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Kentucky Wildcats 3, LSU Tigers 47: Postmortem

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Kentucky did some good things last night, but LSU's confident, disciplined execution and Kentucky's special teams' fiasco produced a beat-down in the Bayou.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, we got our helmets handed to us last night with our heads in them. It was about as ugly a beat-down versus the LSU Tigers as you’re ever likely to see, but it was the first time all season that Kentucky has looked uncompetitive. The environment was difficult, I don’t think our guys were ready for the emotion of it, and our coaches’ plans did not survive contact with the opponent. Some of those plans should never have seen the light of day (I’m looking at you, Craig Naivar), but in the end, it was the kind of game that often happens to teams rebuilding from down years.

I think the biggest takeaway from this game is that several consecutive special-teams debacles gave LSU tons of confidence and put Kentucky on their heels. That allowed the Tigers to take chances, not worry too much about mistakes, and generally play confident football, which they did. When you are faced with a talented football team playing confident football in front of a huge home crowd, you are going to lose most of them unless your team is better. Kentucky isn’t, and the failure of the Wildcats to be competitive can be traced directly back to special teams play, the confidence it gave the Tigers and the hole it put UK in.

We all know that football is a very psychological game. When a team comes out focused and confident, plays well early and get some early points, it takes a disciplined and experienced squad to overcome them on the road. LSU, to their great credit, has rarely, if ever been more focused and confident this season than they were last night. Conversely, I have not seen Kentucky this tentative on offense all season long except perhaps in the Ohio game. Combined with LSU’s speedy, talented defense, that was a recipe for three whole points which the special teams almost managed to give away trying more trickeration instead of just lining up and playing football.

Box Score Notes

Box score at UKAthletics.com

  • UK was held to 71 yards rushing. That was the biggest problem with the Wildcats offense, and is the biggest reason why the score was so lopsided.

  • Amazingly, Kentucky ran almost as many plays as LSU. However, their average gain per play was almost double, 3.4 for UK to 6.4 for the Tigers.

  • LSU averaged 28 yards per punt return and 49 yards per kickoff return. Ouch.

  • Kentucky won the turnover battle 1-0, but the lone interception happened long after the game was out of control. Hence, it was pretty meaningless.

  • Time of possession was fairly even until the 4th quarter, when LSU had the ball for 12 of the 15 minutes. No wonder the defense was tired.

  • Surrendering 322 rushing yards will get you beaten 100% of the time.

  • Remarkably, Kentucky had a decent third down conversion percentage in this game — 5 of 17 (29%). That’s a big improvement from 1/12 last weekend against the ULM Warhawks.

  • LSU averaged almost 6 yards per carry. Kentucky only 2.6.

  • Passing the ball, Patrick Towles had 146 yards on 19 connections in 36 attempts. that’s not exactly horrible, except for the fact that Kentucky could generate no offense at all on the ground.

Team observations

  • Towles only got sacked twice, but that doesn’t tell the story. LSU’s defense was in his face all night long.

  • The secondary played pretty good ball until the 4th quarter, when they began to get run over.

  • The defensive line didn’t do badly on passing downs, but they left some gaping holes open on rushing downs, and the second-level guys struggled to get LSU’s big backs to the ground.

  • Za'Darius Smith has had two or three roughing penalties this season. He needs to be more disciplined than that.

  • Kentucky’s secondary needs to re-learn proper tackling form. A lot of guys took bad angles to LSU runners and got blown by with arm-grabs.

  • The offensive line has got to block better than this, both on running and passing downs, but particularly on running downs. UK’s backs rarely had any kind of gaps to hit. Credit LSU’s defense, particularly their ends and backers, for getting off our blocks and in the path of UK’s running backs.

  • Blocking at the second level was nonexistant on running downs.

  • I thought UK receivers got held a lot. I know of one time in particular where Garret Johnson got thrown out of bounds by his defender halfway through the route. Stoops almost ran onto the field when the official, who was right there, kept his flag in his pocket.

    Having said that, Kentucky has to learn to become a more physical team in the receiving corps. We were shrinking violets last night.

  • Special teams sucked, and cost us any chance at winning. I don’t think I need to expound on that at all.

Individual observations

  • Patrick Towles played pretty well. He was lucky at least one time, though, when the defensive end knocked his pass down. The defender had jumped that in route and was going to pick off the pass. Other than that, he made some sold throws, although he has to remember that Blake Bone’s special skill is that he’s 6‘5" with long arms. When you throw to him, take something off and keep it high and outside.

  • I thought Demarco Robinson played really well overall. I don’t give out game balls for losses, but if I did, he’d probably get it.

  • Darian Miller wasn’t awful, he just wasn’t very good last night. I expect more from him.

  • Not sure why Matt Elam didn’t play more. I suspect it’s because his practice habits are not the best.

  • I really get annoyed when we drop Bud Dupree into pass coverage on an obvious passing down. Rush the QB, trust your secondary.

  • Mikel Horton had a good game; 5 carries for 30 yards. We tried every back we had out there, and only Horton had any real success. We probably should’ve gone to him sooner.

  • I was proud of our secondary last night. LSU has some great athletes on the outside, and we did get burned once, but still, they did a very good job, forcing one coverage sack and producing very few open targets. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Fred Tiller had an outstanding game.

  • Josh Forrest continues to impress with 6 solo tackles and 4 assists. Also joining the 10 tackle club were TraVaughn Paschal and Marcus McWilson, who also got the pick. McWilson is quickly turning into a great player for the defense.

  • Blake McClain did not seem to be himself last night.

  • Dorian Baker really likes to block. That sloberknocker he put on an LSU guy looked as clean as could be to me, although the announcers were trying to make a case for targeting. I think they were wrong, and this isn’t a homer evaluation — I was quick to point out J.D. Harmon’s uncalled targeting foul last week.

    That was the kind of physical play that Kentucky needs to make — hard, clean hits — if they want to become a team that can compete with the likes of LSU in Tiger Stadium.

Tying it all up

This was a game that we have to forget about. It was a tough situation for a young team, and the debacle that was our special teams unit last night just killed all our hopes in the first seven or eight minutes. It’s frustrating to get that far behind that quickly, and on the road, it’s almost always deadly.

I hope you are not down on Kentucky because they were uncompetitive last night. This was always one of the toughest games we were going to face all season, and if UK were going to get embarrassed, this was the spot. Unfortunately, that happened, and while we can be upset about it all we want, we have to acknowledge that LSU played probably their best football of the season last night, all things considered. They weren’t perfect and they still have some problems, but they looked a lot better tonight than they have in any game I’ve seen them play this season. They were confident, completely comfortable, disciplined and effective. The deserve credit for playing well, and while we will focus a lot on what UK did wrong, the reality is that Kentucky could’ve played much better and still been beaten down.

There are many things UK can learn about SEC football from last night, physicality being the most important. I thought Les Miles was very complimentary of UK last night even in the face of a thrashing, and I appreciate that. I also think he is right. This is a good UK team that must find a way to put last night behind them and prepare well for the Mississippi State Bulldogs next weekend. We’re likely to lose that one, too, but Kentucky has to find a way to reach a higher level of play on both sides of the ball. Win or lose, let’s be competitive (unlike last night) and give ourselves a chance.