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UK Football: Statistically Speaking

With Tru having posted his thoughts on the football 'Cats non-conference schedule, I thought it time to take a statistical look at last year's team.  This should give everyone an idea of what areas UK needs to improve on in order for Rich Brooks & Company to have a successful 2009 campaign.

At times the numbers don't provide pleasant reading material, but in the interest of reality, I recommend a perusal for the serious football fan.  So, hold all of your calls, cancel your meetings and lock the door, because here come some stats galore! 

** UK's SEC rank in parenthesis

                                                              Kentucky                      Opponents

Points Per Game --                              22.6 (6th)                       21.5 (8th)

Comments: Kentucky needs to see an improvement in the number of touchdowns they score (a keen insight indeed).  There were five SEC teams that averaged over 30-points per game: Florida (43.6), Mississippi (32.1), Georgia (31.5), LSU (30.9), and Alabama (30.1).  If UK harbors hopes of being competitive in the SEC, they need to add at least half-a-touchdown to last seasons 22.6 points-per-game average -- Florida led the SEC last year by only allowing 12.9 points per game (Bama was second, allowing only 14.3 points per game).  For the Bobby Petrino-bashers out there: Arkansas finished dead last in the league by allowing 31.2 points per game. 

First Downs --                                       212 (8th)                         209 (5th)

Rushing Yards --                                  1657                                1810

Average Per Rush --                             3.7                                    3.8

Average Rush Yd's Per Game --        127.5 (8th)                      139.2 (9th)

Comment: A weak spot for the defense last year; stopping the run: Last season the two top SEC rushing performances came against UK -- Alabama's Glen Coffee rushed for 218-yards against the 'Cats, and Arkansas' Michael Smith ran for 192-yards.  For comparative purposes: Alabama, at 74.1 yards per game, and Ole Miss at 85.5 yards per game, led the SEC in rush defense in '08.  Offensively, Florida led the SEC in rushing last season with 231.1 yards per game; 45 more yards than the second best rushing team.

Running Back Rushes --                     404                                    ----

RB Average Per Rush --                       4.03                                   ----

Comment: The top four running backs in the yards-per-rush category are back for UK: Moncell Allen (5.3 yards per carry on 38 rushes), Derrick Locke (4.8 ypc on 63 rushes), Alfonso Smith (4.2 ypc on 74 rushes), and Randall Cobb (4.0 ypc on 79 rushes). 

Rushing Touchdowns --                       18                                     15

Comment: Randall Cobb is tied with eight others for most points scored in a game last season (in the SEC), with 18-points, after his three rushing touchdown performance versus Georgia.  Also due to that outburst, Cobb tied six others for most rushing touchdowns in a game with three. 

Passing Yardage --                                2,234                               2,511

Comment: Running back Alfonso Smith was the only Wildcat to record a 100-yard receiving game last year.

Att - Comp - Int --                              415-227-13                     359-188-12

Comment: Mike Hartline's 47 pass attempts versus Middle Tennessee last season was the SEC high (in a tie with S. Carolina's Chris Smelley) in the category, and Hartline's 28 completions in the same game also led the SEC.

Completion % --                                      54.7                                  52.4

Comment: Although Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb were sub-par passers last season, the wide receivers deserve at minimum, partial responsibility for the 54.7% completion percentage.  The too-numerous dropped passes ebbed back to an acceptable number toward the end of the year, but through the first seven or eight games it was a freak show.  On the year, Hartline was 172-311 (55.3%) for 1,666 yards, nine touchdowns, and eight interceptions.  Randall Cobb posted these numbers: 52-99 (52.5%) for 542 yards, two touchdowns, and five interceptions. 

Average Yards Per Catch --                   9.8                                    13.4

Comment: Pathetic.  It's no secret, UK has to throw the ball down the field!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Average Pass Yards Per Game --        171.8 (8th)                      193.2 (9th)

Comment: Vanderbilt was the SEC's worst passing team last season, recording only 122.6 yards per game through the air, while Georgia led the SEC with 277.7 yards passing per game.  There were only 10 300-yard passing games in the SEC last season;  Arkansas' Casey Dick and Georgia's Matt Stafford were responsible for six of them.

Touchdown Passes --                            11                                      18

Total Offense Yardage --                        3,891                                 4,321

Average Yards Gained Per Play --        4.5                                      5.2

Comment: UK's 4.5 yard per play average will go up dramatically if and when they begin throwing the ball down the field.  Sounds familiar ...

Average Yardage Per Game --              299.3 (9th)                        332.4 (11th)

Comment: The defense, while performing better than the offense, was not the high-caliber unit I and many others thought it might be.  Example: Versus the non-conference portion of last years slate, UK held the opposition to only 255 total yards per game.  But, against the SEC that number ballooned to 377 yards allowed per game -- Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss averaged at least 400 yards of total offense last season.  Defensively, Tennessee and Alabama tied for the leagues stingiest defense, allowing only 263.5 yards per game.

