I missed the Alabama game due to Best Man duties at a wedding Saturday night. When I learned over the summer that the wedding was scheduled for October 1st, I breathed a sigh of relief that it would fall on the day the Wildcats traveled to Tuscaloosa. I wouldn't even be tempted to have divided loyalties. So, while all the UofL fans in attendance were huddled over their smartphones streaming the UofL-Clemson game, I was blissfully ignorant to the Wildcat-Crimson Tide proceedings. At one point I heard the halftime score was 17-3, and I wondered if I'd been roofied.
After finally watching a recording of the first half last night, I tweeted out my general thoughts. The defense continues to execute better and most individual players are improving; however, there are still too many secondary breakdowns and overall missed tackles. The offense is increasingly becoming a one-dimensional running team as defenses have figured out how to exploit UK's offensive tackles and Stephen Johnson's current limitations.
Alabama can make any team look bad, but other teams will try to recreate the carnage they created last Saturday. A bad thing about playing a good team like Alabama is your weaknesses get exposed for your future opponents to see and later try to emulate.
Rather than focus on Saturday's loss to a great team, it is more instructional to dive into data and get an overall picture of the season. It also helps to identify which of UK's players have been the 'Cats' best.
The Offense Has Improved Thanks Mostly To Higher Efficiency
Using Bill Connelly's Five Factors, below is UK's offensive success rates so far this season:
UK's offense has a success rate of 42% which ranks UK 67th in the country. By the end of last season, UK's offensive success rate was ranked 108th in the country, so a big improvement.
The offense still isn't great, but it's pretty clear that it's much better than last season. Killing the offense are the 14 turnovers that have occurred. UK must take better care of the ball. For perspective, the offense only coughed up the ball a total of 22 times last season, and only 15 times in 2014. Some of this is due to bad luck as oblong balls bouncing on grass can randomly fall in the other team's arms, but some of it is first-year quarterbacks throwing six interceptions.
Buoying the offense for the second season in a row is a high explosive rate. UK is currently ranked 27th in explosiveness which is even higher than last season's mark of 65th. Boom Williams averaging 7.25 yards per carry is a big reason why, along with Benny Snell's 6.02 yards per carry.
Additionally, Garrett Johnson, CJ Conrad, and Jeff Badet have each had three games with an over 50% individual success rate. Tavin Richardson has had two as he's ably filled in for Dorian Baker considering he is a redshirt freshman.
The Defense May Be Improving But...
Here is the game-by-game breakdown of the defense's success rates:
This is pretty poor aside from the lone South Carolina performance, but their offense is currently ranked 118th in S&P+. UK's defense is currently ranked the 119th in efficiency, which is worse than last season's ranking of 94th. Last season, the defense was fairly decent at not breaking as it's finishing drives ranking was 31st. The number has grown to 72nd this season.
The defense may be improving the last two weeks, but these numbers are sobering. UK's defense would bolster claims of improvement by replicating its success versus South Carolina this week against Vanderbilt's 112th ranked offense. I'm not sure what valuable lessons there are to learn from the Alabama game.
There are individual standouts worth praising, and a theme quickly emerges: the defense's best players are young. Sophomores Jordan Jones accounts for 14% of all the team's tackles, and Mike Edwards is second with 10%.
The overall Havoc Rate is only ranked 100th (last season finished 94th), but sophomores Denzil Ware and Joshua Allen are accounting for the bulk of the team's sacks and tackles for loss. In fact, UK is currently on pace to surpass last season's anemic sack and tackles for loss figures.
The secondary deserves scrutiny. It's currently ranked 105th on passing downs (last season was ranked 98th). Some of that ranking is a lack of a strong pass-rush without blitzing multiple players, but there has also been a coverage breakdown at least once per quarter. Teams like Missouri and Mississippi State will try and air it out against Kentucky, and those are two games UK must win in order to make a bowl.
Another area that needs more improvement is getting off the field on third downs. UK is allowing a conference-worst 53% completion on third downs this season, and by comparison, that number was 39% last season. That number dips to 42% not counting the Florida and Alabama games, but that number would still see UK ranked 12th in the SEC. UK's defense has to get the ball back to its offense, and this down is critical to do so.
The Special Teams Are Doing Okay
Punter Grant MacKinniss is averaging 42 yards per punt which is two more yards than last season, but still only eighth in the SEC. S&P+ ranks UK's Punt Success Rate at 38% which is 121st in the country. Punt coverage has to continue to improve, but kick-off coverage is ranked 18th. Meanwhile, Punt Return Success and Kickoff Return Success are both ranked in the top 15. Last season those numbers were 48th and 63rd respectively. The Field Goal Success is currently ranked 67th, but Austin MacGinnis is 16-for-17 on PAT's and 3-for-4 on field goals. That's pretty good.
The offense is better in just about every category, and cleaning up the turnover problem would help further. The defense was a mess for most of September, and it's difficult to parse the results of the Alabama game so the jury on whether the improvement observed against South Carolina will continue. Vandy's offense is ranked similar to South Carolina's and will serve as a useful litmus test. The special teams is better this season, but is not at a game-changing level.