Barker's First Start an Efficient Mixed Bag of Results
Making his first collegiate start tonight was redshirt freshman Drew Barker, in hopes he could provide a spark to the offense. His first full game was what can be best described as efficient, yet with mixed results. Barker managed to avoid the disaster plays that Patrick Towles has been making far too often, but still took some bad sacks and made risky throws that better defenses might have picked off.
Barker also made several nice throws and consistently kept the offense moving against a 49ers defense that was sending a lot of blitzes to pressure the young QB early and often. He did so to a degree that UK had failed to do all season to this point.
For the first time this season Kentucky has had 3 scoring drives of at least 10 plays in the same game.
— Corey Price (@coreyp08) November 22, 2015
But while Barker played well, the running backs carried the offense and repeatedly gashed Charlotte for big gains. This simply wasn't enough of a showing for Barker to know what he truly is. He also didn't do enough that's it's a done deal he starts vs. Louisville next Saturday.
That said, Barker did do enough in this game that he'll play vs the Cardinals, and he deserves to in what has now become the biggest game of the year for Kentucky football.
O-Line Struggles in Pass Protection...Rinse and Repeat
It's one thing for an offensive line to struggle against SEC teams, but it's another when it's against Charlotte. UK's line struggled to hold up in this one and allowed Barker to be pressured, hit or sacked on far too many occasions. They did alright in the run game, but it was real disconcerting to see them struggle once again to the protect the QB, especially against what's practically an FCS-level team.
Oh, and the line never looked great against EKU or UL-Lafayette either, so they've consistently been bad all year. That's bad news with Louisville up next. The Cards ranks 21st nationally in total sacks (28) compared to the 76th ranking (17) the 49ers had coming into this game.
Ground Game Dominates
The 'Cats dominated this game on the ground and had their best rushing effort of the year. Kentucky was able to strike first and build a 20-3 halftime lead thanks to Jojo Kemp's two first-half scores and three in the game to go with a career-high 165 yards.
Boom Williams also went off as he racked up a career-high 140 yards to go with two scores of his own. Even true freshman Sihiem King broke off a 62-yard scoring run as UK finished with over 400 yards rushing for the first time in the Mark Stoops era. This was a special performance for UK's offense, and one they needed after it really fell off a cliff over the past two months.
Defense Plays Well, but Charlotte's Offense was Bad
I'd like to think UK's much-maligned defense had a good showing against Charlotte, but the reality is the 49ers offense was just bad and didn't push the 'Cats' defense. None of their QBs could even consistently complete the shortest and easiest of passes, but give UK credit. They bottled up about every run Charlotte called and forced the 49ers to win through the air, which they were simply incapable of.
In the grand scheme of this season, it's hard to put much stock into the defense's performance this night as much as they've struggled as of late. Still, they did what they needed to do in this one and kept Charlotte from ever finding any rhythm offensively, and it's a good confidence-booster with a very winnable game vs. Louisville up next.
Butler is Solid in Relief of MacGinnis
The Cats were once again without a fully-healthy Austin MacGinnis, who continues to battle a groin injury that's bothered him for much of the season. Though he was available to play, UK opted not to use him unless it became absolutely necessary, which thankfully never happened.
As for his replacement, Miles Butler had a solid night kicking the ball, hitting all seven extra points and three field goals, including a 46-yarder. Butler showed he can be counted upon if MacGinnis can't go at any point going forward.
Feel-Good Game UK Needed
In the end, this was exactly the kind of game UK needed to have, a statement you've been unable make this entire season outside of maybe the South Carolina and Missouri games. The 'Cats finally did what they were expected to do and did so in impressive fashion.
Yeah, it's a 2-9 Conference USA team, but still, this had a sense of great relief to it for fans and players as this five-game losing streak has been very taxing on everyone involved with UK. The cats are now 5-6 and in position to make a bowl if they beat Louisville next week.
Whether you'll admit it or not, many of you would have taken that scenario before the season started. It won't be easy to beat the Cards, but they've shown they're very beatable, and this time around, the game is in Commonwealth Stadium.