clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kentucky @ Florida: Learning painful lessons in the aftermath of a calamity


It is my experience that most lessons are best learned by pain and embarrassment.  Nobody wants to learn that way, but it seems to me that the painful lessons are more quickly ingrained into habit, and stand the test of time.

After being shredded by Florida, rolled into a fatty and smoked like an illegal substance, Brooks & Co. have precious little time to identify the problems that lead to this calumny and address them.  I assure you, after they lick their wounds and read the papers, Brooks' charges are going to be more than willing to do anything not to have to suffer such a brutal beating again.  Identifying the main issues are not very hard, although locating the deeper causes is a job for the coaching staff, not a layman blogger like me.

With that said, let's look at the main issues that most every fan could at least identify:

  1. Defensive balance -- During the SEC portion of the season and against MSU, UK has shown serious difficulty in dealing with quick backs receiving passes out of the backfield.  As good as our linebackers are right now, they are currently no match for the speedy SEC running backs.
  2. The kicking game -- We have had five (5) kicks blocked this year.  I can't recall a season where we ever had that many.  Clearly, our kick protection needs immediate attention.
  3. Offensive production -- Our offensive production is simply not at a sustainable level if we ever hope to win.  Our defense is simply not good enough against SEC quality competition.

These are the three main factors that UK has struggled with in the SEC portion of its schedule. Let's address them one by one:

Defensive balance -- When an opponent has a particularly athletic set of backs, we are going to have to adjust on defense in our pre-game plan.  With all due respect to Rich Brooks, sticking with Micah Johnson and Braxton Kelley, hobbled as they were, was a strategic mistake.  We needed to keep our nickel package in there most of the game to give someone a chance to stay with Demps and Harvin.  I know that we don't have any athletes that really match up with them, but Kelley and a hobbled Johnson just couldn't.  A couple of times, it was just a joke -- our linebackers looked like they were shod in lead.

But in reality, we have to address this through recruiting by getting faster, more athletic defenders.  Even if we start right now, that won't show up for years to come.   Of course, we could have also tried what worked for Ole Miss, which is basically an all-out blitz every play.  But we weren't willing to risk the easy touchdown, I guess -- even though I have to say the defense we played did not prevent easy touchdowns.

The kicking game -- Blocked kicks have led directly to 30 points for our opponents, that works out to 6 points/block.  Folks, it's hard to spot SEC teams that many points and expect to have a chance.  Letting punts hit our receivers, poor coverage on kickoffs, poor coverage on punts -- the kicking game has produced an indictment against UK that falls at the feet of Steve Ortmayer.  I would hope that he now takes whatever action he feels necessary to fix this glaring problem.  If not, perhaps he should consider another coaching position.  I am not calling for his head here, I am calling for him to recognize the problem and find a way to fix it -- it is his job to make sure these young men execute on special teams.  There can be no more excuses on this point.

The main thing is, we have to make sure that every man on and near the line is accounted for, and that everyone knows who to block.  One block was a clear failure of a player to know who his assignment was.  Another was a player who simply didn't exert the proper effort and got run completely over for his laziness.  I expect that player will get to watch that particular play 10,000 times as motivation.  Bottom line -- special teams are not communicating well.  Kentucky played pretty well in the kicking game early in the year, and now we are completely failing in that area.

Offensive production -- Well, you all know what this means.  I am tired of hearing Brooks tell me that Mike Hartline is the best man for the job of quarterback.  He clearly isn't and this analysis by Eric Crawford illustrates that fact in spades.  I'm sorry if Mike Hartline is a great kid, or might lose his confidence, or whatever other excuse Brooks can think of.  Even Will Fidler looked more competent than Hartline, I'm sorry to say, although it was against Florida's second string.

The fact is, Cobb simply can't play wide receiver this year.  He never came close to getting loose against Florida at receiver, and evey SEC team will simply put their lockdown corner on him every game, reducing the chances for him to make an impact.  Brooks should know this, and I am tired of the argument that it's better to have them both on the field.  Getting him the ball on well-defended tunnel screens and short passes is simply not working at all, and Brooks must acknowledge that reality or risk losing this football team.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, and Brooks is getting perilously close to that definition.

Hartline needs to become a backup to Cobb for the rest of the season, or at the very least a couple of games.  I don't care if Cobb doesn't know half the plays, he knows enough to move the football pretty well against a Florida defense that is darn good.  If he turns the ball over, he does, but it's time to chuck him into the deep water and see if he can swim.  I know Brooks has his reasons, but they are no longer valid in my view, whatever they are.  This game made that point inescapably.  If this is Brooks' worst nightmare, it's time to embrace the horror.

So there we have it -- my prescription for an improved Wildcat team:

  • A defensive strategy that is actually based on the personnel we are facing as much as the personnel we have available;
  • An immediate focus on the kicking game, particularly protection schemes.  Even if they work on nothing else for the next three days, simply fixing the kicking game will net us at least six points for each block we manage to avoid.  Even if we miss a FG, that's a net three points just for avoiding the block.
  • Randall Cobb at quarterback.  Sorry, Hartline, better luck next year.  You've got time to get better, but we need help now in the playmaking department, and you are just too one-dimensional.

Feel free to add to this list your observations.