Kentucky won this football game, their fourth in the last four years, matching the longest winning streak of any team since the Kentucky-Louisville series has been renewed. Forget about all the rest, that alone is enough to make this a win worth savoring.
Kudos to the Louisville Cardinals for putting up the good fight, and coming out fired up for the second half. When the teams went into halftime, I thought the game was all but over. Louisville proved that sentiment was incorrect.
The only thing preventing UK fans from doing the happy dance, or maybe even Pee Wee Herman's Big Shoe dance, is the fact that UK scored a whopping 3 points in the second half compared to 10 by Louisville. After outscoring the Cardinals 20-6 and dominating the first half, even giving UK fans halftime dreams of a blowout, the Wildcats proved themselves to be a flawed team by managing only 3 measly points in the second stanza.
Putting on the hat of SEC critic, there was much to like and much to dislike when it came to Kentucky. They had moments when they looked unstoppable offensively. Then again, Kentucky had moments when they looked incompetent, particularly defensively.
But in the final analysis, no matter how much there was to criticize on both sides of the football, the one most important statistic that cannot be criticized and cannot be unsatisfying to Kentucky fans is the final score. Kentucky won, and has dominated this series for four years running. Couch it however you will, as a moral victory for Louisville or an unsatisfying closer-than-it-should-have-been win for the Wildcats, it was the fourth straight win over our most bitter rival -- and that, my friends and neighbors of the Big Blue Nation, makes this victory sweet no matter how many flaws you discover.
More after the jump.
Let's look now at the good and bad.
- The offense. No matter how hesitant and uncomfortable they looked in the second half, the offense was really very good. They had their way with the Louisville defense, and but for some silly and untimely penalties in the second half, would have put at least ten more points on the board. We can attribute Kentucky's failure to do so to early season inconsistency. The offense, taken as a whole, was very good.
- The kick return game. Cobb, Locke & Co. were really good returning kicks.. They got Kentucky in excellent field position on every return but one where a return was attempted.
- Punting. Ryan Tydlacka hit some monster punts. The return coverage was not that great, but the punts themselves were good.
- Kickoffs. Joe Mansour hit the end zone 100% of the time. That's all you can ask of a kicker.
- Play-calling. I am giving this the thumbs up in spite of the less impressive second half. I thought that mostly Joker called good plays, and a lot of the slowdown in the second half was more the fault of execution than the plays called. I thought UK went to the short side of the field a bit too frequently.
- The defensive line pass rush. It was rarely good. One sack and maybe four hurries. Louisville's experienced offensive line had something to do with that, but Kentucky should have done better.
- Tackling. There were many, many missed tackles in this game, and 90% of them were due to poor fundamentals.
- Field goal teams. Missed chip shots will cost you games in the SEC. The missed extra point (which I include here) is inexcusable for a kicker of Tydlacka's experience.
- Linebacking corps. UK is a little young in the linebacking area, but I didn't hear enough linebacker's numbers called on tackles. They made a number of mistakes, one of which led to the touchdown by Louisville's Bilal Powell.
- Quarterbacking. Mike Hartline did nothing really wrong, but he threw about four wounded ducks that would have been picks in the SEC. His game management was typically good, but his arm was typically un-SEC worthy.
- Defensive backfield. Too many missed tackles, but some good defensive plays. Overall, not horrible, but not good enough.
- Team chemistry. I thought we had too few "Wild Cobbs," and too many short passes.the
In the end, it was a good win that does what you hope -- exposes your flaws without costing you a game. That is about the best situation you can have in a first game of season.
Just ask Florida if that's right or not.