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Upon Further Review: The Fundamentals Of A Blowout

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Every week I chart UK's games for SB Nation. The "Upon Further Review" series are my impressions after spending several hours on Sundays and Mondays breaking down every play. Want to see all the data? Shoot me an email.

Stacy Revere

Saturday's game was a humbling affair for Kentucky partisans. The team seemed out-manned heading into the game, but a litany of mistakes early on doomed them before the first quarter had ended. Things snow-balled from there on the shoulders of a LSU team that is starting to play its best ball.

Before beginning, let me say I'm proud of the levelheadedness of A Sea of Blue's commentariat in the aftermath of the game. Proper perspective, was widely, if not universally, held despite the frustrating result. I made the mistake of visiting UK message boards and websites Sunday. A rookie mistake since those sites aren't characteristically sagacious even on the best of days. You all have my gratitude for the little it's worth.

Makes for great life advice too.

The following are impressions I had after rewatching the game with a bit more attention to detail. There weren't many positive takeaways overall, and it's doubtful any individual player on the offensive side of the ball graded out well in film sessions. Defensively, there were at least some rays of light.

[I realize these posts badly need video, photos, or .gif files to compliment the information. Unfortunately, my cable provider doesn't allow access to SEC Network games on ESPN3.com (and most of UK's games have ended up on that network - including Missouri in two weeks ARRGHHH!), and no one has uploaded a Kentucky game to YouTube since the Florida game. I'm continuing to explore multimedia options to make these posts better. I'd gladly take recommendations.]

Special Teams

No sense in spending a lot of time on this because so much digital ink has already been spilled across the UK ecosystem. I'll add this since I haven't read it elsewhere: the opening kickoff resulted in a LSU possession at the UK 29 yard line after a penalty; UK's first punt resulted in LSU taking over at the UK 48 yard line; and the "onside kick" prior to half gave LSU the ball at the UK 42 yard line. That's pretty much the equivalent of three turnovers committed in your own territory in the first 30 minutes (not even mentioning the punt return). You don't beat teams on the road with that many miscues, and definitely not the good ones.

Defense

LSU ran for 303 yards so ultimately, this unit didn't do it's job. It's given up a lot of yardage all year, but had previously prevented points. The defense was saddled with poor field position for a lot of the first half, and "bend but don't break" defenses will break if repeatedly given a short field. As the game wore on, LSU continued pounding the ball and the defense eventual tired with little offensive support. Just as we worried last week.

However, the 303 yards rushing doesn't tell the whole story. UK held a powerful running attack to 77 yards in the first half despite being on the field for the majority of the time. LSU ran for more yards against Auburn and Florida in the first half of those games for perspective. Leonard Fournette was also held to 35 yards on 13 carries. Melvin Lewis is playing very well at nose tackle, and the linebackers showed improvement against LSU's zone and pro-style blocking schemes. Mike Douglas is also playing very well as the other starting tackle.

Not only are Josh Forrest and Khalid Henderson taking better angles, but they are delivering "blows" to the ball carrier. Before, they usually would fall back, and the back would gain an extra yard or two. They delivered their fair share of blows against LSU's great backs. The entire defensive line and back-ups largely played a physical brand of football.  I only counted two missed tackles in the first half as well.

TraVaughn Paschal and Jabari Johnson started at inside and outside linebackers for  Henderson and Jason Hatcher respectively. The coaches wanted more mass lining up against LSU's run-heavy defense. Henderson is listed at 6'1'' 228 pounds, but Paschal is listed at 6'4'' 260 pounds. Hatcher is listed at 6'3'' 240 but Johnson is 6'1'' 275 pounds. Paschal ended the game with 10 tackles (along with Josh Forrest and Marcus McWilson), and he and Johnson probably see more playing time going forward against run packages. More depth is to be celebrated.

What really hurt the defense was not getting off the field on third downs. LSU was 7-for-13 on third downs, and some of those came via dump-off passes because coverage was solid downfield. In fact, 44 yards of Jennings' total 120 yards throwing came from 1-4 yard passes to running back Terrence Magee who turned them into big gains. The secondary promptly picked off Jennings' back-up upon him entering the game late in the fourth quarter for their twelfth interception.

The defense must compete for 60 minutes, but that's easier said than done when physical and mental fatigue are taken into account. The result looks awful, but a few fundamentals provide hope. This defense isn't great, but is probably a little above average. I'll gladly take it given the last few seasons. More support from the offense would go a long way. Am I crazy to think the defense has improved a bit since the South Carolina game?

Plays Worth Noting
2nd Quarter 11:19 Dupree does an excellent job slow-playing the speed option forcing his teammate to converge on the quarterback and take away the pitch man. Textbook.
2nd Quarter 10:35 UK misses an open field tackle. Shame too, because solid coverage downfield and good pressure up front was completely negated.
2nd Quarter 0:41 LSU runs a zone read, and Za'Darius bites on the fake allowing Jennings to pick-up 16 yards and the first down.
2nd Quarter 0:22 The dump-off pass to Magee goes for 18 yards. UK in dime coverage with three-deep and only Forrest in the middle of the field. Good play call by LSU.
3rd Quarter 12:16 Outstanding individual effort by Dupree to shed a lead blocker but also deliver a blow to the running back.
3rd Quarter 11:31 Forrest misses an open field tackle on a dump-off pass to Magee on 3rd-and-7. Killing any shred of positive momentum coming out of the half.
1st Quarter 0:07 Jason Hatcher does an excellent job of shedding Fournette's pass block and gets a sack.


