Well, this was a great effort by the Kentucky Wildcats against a top ten program in the South Carolina Gamecocks. Congrats to the Gamecocks on their victory, but under the circumstances, they cannot be altogether pleased.
Kentucky's defense once again showed up to play, and for 2 quarters, it was impressive. Unfortunately, the reality of losing starting quarterback Maxwell Smith in the first series was simply too much to recover from. God knows that Jalen Whitlow was impressive, and showed tremendous poise for a freshman, but realistically, it was way too much to expect to see UK pull out a victory from a team this good. South Carolina's defense eventually dominated, and then Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw just showed us more than we could deal with.
Honestly, there was nobody to blame for this loss. I thought the coaching staff did a good job, and, under the circumstances, the players did a good job. The Wildcats were forced to play a quarterback who had precious few snaps, but despite that, showed a lot of intensity and effort. This game made me proud of the coaching staff, and of the players. They did well, although not perfect, but they gave an effort that should make every Kentucky fan proud of the hard work and potential that they showed.
Let's take a look at the superlatives:
- The defense: Kentucky's defense was really good against a team that has dominated everyone they played offensively;
- Jalen Whitlow: Under the most difficult of circumstances, he made more good plays than bad;
- Alvin Dupree: Man, he was everywhere. He just keeps getting better.
- The running game: We ran the ball very well against a formidable defense, particularly Raymond Sanders III;
- Special teams: Punt coverage was exemplary, and overall, UK won the special teams contest convincingly;
- The offensive line: Yes, they allowed a number of sacks, but some of them weren't their fault. Honestly, they played good football;
- The secondary: Kentucky was very good in the secondary for a group as young as they are.
Look, we lost. Let's not sugar-coat it. In spite of that, this team showed some spirit under ridiculously difficult circumstances, losing the starting QB in the first five minutes and replacing him with a true freshman with a number of snaps you could probably count with your fingers and toes. You can't win games when you can't bring your best players, and so far, the Wildcats haven't been able to do that even once against an SEC team.
All that said, injuries are a part of football, and Whitlow is likely your starting QB for the foreseeable future. Max Smith's injury looked quite severe to me, and if he is back within the next four games, I will be surprised. That's both good and bad -- it gives his shoulder needed rest, but it puts us in a very bad place offensively.
Still, Whitlow really showed promise tonight. Who knows what a full week of first-string reps will produce? The kid has talent, and the line is solid. I'm not giving up here, there are things to like.
But there are also things to dislike -- like losing our fourth game in five starts. Winning and losing, in the end, are what counts. But you have to give Phillips and company credit -- they have recruited some guys who just might be good enough to play in the SEC. Eventually.