Kentucky Wildcats 14 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 3: Much-Belated Postmortem

Everybody in the Big Blue Nation would agree that the Kentucky Wildcats 14-3 victory last night over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers was desirable only for the outcome, not for the margin or the journey to that outcome.  Anyone familiar with college football would look at that score and say, "What happened to Kentucky?"

Well, so what did happen?  They couldn't run.  Check.  They couldn't pass.  Check.  The couldn't catch.  Check.

So that pretty much covers the offense.  What Kentucky did do well, and no one would really dispute, is defense.  Basically, Kentucky held the Hilltoppers to a field goal despite turning the ball over three times, twice in Kentucky territory and once only 2 yards from the red zone.  Yes, Western missed a couple of open receivers, but the bottom line is that UK gave a bit of ground outside their half of the field, but tightened up progressively as Western got closer to UK territory.

The defense managed to force four WKU turnovers, and that was really the stat of the game.  UK's d-line did a good job keeping Western out of the end zone, and you have to think that with the #3 rusher from last year in the FBS returning, you should get into the end zone at least once.  Kentucky denied the Toppers that distinction.

Another thing that went well was the kicking game.  Ryan Tydlacka had a fantastic game punting the football, averaging over 47 yards per kick and flipping the field on Western twice.  But for my money, the game ball has to go to Winston Guy, with 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions.

Here's how I saw the game:

  • Playcalling was just as predictable as the sunrise.  Check out this table:

    Drive# Quarter First play Result Comment
    1 1 Run 1y gain
    2 1 Run 2y gain
    3 1 Pass Dropped by Roark negative
    4 1 Run 6y gain positive
    5 2 Pass 11y gain positive
    6 2 Run 2y gain
    7 2 Run 5y loss negative
    8 2 Pass 10y holding penalty positive
    9 3 Run no gain negative
    10 3 Pass 15y pass interference positive
    11 3 Run no gain negative
    12 4 Run no gain negative
    13 4 Run 1y gain
    14 4 Run 10y gain positive

    Does this seem predictable to you?  It does to me. Also, it looks to me like passing on first down was underutilized, given that Western was stacking the box on almost every play, daring us to throw.  Call me crazy, but you'd think an offensive coordinator would, you know, notice.

    Also note that out of the four attempted first down passes, three of them went for positives.  The one that did not was a flat-out drop by Roark.
  • Morgan Newton should be seized by the government and studied.  Clearly, he was throwing the ball so hard to these receivers that it became heated to a high temperature by the atmospheric friction and was much too hot for them to hold by the time it hit them in the hands.  All, of course, but that floater over La'Rod King's right shoulder in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

    My point here is that Newton threw the ball downfield very well.  Four or five dropped passes for big yardage will make you look a lot worse than you are.  Add 4 non-drop completions to his total and Newton goes from 7-18 to 11-18, and at least one more touchdown.  Hardly impressive, but trending toward respectable.
  • I cannot evaluate Raymond Sanders or Josh Clemons, because the playcalling placed them at a major disadvantage, running into a stacked box all night long.
  • I can evaluate the coaching staff.  DC -- B.  OC -- C-.  Head coach -- C.  Special teams -- B.  A note about special teams -- Randall Burden scared the crap out of me as a punt returner.  I sure hope he gets more comfortable back there.
  • Danny Trevathan was just like he always is -- awesome.
  • The defensive line looked okay, but I find myself a bit less than impressed.  Still, I am hopeful.  They did have moments.
  • The defensive secondary was adequate, but had a number of breakdowns.  If they lose SEC receivers like that, it will be on pain of six points.

Overall, this was an ugly-looking game that could have been a UK blowout had the receivers caught the football.  Yes, Morgan Newton made some inexcusable throws, had two bad interceptions and held on to the ball way too long, but one thing we need to get straight right now is that for good or ill, Morgan Newton is the bell cow on offense.  Forget about him being benched this year, he is the only serious offensive weapon we have, and if that makes you shiver, get a blanket.  He'll get better and more confident with repetition. If he doesn't we will lose, often, and by a lot.

Newton showed (besides the ability to sack himself) all the things that an SEC quarterback needs physically -- size, athleticism, and a rocket arm.  What he lacks is largely between his ears, and that can be remedied with reps.

It's easy to get down on this team after that lousy performance, but after almost 24 hours, I am able to detect many more positives than I was last night at 1:15 AM.  This was a very poor effort, but it should not define our season.

Not yet, anyway.

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