Offense

The offense played poorly and there isn't a single unit on that side of the ball that played well, except for possibly Demarco Robinson. Why the meltdown? First and foremost, LSU is a top fifteen defense. From there, LSU often had 7 defenders in the box to UK's five or six blockers. Given UK's struggles on the inside this season, this contributes to explaining why UK tried to get the ball to the outside. It didn't work and UK regularly stayed behind schedule. The inconsistent running game that we've talked about all season faced its toughest defense yet, and the results were a foregone conclusion with a defense also having a numerical advantage on several occasions.

LSU blitzed on roughly 35% of UK's passing attempts in the first half; otherwise, LSU was rushing four down linemen. When seven defenders drop into coverage it can be hard to find open windows, but a single high safety look, with man coverage on the outside, incentivizes UK to throw the ball. Throwing laterally is a tactic to find bigger windows away from the middle of the field. A basic tenet of the Air Raid is to get the ball in to your play-makers in space. If successful over time, it stretches the linebackers' splits and may open running lanes down the road.

To this point in the season, this approach had largely worked for UK, and the fact Neal Brown called these lateral plays against LSU also shows his trust in his player's abilities to beat defenders one-on-one in space. Even though LSU made that approach seem foolish at times (as I linked in the preview, LSU's defense is built to defend the spread), it was successful on enough occasions in the first half to justify continuing to dial them with some exceptions, in my view. Even more so when LSU's defense has been notoriously poor tacklers this season on the edge.

After the game, Neal Brown stated the receivers were coming out of their breaks too high. This made it easy for LSU defensive backs to push them around and disrupt timing. LSU was also getting a good pass rush when it blitzed, and Towles had even less time for deep throws. UK also depended on short routes simply because Towles did not have the time for deep routes to develop. Even when he rolled out of the pocket backside defenders had enough speeds to rush and/or sack him.

Patrick Towles did not play well. He was missing open receivers on more occasions than I've seen him do yet this year. He also had his least accurate game of the season overthrowing, underthrowing, and throwing behind his receivers. He felt pressured by LSU, and forgot his fundamentals a bit.

The offensive line is what it is at this point. Pretty good tackles and an inconsistent interior. Getting five solid blocks on a fresh defensive line in one play is irregular. As defenses tire, UK's line gets a good push as evident on two of UK's drives in the first half. Not all the blame lies at the feet of the linemen. The backs sometimes do the linemen no favors by not reading their blocks correctly. UK's fullbacks and tight ends need to block better outside the tackle box too.

UK's offense was hamper by a LSU team that has a Top 20 defense, but it is putting the pieces together to push for a Top 10 ranking. There's no shame in some of UK's offensive production, but there were many fixable mistakes that can be improved upon. "Fixable" being the key word. Better pass protection, blocking by the receivers, and more receiver separation can cure a lot of what ails the offense and prevent it from becoming a tad predictable.

Plays Worth Noting
1st Quarter 6:49 Good example of the young freshmen Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson coming out of their breaks far too high. Towles also misses Ryan Timmons open on the back-side. He probably had the time to progress to his third read.
1st Quarter 5:00 Boom makes a defender miss in space and gains eight yards. Positive outcomes like this are probably why Neal Brown felt comfortable continuing to call these lateral plays. UK has had this designed play for Boom out of the backfield since at least the Vanderbilt game.
1st Quarter 3:30 Ryan Timmons gets the ball in the flats and can't make a defender miss unlike Boom did 90 seconds earlier. UK needs Timmons to make this play, and gain positive yardage.
1st Quarter 2:15 Baker again comes out of his break too high.
1st Quarter 2:09 Towles misses an open Braylon Heard, but Timmons makes a defender miss in space and Dorian Baker gets an excellent legal block.
2nd Quarter 13:17 Towles throws behind an open receiver on 2nd-and-10.
2nd Quarter 5:36 Javess Blue drops a good pass. This play would have been a first down, and would have avoided forcing UK to go for it on 4th-and-two on the failed Wildcat conversion.
2nd Quarter 3:26 End zone replay angle with a great shot of Garret Johnson coming out too high in his break, and completely blown off his route by a defender. He impressively still gets a 16 yard reception, but timing was thrown off. Credit to Towles for scrambling and keeping the play alive.
2nd Quarter 1:48 Blake Bone too high in his break. Timing thrown off.
4th Quarter 13:22 Towles goes for a small windowTD pass to Ronnie Shields, but he had Heard open at the first down marker. You never go broke taking a profit in the red zone. If Heard was able to make the closing defender miss in open space, he would have walked in for a touchdown. At the least he probably would've gotten a first down at the five yard line.