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Postmortem: 'Cats Come Up Short vs. Louisville Again

UK leads the series 14-13 but has lost the last four

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Governor's cup game took on extra meaning this year for several reasons.  Kentucky needed to win to be bowl eligible and cement Coach Mark Stoops' ahead of schedule program resurrection.  Kentucky also needed the win to extend Bud Dupree's playing career.  If anyone deserves another game, it is that guy.

Louisville needed the win to get to nine wins and a possible Orange Bowl birth.  Louisville also needed the win because this winter and early spring has all the makings of a long basketball season of UK accolades.

Before the season started, if you would have told us that we would be 5-6 heading into this game, UK fans would have taken it immediately.  Even the most blue tinted glass wearers like myself would have been good with a shot at a bowl against a UL team minus Teddy Bridgewater.  My esteemed colleague, James Streble, wrote an article recently on A Sea of Blue entitled "Beat the Cards, save the season."

I could not agree more, while on paper we all would have taken the win-loss record, I cannot imagine we thought it would go down this way.  The last five beat downs, where the defense gave up a mind boggling 44 points per game, have haunted the Big Blue Nation.

To put that into perspective, the first three years of the Hal Mumme era; the defense only averaged giving up 32 points per game.  Even more astonishing, the Kentucky Basketball team is only giving up 46 points per game so far in 2014.

On To the Game

The game would start with fireworks as both teams got into a shoving match at midfield before kickoff.  Coach Bobby Petrino was even in on the action as seen below.

While the behavior is not necessarily condoned, it seemed to fire up the ‘Cats as they took UL to a quick three and out on their first possession including a sack by Za'Darius Smith.  The ‘Cats could not capitalize on offense but Louisville's second possession ended with a big hit by Mike Douglas on Reggie Bonnafon leading to a long interception by super safety AJ Stamps and the ‘Cats were back in business.  Boom Williams would set the cats up for a 3-0 lead with a 31-yard scamper to inside the 15, just the beginning of his day.

After a stalled UL drive the ‘Cats would drive deep into UL territory and what is seemingly the opposite of

"UK football"; Towles telegraphed an out to Garrett Johnson that Gaines from Louisville stepped in front for the easy pick-6... but he dropped the pass into the hands of Johnson setting up another FG for a 6-0 UK lead.

There was a lot of hand-wringing on Twitter about UK not getting a TD but considering it SHOULD have been 7-3 UL instead of 6-0 Cats... it was a HUGE win.  Kentucky would get another three and out with senior Javess Blue breaking through to block the punt.  In another instance of "not the norm" for UK football, the punter would pick up the block and get shoestring tackled one yard before the sticks.

Kentucky would then take it in for a commanding 13-0 lead behind Boom Williams nifty 11 yard TD run as seen below.  Boom would have 74 yards on just six carries after that run.

On the next Louisville possession, Jabari Johnson got the sidelines amped up to another level with this bone-crushing hit:

On the next play, Reggie Bonnafon would hurt his knee and be out for the game, opening the door for third string, Lexington native Kyle Bolin.  In just two plays, Bolin would instantly steal momentum with a 10 yard out and then a 55 yard touchdown to Devante Parker that saw Fred Tiller fall down 10 yards before the ball got there and an easy touchdown.

As if on cue, the offense shut down again and Louisville would cut through the defense like knife to butter and take the lead 14-13.  Kentucky would once again prove anemic on the next drive and every blue blood expected another UL drive for a soul crushing blow, but Kyle Bolin would miss on a route and end up throwing a dart directly into Fred Tiller's chest for an easy Pick-6 and a 20-14 Kentucky lead.  The Commonwealth rejoiced and a collective look of euphoria mixed with confusion was setting in across the state.

Unfortunately the euphoria would be short lived as Bolin would lead the Cardinals right back down the field (short field via unsportsmanlike penalty on UK) and give the Cardinals the lead once again going into halftime 21-20.  The stage was set for a great 2nd half to this rivalry game.

The second half began with promise as Boom Williams continued his strong day with a great run giving him 101 yards on the day.  However, the offense would again stall and punt to the Cardinals on a possession that was greatly needed.

Louisville seemed to be stopped on 3rd and 10 when Kyle Bolin scrambled for a three-yard gain... only to see Mike Douglas clearly push him down three steps out of bounds.  A clear penalty on a boneheaded decision by Douglas that killed any momentum the defense had created.

The control of the game now belonged to the black and red on the next play when Bolin hit Parker for another long touchdown for a 28-20 lead.

The teams would trade inefficiencies and punts for a few possessions, then a Bud Dupree strip and tackle for loss led to Za'Darius scooping it up and rumbling to the UL red zone.  Yet another bog down three plays would lead to another Austin MacGinnis field goal, his 20th of the season setting a single season UK record.  I have started a petition to rename him Auto MacGinnis.

The fourth quarter would start with UK on defense and down 28-23 with 15 minutes potentially left in the season.  Kentucky would continue its strong play on defense and after hours of anemic movement and virtually zero downfield presence or attempts, Towles hit a streaking Joey Herrick down the middle for a big gain to put the cats in field goal range.

Stoops was put to a difficult decision on the 10 yard line on 4th and two, but for me it was a no-brainer to get the points and pull it within two.  Having a guy like MacGinnis who can get there from 50+, getting within two points is a win.

