Statistically, Kentucky could go 4-2 in the second half of the season. They could also go 1-5. For a seasoned fan, you know this because you've seen it many times. Kentucky, on average doesn't do too well in the last part of October and almost all of November. I thought I'd give you a look at how we compare to our competition for the first half of the season.
I've been doing a spreadsheet on a game by game cumulative NCAA statistics since the beginning of the season for Kentucky and our opponents. What follows covers the first six games for each of our opponents. I've left off Louisiana-Lafayette because they've only played five games.They've not played since October 10th. Of course, this also doesn't include EKU or Charlotte.
Some of our readers gave Keith Garrett a hard time over his article Kentucky vs Auburn: Not Ready for Primetime ‘Cats. I hate to break it to you, but statistically he was spot on.
While Kentucky has been competitive in each game, including our two losses, we could've been 6-0 instead of 4-2. We didn't score a touchdown against Florida and we threw an interception in the end zone against Auburn. Had we scored a touchdown in the two instances where we had the chance(s), we would have won both games. Dorian Baker dropped a pass in the end zone in the Florida game and Patrick Towles threw an end zone interception while trying to force a pass to Baker against Auburn when Jeff Badet was wide open in the middle. Those are not prime time plays, my friends.
While Kentucky's offense, under the guidance of Shannon Dawson, is decent, the spectacular seems to overshadow our stats. Here are a few stats to digest: Time of Possession, Total Number of Plays, Average Yards per Game, First Downs and Third Down Conversions:
Both Auburn and Kentucky had a bye week to get ready for the Thursday night game and it was a game where Auburn showed the biggest improvement. Sean White started for the Tigers. He went 17-27-0 for 255 yards and one touchdown. Towles had his best game of the year, going 27-44-1 for 359 yards. That one interception was in the end zone, however, and it cost us dearly. Against Florida, Towles was 8-24-2. His OL allowed him to get sacked 6 times. In both games, Kentucky wound up close, but no cigar. Our opponents' passing games are not overwhelming, but Kentucky is in the middle of the pack.
Kentucky's offensive weakness is in its ground game as a team. Boom Williams has only played in five games after missing the EKU game, yet he is a top 50 running back. He's averaging 91.2 yards per game and has accumulated 456 yards on the season. He's averaging 7.24 yards per carry. What this should tell all is that he's under-utilized. Through Saturdays games (most teams have now played seven games), Williams ranks 49th in the nation. In the SEC, only Georgia's Nick Chubb, LSU's Leonard Fournette and Tennessee's Jalen Hurd have higher numbers. With Chubb out, Williams actually ranks 3rd in the SEC. Kentucky's numbers as a team aren't all that great as you can see below. That can be attributed to our OL which has given up 6.67 tackles for loss allowed per game, and 3.17 sacks per game. Of all the teams on our schedule, only Louisville's OL is consistently worse than ours.
Kentucky ranks 54th in Total Defense (374.8 yds p/gm) after Saturday's games. Of the teams on our schedule, Missouri ranks 8th (279.0 yds p/gm) followed by #21 Georgia (307.9), #22 Florida (314.4), #31 Vanderbilt (338.0), #37 Louisville (354.8), #47 Mississippi State (368.54). Kentucky is followed by #79 Louisiana-Lafayette (408.2), #83 South Carolina (414.3), Tennessee (419.0), and #93 Auburn (426.2).
D.J. Eliot is slowly building a good, better, best defense. This is the best defense that Kentucky has had in several years, but they spend too much time on the field. They are better than last year. 54th is a decent, but not good, defense. I'll just let the numbers speak for themselves.
So, what does all these numbers mean? Probably not a lot because every game is a different situation. All remaining games are winnable. Every team left has shot itself in the foot at least once this season, just as Kentucky has. Mark Stoops continues to say that we've not really learned to finish yet (at least to his satisfaction). The Cats do not have to face a Leonard Fournette, a Derrick Henry or a Dalvin Cook. Nick Chubb is out with an injury and Georgia is taking time to adjust. They do have to worry about Tennessee's Jalen Hurd.
Tennessee, Louisville and Vanderbilt are all capable of beating us. The only assured victory is Charlotte (or should be). It would be a stretch to believe that Mississippi State and Georgia will be Kentucky victories.
Kentucky can go 1-5 over the next six games or they can go 6-0. The truth is somewhere in between. Someone said the Cats try too hard at CWS and they don't have the pressure on them on the road. I'm not sure I buy into that theory. Some things I believe are that good and great teams have a strong running game and a strong defense. Kentucky has neither, but no one on our schedule can make that claim either since Chubb went down. Kentucky has to worry about containing Dak Prescott, Josh Dobbs and Lamar Jackson. They are all very mobile quarterbacks. Containment is a must.
For the pessimists out there who believe that Kentucky can never compete in the SEC, I say that's just a load of BS. If a program like Memphis can be undefeated after beating Ole Miss, Kentucky can build a successful program, given the time to do it. Kentucky has everything in its favor after going through decades of neglect. Our fans have to be patient because it is going to take time.
For the overly optimistic, I would say be realistic and recognize that we have a ways to go before declaring 8-4, 9-3 or 10-2 seasons. The football bounces in funny ways. Getting bitten by the snake can happen to anyone. Just ask Michigan.
To finish, here are the factors that will be key to winning or losing: