Louisville Cardinals 24 @ Kentucky Wildcats 17:  Postmortem

I haven't had to do this in a while, so I suppose it's overdue.  The Kentucky Wildcats had handled the Louisville Cardinals for four straight years, but were unable to make it five.  Congratulations to Louisville for a very solid football game on both sides of the ball.  They were better on defense, and better on offense.  They dominated Kentucky on the ground, and all that adds up to a victory for them.  They earned it with better play overall.

This was the kind of football game I think we all expected, but it wasn't quite as ugly for either team as it has been the last few weeks.  I was hoping the difference would be Kentucky's stout (till today) defense and supposedly good offensive line, but both dropped considerably in my esteem after this performance.  Louisville found a major weapon in third string quarterback cum fullback Dominique Brown, who ran roughshod over Kentucky's defense, gaining 91 yards in 14 carries for a strong 6.5 yards/attempt.

Kentucky's rushing, meanwhile, was completely inept.  Kentucky had a total of 35 yards rushing for the entire game, including -22 (!) by Morgan Newton.  That, really, was the difference in the ball game, and despite a heroic effort late by Kentucky to tie the score, a fumble by a freshman wide receiver followed by a bad throw from Morgan Newton stalled the game and sealed the victory for the Cardinals.

My observations:

  • Louisville's run defense was outstanding.  That was the biggest difference in the game;
  • Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is a cool customer that could plague us for years;
  • Morgan Newton deserves a lot of credit, and a lot of criticism.  Newton completed 27 of 41 attempts (67%) for 255 yards, a very good number.  He also made a number of bad negative plays that resulted in the aforementioned -22 yards rushing.
  • Kentucky's run defense was as bad this game as they were at any time last year;
  • Kentucky's secondary is the weakest it has been in four or five years, based on this effort;
  • It is remarkable that UK had a chance to take this game into overtime with almost zero rushing;
  • Randy Sanders' playcalling was abysmal, the worst I have witnessed, ever.  Something has to change;
  • "Nuclear" Minter got nuked by the Louisville OC;
  • Louisville's DC did what Charlie Strong suggested he would -- stack the box and blitz;
  • Louisville's young offensive line shoved our experienced D-line all over commonwealth stadium.  Kentucky gave up 181 yards on the ground.  What I can't understand is how we held Louisville to only 24 points;
  • Kentucky made Dominique Brown, the third-string quarterback, look like a Heisman Trophy candidate;
  • Kentucky's pass rush was better in the second half than in the first, but not good enough to prevent Bridgewater from throwing two touchdowns, only one of which was actually caught.

Overall, I think that the best you can say about Kentucky today is that they didn't give up.  They fought hard at the end of the game and almost found a way to pull it out.  But it was simply not to be.  What worries me is that despite the youth of our playmakers (and I use that word in the most generic possible sense) on offense, Kentucky produced very little in the way of reliable, repeatable offense.  It was a few big plays and a bunch of little ones with a lot of failures in between.

No matter what you think of Morgan Newton, he is our bell cow this year.  Unless one of the running backs unexpectedly develops into a major playmaker, and I suppose that could happen, Newton is going to have to produce the offense.  I know that frightens many of you, but he is what we have, and that's about all right now.

As to the defense, if they can't play better than this against the run, we are well and truly doomed in the SEC, and we'll be lucky to finish the season with four wins.  The offense showed signs that it can improve under the right conditions, but only if the offensive line mans up and gives Newton time to throw the football.

That's it for tonight.  We have issues, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation.  This is going to be a difficult campaign, and as of right now, our string of post-season bowls is in serious jeopardy.  With that said, all is not lost.  This team will probably have the luxury of being the underdog in every single game from here on save one or two, and Vanderbilt is not one of them, so we may sneak up on some people.

That doesn't give me the warm and fuzzies about what lies ahead.  Next up:  The Florida Gators.

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