The ensuing possession would create a minor earthquake in the commonwealth when Senior Alvin "Bud" Dupree came flying off the end and stripped Kyle Bolin right into Mike Douglas' hands for a rumbling, stumbling, bumbling scoop and score to give the ‘Cats the improbable 33-28 lead with 9:32 remaining in the game.  This was UL's fourth turnover and two of them lead directly to defensive touchdowns.

In what could only be deemed as appropriate for the flow of this game, Louisville would answer with a 96-yard drive that looked like something out of a video game on easy setting.  It ended with yet another Devante Parker play where he beat Fred Tiller.  The two-point conversion failed and the score was 34-33 Louisville with 7:58 left.

Louisville would add to the momentum shift on the 2nd play of UK's next series when Patrick Towles inexplicably threw a pick directly in the line of the covering linebacker in pass coverage.  While it was a good catch by the LB, it was not a good decision to try to throw it by Towles.

The defense would hold to only give up a field goal putting the Cardinals up 37-33, effectively taking out one of Kentucky's most potent weapons on offense, Austin MacGinnis.  Kentucky would come back out and at this point it seemed almost expected that something wild was going to happen. Just moments before the play, Andre' Woodson tweeted this:

This time it was DeMarco Robinson getting loose for a huge gain that set up this likely Sportscenter top 10 play from Boom Williams to give the cats a 40-37 lead with 6 minutes left.  This run also gave Boom Williams 123 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the day.

Once again in what can only be deemed as appropriate, Louisville would avoid tragedy by seeing Kentucky drop an interception and miss a sack on third down.  A few plays later the Cards would score to take a 44-40 lead with 2:47 left and the stage was set for a potential hero of the commonwealth to emerge and send UK to either a bowl game or come up short and end up home for the holidays.

Kentucky would end up getting two first downs on the final drive but over a nine play sequence, they ran the ball six times and the third pass was not even in the same area code of a UK receiver.  It was basically a pooch punt directly to the UL safety with waiting arms, sending Kentucky back to Lexington with an early holiday vacation and an end to a very unsatisfying final six game stint.

Instant Analysis:

The Good:

Not a lot of good today; while the defense had multiple touchdowns, it still did not play very well and allowed Devante Parker free reign all over the field with one on one matchups.

  • Alvin "Bud" Dupree:  I would like to take a second to thank him for his time at UK, he played his heart out today and every Saturday and truth be told, he deserved better... much much better than what he got.
  • Austin MacGinnis: Auto MacGinnis set a single season record with 20 field goals this year and is a bright spot going forward
  • Stanley "Boom" Williams:  Boom ended up with 21 total touches, 139 yards, and 2 touchdowns.  He needed about 10 more touches in my opinion and will be the leader of the backfield next season.
  • DeMarco Robinson: he did not have much of an impact today beyond the fourth quarter catch that set UK up for that immortal Boom TD, but for this entire season he has been very good.  He did not lead us in yards or catches this year, but he was by far the most consistent wide out and he will be missed.
  • Special Teams: the recently maligned unit had a great showing today including a blocked punt.

The Bad:

  • Patrick Towles: Patty Ice was particularly rough today; he missed a wide-open Steven Borden early in the end zone that would have been a sure touchdown.  He also seemed to tuck and scramble the very moment any pressure entered the pocket.  It seemed like there were numerous opportunities to step up into the pocket but instead scrambled out and threw it away.  Towles final throw was a terrible read that was essentially a pooch punt into the safety's hands, Patty icing the game.
  • Ryan Timmons: He played, but is not in the box score, zero production from one of our playmakers.  I thought he also had a decent chance at laying out for a much needed TD, instead he ran through the pass missing it by inches.
  • DJ Eliot: I know the defense had four turnovers, but when the third string QB comes in the game you would think a heavy dose of blitz would be in order.  However, it seemed as though he immediately called off the dogs.  It was also inexplicable that Devante Parker ran around ALL DAY with single coverage.  There was also the incident with Stoops on the sideline that indicated at the very least significant miscommunication.
  • Fred Tiller:  Tiller had a pick-six, but he was the recipient of right time, right place on that one.  He was burned for all three of Parker's touchdowns and he was not even close on any of them.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Mike Douglas made a boneheaded play when he pushed Bolin well after he was out of bounds.  The result would have been a 4th and seven punt, instead the next play was a touchdown to Devante Parker.  Maybe the biggest momentum swing of the game.

Final Thoughts

On the surface the 5-7 season is a step forward for the program, all indications are that our solid incoming recruiting class is committed and will not likely be affected by the lackluster 6 weeks.  Having said that, to lose the way we did in five of those last six losses raises questions about where we really are as a program.  Many thought we might be ahead of schedule (including me) but it is clear we are at best on schedule.

I do not think it is time to question if Mark Stoops is the man for the job, that is a no-brainer, the guy has set a foundation that UK football has never had before and we are lucky to be where we are.  However, I do not think it is beyond asking for accountability for the massive regression (from this early season vs late, not last year vs this one) and the lack of heart and fire in five of the last six games.

Overall, it is a somewhat disappointing season, but it is still a step forward in the right direction.  The problem is we took five steps forward, then four steps back, and that stings.  I am excited to see what the recruiting season brings and apparently, our searches for a new offensive coordinator as multiple outlets are reporting that Neal Brown is on his way to Troy.