Touchdowns Scored --                           36                                        36

Third Down Conversion % --                 31% (12th)                        33% (6th)

Comment: I thought all year long that the defense was doing a good job of stopping the opponents on third down, particularly, third and long.  As many know, third and long, for many, many of UK's past opponents has represented a golden opportunity to trash the UK secondary.  Not anymore.  On the flip side, the struggles of UK's offense last year are glowingly obvious in the 31% third down conversion rate.  Of course, it helps not to be facing 3rd & eight nearly every offensive series.  In other words, UK had a real problem gaining real estate on first down last season.  THAT has to change -- Florida led the SEC with a third down conversion rate of 51.6%.

Red Zone Scores --                                 32 of 43 (10th)                  26 of 33 (5th)

Comment: If a team doesn't run the ball well, they don't usually have good red zone numbers, and UK wasn't very effective on the ground for most of the season. 

Red Zone Score % --                               74%                                    79%

Red Zone Touchdowns --                       22 of 43 (10th)                  21 of 33

Red Zone Touchdown % --                     51%                                    64%

Comment: Fifty-one percent is exceedingly low.  UK needs to run the ball more effectively, and make some field goals, then that number will begin to climb.

Red Zone Field Goals --                          10-17 (10th)                      -----

Comment: This number is unacceptable.  To make only 58.8% of ones red zone field goal attempts is beyond putrid.  UK faces a schedule full of close games, and having a competent kicking game is an absolute necessity -- UK's 17 red zone field goal attempts were the second most in the SEC.

Overall Field Goals --                               14-25 (9th)                        9-23

Comment: Only two SEC kickers made over 70% of their field goal attempts last year: Joshua Shene of Ole Miss was 13-17 (76.5%), and LSU's Colt David made 12-16 (75.0%).

Time of Possession --                             29:27 (11th)                      30:33

Comment: In this category, less than three minutes separates the SEC leader and the 12th place team.

Average Penalty Yards Per Game --      43.2 (3rd)                          52.7 (2nd)

Comment: Discipline counts -- Georgia was penalized an average of 72.7 yards per game, worst in the SEC.  The Dawgs also gave up 35 first downs due to penalties.  Ouch.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons Georgia underachieved last year.

Kick Return Average --                             26.4 (1st)                           20.9

Comment: Special-teams coach Steve Ortmayer is a happy man.  Last season Derrick Locke and Winston Guy led the SEC in highest kick return average for one game: Locke returned two kicks for 127 yards (63.5 avg,) and a touchdown versus WKU.  Guy returned three punts for a total of 146 yards (48.7 avg.) versus Georgia.  Departed defensive back David Jones also returned a kick-off for "six" -- A 99-yarder against ECU in the Liberty Bowl.  With both Locke and Guy returning, danger lurks Will Robinson ...

Punt Return Average --                             9.4 (8th)                             9.7

Punt Average --                                          41.7                                   40.9

Comment: Tim Masthay led the SEC by averaging 45.1 yards per punt.  He also recorded the second longest punt in the SEC last year with his 72-yard boomer against Mississippi State.

Net Punting --                                             38.4                                   35.7

Sacks By --                                                  32 (3rd)                            13 (1st)

Comment: Obviously, excellent work by both the offensive and defensive lines -- Arkansas quarterbacks were sacked a total of 45 times.  Whirlpool anyone?  Ole Miss led the league with 38 sacks.

Tackles For Loss --                                   86                                      55

Comment: Outstanding differential.

Pass Breakups --                                      45                                      46

Pass Breakup % --                                    12.5                                   11.1

Fumbles - Lost --                                      19 - 8                                27 - 14

Comment: UK's defense is beginning to beget a trend.  It's been three straight years that the UK D has created many more turnovers than the opposition.  Kudos to defensive coordinator Steve Brown for turning a historically UK negative, into Big Blue opportunity. 

Turnover Margin --                                     +5 (4th)

Comment: Florida led the league with a +22.

First Quarter Points --                                34                                     101

Comment: Wow!!  Set wake-up calls for an hour earlier.

Second Quarter Points --                          71                                      71

Third Quarter Points --                               78                                      41

Fourth Quarter Points --                            111                                    66

Comment: Last year UK outscored their opponents by 82 points in the second half.  Impressive.

Final Thoughts 

It doesn't take a Bear Bryant football mind to recognize that UK needs to improve in almost all areas, with the exception of kick returning: Pass better, run better, kick better, block better (for the running backs), and finally, defend the run better.  There is no shortage of motivation for this staff to use to gain the hearts and minds of the players (and if there is, I'll be happy to fax over this post).

The simple fact is, though, last year was seen by many to be a rebuilding year for Kentucky.  Most prognosticators predicted a "gloomy and doomy" sub-six win season for the 'Cats.  But bowling they went, in spite of their youth, injuries, and uneven play.  Kentucky fans expect more this year, they expect arced growth. 

We'll begin delving into the possibilities, probabilities, and plausibilities of preseason prognostications over the next several weeks.  Crank it up, football is almost here.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!