The Kentucky Wildcats football team is limping to the finish line. Five straight noncompetitive losses can wear on the physical and mental psyche of the most resilient young adult, and their coaches. Here is a Google Doc I made that charts UK's offensive and defensive S&P+ ratings week-to-week. The final tab at the bottom of the Doc will allow you to compare UK's rankings with their SEC brethren. Some of the formatting is a little off, so use the color-coding to find the corresponding measures.
Before breaking down the data, a bit about the methodology. S&P+ makes its data available from early in the season unlike FEI, so for the sake of season-long consistency, that is the rankings system that is being used. FEI looks less favorably upon UK, which I think is context worth providing without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
Recall, advanced stats take into account the strength of your opponent, so if ratings rise or stay flat despite losing to Mississippi State, for example, you know why.
- UK's offense currently has a 101.8 rating which is good for 52nd in the country. This is a big improvement over last season's final seasoning rating of 92.9. Presumably UK's rating will either stay flat or increase in the next two weeks with the bye, followed by facing UofL's elite defense.
- UK is highly unlikely to finish with a rating that matches Mike Hartline, Randall Cobb, and Derrick Locke's final season of 2010 which was 108.2. The 2007 season of Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Stevie Johnson, and Jacob Tamme (to name but a few) finished 17th in the country at 117.6.
- Good news: Overall, this season has been a small success offensively after considering the youth, inexperience, and no Jeff Badet or Alexander Montgomery.
- Bad news: As the season progressed UK's rating on passing downs took a steep nose dive.
- Mixed news: As the season progressed UK's rating on standard downs - thanks in part to running the ball better - improved. All the more frustrating that success on standard downs didn't lead to more success on passing downs as the former should help the latter in most cases.
- The 2013 final season rating for UK's defense was 92.4, but as of this week UK's defense has a rating of 99.7 which is good for 60th in the country. Marginal improvement.
- UK had issues stopping the run all season as evident by its week-to-week Rushing S&P+ ratings. What's killed UK's defense of late is it started getting beat much more often on passing downs. Despite factoring in facing better passing offenses, UK's ratings still fell.
- Good news: I don't have any except that the defense is a little bit better this season.
- Bad news: See above.
- Mixed news: The defense will return 7 starters next season, but will be losing its best player in Bud Dupree.
- If the defense had improved as much as the offense statistically, the last five weeks would have been more competitive. I think it'd be an even money bet that a sixth win would have already occurred this season as well.
- A lot is getting made in the media that 8 straight games is a grind and can wear teams down. I agree to an extent; however, UK has played a lot of bodies all season long. Typically, second string players have been playing every third series since the beginning of the season. So, are practices too physical? If so, I would have imagined the coaches would have adjusted. Does being banged up lead to the explosion in missed tackles and blown coverages since the MSU game? I'm not sure either.
- Furthermore, UK has been extremely fortunate not to have any major injuries this season. The starters have pretty much played the entire season. Erik Korem is due another flattering profile by someone in the media. It's pretty remarkable that Zach West was the only starter to miss significant time, even with luck also playing a role.
- So, gentle readers, my conclusion is a bit darker: The season is a grind, and players are undoubtedly banged up, but they also aren't playing with much passion anymore despite being on the cusp of a bowl game.
- Going on the road one final time to play a Missouri team - with an offense that UK's defense could exploit - and coming out flat is head-scratching. To not respond the following week against Georgia is frustrating, even if UK's offense did it's share. Then, to play arguably the second or third worst game of the season against a pretty darn good Tennessee team is cringe-inducing. The team has gotten worse, primarily defensively, in front of our eyes.
I don't intend to be as dire as I'm probably coming across. The offense has unquestionably (in my mind) improved this season, and only loses three starters this off-season. Roughly 14 months ago, I noted that rebuilding UK will take several seasons, and I've reiterated it ever since.
What galls is the perceived lack of passion that was on display earlier in the season. It can't be easy to workout, study film, or practice these days but the team is so close to the post-season. So close and has been for a while.
Win or lose next week, it'd be nice to see the players go out on their shields, and wash away the taste of the last few performances.