A loss to the Louisville Cardinals in the Governor's Cup always hurts a little. But Big Blue Nation is actually feeling OK this morning despite losing a third straight game to its most detested rival. Why isn't BBN feeling so glum? The Wildcats hung with Louisville for more than half the game and showed improvements. Since the loss to WKU, Kentucky has progressively gotten better.
Here is the scoring breakdown by quarter:
Kentucky lost two out of four quarters, tied Louisville in one quarter, outscored them in the fourth quarter and never allowed the Cardinals to score over 10 points in a quarter. That's extremely impressing for a defense that looked lost and befuddled against Western Kentucky.
Before playing the Wildcats, the Cardinals were averaging 46.5 points a game. Kentucky cut that total almost in half.
Kentucky is getting better but that doesn't mean that there weren't glaring negatives that need to be addressed.
Here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from The Governor's Cup.
- Jo Jo Kemp is a Stud- Kemp gets my first "good". I think it's time to hand over running back duties to Kemp full time. Let the kid start and give him the bulk of the carries. He looks faster, stronger and more explosive that any other running back the ‘Cats have on the roster. He carried the ball only 5 times for 80 yards and had a long run of 47 yards. The kid averaged 16 yards per touch. Raymond Sanders is a good player and a senior, but Kemp is on another level and he is the future of Kentucky's running game. Give him the reins.
- The Defensive Line Looked Better- Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree did their part in harassing Teddy Bridgewater and Smith added another sack to his total. Dante Rumph and Mister Cobble stuffed the run in the first half and occupied their blockers to free up the rest of the defense. The unfortunate part is that Kentucky lacks depth on defense and Louisville eventually able to wear them out near the end.
- The Young Players Continue to Impress- Kemp wasn't the only young player to grab everyone's attention. Ryan Timmons was the leading receiver for the ‘Cats with three receptions for 75 yards. Alex Montgomery caught the lone TD pass for the Wildcats while Jeff Badet and Javess Blue combined for 102 yards receiving. Jason Hatcher came in to play linebacker on defense and looked like a burgeoning SEC caliber defensive player.
- Special Teams- Javess Blue averaged 26.8 yards a return on kickoffs and Joe Mansour made both of his field goal attempts. Kentucky's special teams have been a bright spot so far this season.
- The Penalty Problem Improved- Only four penalties for 34 yards yesterday. That was a huge improvement from previous games. But the ‘Cats found another way to prevent themselves from winning. To be continued...
- Fourth Down Efficiency- Kentucky was actually very good in this regard going 3-4 on fourth downs.
- Neal Brown Still Doesn't Have a Quarterback- Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith both did some positive things on offense; both of them did some negative things on offense. Neither one has really showed why they should be THE guy at the QB position, which must be driving Brown crazy. Smith was 9 for 20 for 109 yards and no touchdowns while Whitlow was 8 for 17 for 105 yards for a touchdown pass and an interception. Whitlow, I believe, is the better overall player but has not shown the consistency that is needed. Smith was uncharacteristically inaccurate and finished the game on the sideline with an icepack on his injured shoulder. Mark Stoops and Neal Brown are completely sincere when they state that they want someone to step up and claim the job. Neither guy was terrible but the team needs much better going forward in SEC play.
- The Dropsies- The quarterbacks could have performed better but they weren't helped by their receivers. The UK wide-outs dropped pass after pass, some of them were bubble screen passes only a few yards from the line of scrimmage. It was extremely frustrating to see and more than one receiver took a ripping from Stoops and/or Brown on the sideline for dropping simple passes. It was just one of the ways in which the Wildcats beat themselves.
- Third Down Efficiency- Kentucky was an abysmal 0-13 on third down conversions. It was odd that the Wildcats looked so good converting fourth downs and so epically bad on third downs. Some of that had to do with dropped passes and long third downs, but a team must be able to convert on third down if they expect to upset a top tier opponent.
- The Turnovers- The most frustrating thing about yesterday were the amount of turnovers. Kentucky committed three turnovers, two fumbles and one interception, while Louisville committed only one. And the worst part is that two turnovers happened as Kentucky was poised to make something big happen. Maxwell Smith and Raymond Sanders bumbled a handoff on the Louisville 14 yard line. A touchdown at that point would have tied the game at 10. Jalen Whitlow threw an interception at the Louisville 28 yard line in the third quarter. A touchdown would have made the game 17-10. If Kentucky would have scored on the two fumbles in Cardinal territory then I may be writing a very different article and the feelings would have been even more positive today.
- Ultimately the Result was a Loss- Yes, Kentucky played well and yes they were much more competitive that we thought they would be and that the score indicated, but that was the third straight loss to the Dirty Birds. It doesn't matter that Kentucky blew it and that Louisville has major flaws and that Teddy Bridgewater is mortal after all; Louisville is still crowing today and will be able to until next season's season ending showdown in Papa John Cardinal Stadium. The game yesterday may very well have been the stiffest test that Louisville will face until their bowl game and that's actually bad for them. Their cupcake feast will do absolutely nothing to prepare them for a big time opponent.
Louisville is a very good team and took advantage of Kentucky's mistakes, but in the end, the Wildcats beat themselves. They were unable to capitalize when the opportunities were presented and made mental errors (turnovers, dropped passes) at crucial moments. This team is still relatively weak mentally but there is hope. This coaching staff corrected many of the defensive errors from the WKU game and the defense has looked good for two straight games. Kentucky also cut down on penalties. Now, turnovers are the next ailment on the list that needs a cure, and the team has a bye week to work that out before the Gators come calling.
It is said that a team learns more from playing a superior opponent and losing close than from blowing out a cupcake. Kentucky learned a lot facing Louisville and will learn even more about their team in the coming weeks as they play teams even better than the Cardinals. I think there is one chance for an upset in the next three contests and that would be against a Gator team with an anemic offense and confidence issues. More on that in the coming days.