field) ticked to zero without UK calling a timeout, or running another play. What's the word I'm looking for? Inexcusable, yeah, that's it.
Folks, that's called taking points off the board. And one never takes points off the board, not if winning is the ultimate goal. And in this case, not just any points, rather, points that would have pushed UK from a 10 point lead, to a more disheartening 17 point lead. Points are points, but some points do more damage.
Speaking of taking points off the board -- U of L coach Steve Kragthorpe did just that in the second quarter: After a nice Louisville drive, Kragthorpe opted to go for the first down on 4th & 1 from the UK 12 yard line. Bilal Powell was stuffed well short of the 11, and UK retained possession. That move more than likely cost the Cards three points (it would have been a 29 yard field goal attempt). Three points, which later (in the 4th quarter), would have meant Louisville only needed a field goal to win, instead of a touchdown.
Also not conducive to providing Wildcat fans fun-filled Saturdays are ...
1. After allowing speedy U of L return specialist Trent Guy to return the second half kickoff 65 yards to the UK 34 yard line, which resulted in a Ryan Payne 23 yard field goal (great defense!), the Wildcats took the ensuing kickoff and promptly fumbled it away -- At 11:29 of the third quarter, Derrick Locke, who played a terrific game (310 all-purpose yards), was simply stripped of the ball by U of L's Terrence Simien. Locke, who carries the ball securely with both hands, was hit low, and his right arm came loose from its grip, and Simien made the play. UK time of possession: :09 seconds.
Locke's fumble gave U of L the ball at the the Kentucky 44 yard line. This time though, the 'Cats were lucky, Payne missed a 28 yard field goal attempt.
2. Following a Randall Cobb six yard run out of the "Wildcat Formation" (the package's only play), and at 9:01 of the third quarter, UK quarterback Mike Hartline threw an interception at the UK 25 yard line. Hartline, who played very well at times (20-27-1 for 178 yards and one touchdown), simply telegraphed his throw. UK time of possession: :52 seconds.
The UK defense, though, would once again come to the aid of their brothers -- After allowing U of L a net zero yards on seven plays, Ryan Payne made a 42 yard field goal.
3. Following-up a Derrick Locke three-yard run, Mike Hartline opted to become an option quarterback, and ran for roughly three yards and politely fumbled. No, there wasn't a spine-tingling hit, nor was he rendered the meat of a Cardinal sandwich. Rather, Hartline paid the high price charged for carelessly carrying the ball.
Those around me in a stunned Commonwealth Stadium voiced their, uh, displeasure in the unusual play call, but I liked the call, because it was unusual -- No one was expecting Hartline to run, and when he fumbled, he was only three yards from a first down. Remember, Hartline came to UK with a reputation of being mobile, but he must remember that his body is his friend; hold the ball close to it! UK time of possession: :26 seconds.
Third Quarter Synopsis
Two fumbles, and an interception ensured the Wildcats possessed the ball for only 1:25 of the third quarter. Add the 65 yard kickoff return of Guy, and the four flaws in UK's performance gave U of L 13 of their 27 points. Not to mention the damage inflicted upon Kentucky's defense by them being on the field for 13:35 of the third quarter.
The third quarter of Saturday's game might not be the worst quarter a UK football team has ever played, but it was ugly enough to notate, and almost cost UK a delicious third straight victory over the Cards.
And finally, the most surprising aspect of the Louisville game ...
UK, normally a very disciplined team as it pertains to receiving yellow flags, committed eight penalties (one was declined) for a loss of 95 yards. Considering U of L was coming off a game in which they committed 14 penalties, this development was one I found most surprising when analyzing this game. The most egregious of the errors:
- 1st Quarter -- Pass interference on Winston Guy:15 yards. I thought the call was bogus, but regardless, it was a 15 yard penalty that sustained a Cardinal drive. But, the ultimate outcome of the drive was a Louisville punt.
- 2nd Quarter -- Face mask on Micah Johnson:15 yards. This offense occurred on a U of L incompletion on 1st & 10. In this series, U of L ended up turning the ball over on downs.
- 4th quarter -- Once again, face mask on Micah Johnson:15 yards. This penalty, along with a Victor Anderson four-yard run, moved the Cards from the UL 40 to the UK 41. Luckily, this U of L drive ended in a UK interception.
- 4th quarter -- Celebrating with the crowd:15 yards. Give me a break! I realize this rule is to protect the player, but is it taunting? And 15 yards? Okay, if they do the Lambeau leap, hit 'em with a five yard penalty, but not 15. It just seems labeling this penalty a personal foul is a bit over-the-top. The result of the illegal field party was Lones Sieber kicking-off from UK's 20 yard line (he kicked the ball 73 yards to the U of L 12), instead of the 35. Trent Guy returned the kick 28 yards to the Louisville 40 yard line (exceptional field position). Deja vu; the Cardinal drive ended in an interception.
Although the penalties I've listed could have easily resulted in a bevy of Cardinal points, luckily for UK, none of the miscues contributed to Louisville scoring.
Leavin' it behind
A win is a win, but not all wins are created equal, and this one fell flat. But, even though we witnessed more mistakes than we would like, there were some strong performances that are to be commended -- Derrick Locke ran for 72 yards and one touchdown (4.8 yards per carry), caught four passes for 47 yards (11.9 yards per reception), and ran back four kickoffs for a total of 191 yards, including a 100 return for a touchdown: Randall Cobb caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, and proved once again to be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons on the field: Mike Hartline was an excellent 20-27 passing (74.1% completion rate) for 178 yards, and one touchdown. Other than a few errant passes, and one inexcusable fumble, Hartline played a solid game.
Defensively the entire unit deserves kudos, with defensive end DeQuin Evans leading the way with two sacks, and five tackles: Middle linebacker Micah Johnson led the team with eight tackles, and one tackle for loss: Safety Winston Guy played very solid (7.5 tackles) and may be the heir apparent to Trevard Lindley as UK's shut-down defensive back: Linebacker Sam Maxwell played a solid game (oftentimes playing in coverage), he had 6.5 tackles and one large interception: Defensive back Calvin Harrison led the team with two tackles for loss, to go along with five tackles: and defensive lineman Corey Peters (3.5 tackles,one tackle for loss, and one pass break-up) harassed Justin Burke most of the day.
So, now we move forward. The No. 1 team in the country (Florida Gators) pays a visit to the Bluegrass State on Saturday, and the 'Cats must improve just to avoid being embarrassed. Not only must they get better, more importantly, they must remedy the virus that took a strangle-hold grip around their collective necks, resulting in an alarming pattern of self-destruction which nearly cost Kentucky the Governor's Cup. Such nonsense over the next several weeks will, I am afraid, leave the 'Cats without any more lives.
Food for positive thought -- Kentucky would have lost that game five years ago.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!