Okay, so I just finished watching the Kentucky Wildcats vs. Miami (OH) RedHawks, and I must say that I came away very pleased, overall. Naturally, any Wildcats fan worth his salt is going to be happy at the first victory of a new coach's reign, especially one in which the team actually showed some of the kind of play that may allow them to pull an upset against a superior foe. Of course, there was enough bad in this performance to give me some pause as well, but the balance of the equities certainly favors the good. To wit:
The Air Raid
This was not your father's Air Raid offense, but with Maxwell Smith at the helm, you could be forgiven for thinking it so. The offense looked like some kind of read-option hybrid last week, and anything but an "Air Raid" style spread, but this time, it looked like the sort of offense Neal Brown promised to deliver.
We have to like the way that the passing game operates under Smith. Smith throws among the least beautiful balls you will see anywhere, but he is very accurate, and his ball is undeniably catchable. A lot of quarterbacks lack the pace control that Smith seems to have completely mastered. He seems to throw the ball just hard enough, exactly at the pace the situation requires for maximum effectiveness.
The thing that is different about the Brown version of the Air Raid is just how much and well it is able to run the ball when things are going smoothly. Kentucky gained as much on the ground as through the air, and that kind of balance is not typical of Air Raid style offense. Running and passing attempts were fairly equal, but out of the 74 plays Kentucky ran on downs 1-3, 39 were runs. This is misleading, however, since nearly 12 of those attempts came at the very end of the game on a long drive when the issue was no longer in doubt.
Below, you will see situational stats for Kentucky's offense:
It's pretty obvious that Kentucky's domination on offense led to very few 3rd down situations, a total of only 12 snaps. Fully 83% of Kentucky's offensive snaps were taken on 1st and 2nd down. That's a very efficient offense, and in such a scenario, 3rd down conversions have no real significance. UK only converted 36% of their third down attempts, which isn't a great number, but for the very few times they were in a 3rd down situation, 90% were 3rd and long.
The two-quarterback system
Generally, I am not a fan of a true two-quarterback system. This year, however, may be the rare exception where we may actually be better off with two quarterbacks than one. These two guys are so different in their skill set that it's hard to prepare for, because Jalen Whitlow can not only run, but throw. He struggles when he has to throw a lot, and he doesn't throw as well as Smith does, but situationally, his arm is very dangerous.
The defensive line
There is no question the entire front seven of the defense was much improved over last week. They stayed in their lanes, they managed to get pressure on the quarterback, and for the most part, they were in position to make plays. The improvement defensively was almost as great, or perhaps even more so, than the offensive improvement. Blake McClain, Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith were particularly impressive.
Kentucky's two big defensive tackles didn't account for a lot of stops, but their job is really to clog the running lanes and occupy as many blockers as possible in order to free up the second level to contain the run. They did a very good job of that. Neither of them are showing All-SEC quality, but Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph had much better games on Saturday than last week.
The offensive line
The O-line played well. Not incredibly well, but well. Neither quarterback was threatened very often on passing plays, and they opened several nice holes for the backs to get through.
Kentucky is currently the most penalized team in the SEC by a mile — 21 penalties for 186 yards, and averaging over 10 penalties per game. That is flat unacceptable in any league by any team, ever, and if this continues, it will really reduce our chances to win games against superior opponents, which is nearly all of our remaining games.
Last weekend I praised special teams; this weekend, I won't, because they were simply loathsome. There just isn't any words for how horrible special teams were, but perhaps this illustration will do: The only score Miami had was due to a special teams faux pas, and they had more than quadruple Kentucky's punt return on average. Javess Blue in particular made several brain-dead decisions on special teams due to Demarco Robinson ankle injury, which we need to pray isn't too bad.
Smith had several very poor throws into the teeth of the defense, and should have been picked twice. If he makes those throws against a team like Louisville, he's going to surrender a defensive touchdown.
I counted four, and that's way too many. Actually, it should arguably have been 4.5, because of a ball that Alexander Montgomery should have caught, but didn't.
What it all means
Well, it means we got better. Yes, we played a markedly inferior team, but honestly, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers should be considered an inferior team as well (although significantly less so), and they dominated us on the line of scrimmage with smaller guys. Miami did not. In any case, Western certainly didn't look inferior in the first game, but I think, given this performance, it was as much due to Kentucky's lack of execution as it was to WKU's sharp performance.
Do I think we can beat the Louisville Cardinals? Sure, it's a football game, and it's in Commonwealth Stadium. If UK is able to keep the Louisville defense as far away from their quarterbacks as they did on Saturday, Louisville will probably have to find a way to get one more possession than Kentucky to win. But I don't expect that will happen.
What will have to happen for us to upset the Cardinals is the defense will have to be even more impressive than they were against Miami, because the Cards are bigger, stronger, and faster than the RedHawks at every position. They are certainly a better team, overall, than Kentucky is right now, and Teddy Bridgewater is legitimately the leader in the Heisman Trophy race. Last year, Bridgewater picked Kentucky apart like a pig at a lu'au. He undoubtedly expects to do the same thing again, and given the softness of Kentucky's secondary, I doubt that you could find anyone that doesn't bleed blue who would bet against him.
So can we beat them? Sure? Will we? Probably not. We are probably faced with a "moral victory" at best, if you are considering the odds. The thing is, the game must be played on the field, not on paper, and it is a rivalry game. As we all know, bets can definitely go by the boards in a rivalry game.