[I wanted to write this about as much as you probably want to read it, which is to say, not much at all.]
In the halcyon days of 2013, Mark Stoops actively campaigned for the Kentucky football job. What athletic director representing a bottom tier football program wouldn’t be seduced by a successful defensive coordinator with a proud familial ties seeking him out?
2013 was going to be a wreck, and that was fine because the charred, desiccated remains needed more than a new coat of paint. 2014 was suppose to display green shoots, and it did more or less. 2015 held different expectations for different people, but the common nexus was increased competitiveness. It was more like regression by stasis.
2016 was long-targeted as the season The Sunshine Pumpers, The Cynical Sally’s, and everyone in between united in great expectations. Instead, two games into the 2016 season, the Mark Stoops era hangs by a thread.
The late-season collapses of the last two seasons retrospectively appear less like an over-reliance on youth and systemic depth issues, and more like the canary in the coal mine. Hiring new strength and conditioning coaches did not help, nor did starting a leadership program. A lack of mental fortitude remains an issue in Year Four.
Anger is boiling over, and Big Blue Nation has now entered the realm of Hot Takes and comment section sniping across multiple platforms. There are probably no easy or quick solutions on the field, so catharsis comes cheaply attacking others. Frustration is ascendant and online grievance is an animating feature. What comes next are idiots tweeting at players. It’s only going to get darker before it goes completely black.
[As an aside, where is the reporting that explains the root causes of why Mark Stoops isn’t succeeding? All the consumer gets from the media is “theater criticism”; I’m talking actual fact-of reporting. Forget inside sources for a moment, are outside sources - agents, former coaches, boosters , etc. - not being contacted or not willing to go on the record? Is the only source of news official press conferences? Why are we left to only speculate? This is its own failure.]
My own worthless advice: reactions to the loss Saturday, and future losses, deserve a proportionate apathy from BBN that the team provides on the field. This could be a very long season, and being a keyboard warrior for the next three months may well require PED-aided stamina.
Also, never tweet players.
Let’s Talk Game Tape - First Quarter Miscues
For this week’s post, let’s review the first quarter. I couldn’t tell you what happened in the game after the first quarter, because hate-watching my team - on a weekend otherwise filled with more attractive alternatives - is not in my job description. I’m told they played poorly by a person or two (hundred).
In the first quarter, UK was on defense for 24 snaps and would surrendered 14 points. In other words, Florida essentially earned 0.6 points per snap of the ball. UK would allow four explosive plays (17%) and zero negative plays. This is literally, not figuratively, going through the motions.
The offense meanwhile tallied 12 plays for 37 total yards. That paltry sum is overwhelmingly thanks to Boom Williams and his offensive line. Without those runs, the offense would have managed roughly five yards depending on how you want to calculate sack yardage. This offensive disaster fits in well with the last two quarters of the Southern Miss. game and the first two quarters of the Florida game:
Last four quarters:— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 10, 2016
Kentucky - 39 plays, 135 yds, 0 points, 7 turnovers
Opponents - 102 plays, 619 yds, 51 points, 1 turnover
The following is focused on first quarter miscues by the offense and defense. The special teams isn’t worth talking about. Their lone punt resulted in good hang time and coverage, thus only allowing a three yard return.
Overall, there were some positives in the first quarter (Adrian Middleton, Boom Williams, and Nick Haynes), but let’s on focus on fixable mistakes today. Individual praise seems best reserved for games that aren’t blowouts.
Here is the first play for UK’s offense:
Barker is sacked on a blitz by Alex Anzalone. Empty backfields put the onus on the offensive linemen to keep their eye’s up in case a linebacker shoots a gap. In this case, Anzalone began showing blitz right before the snap, and Ramsey Meyers missed it, opening his quarterback up to a big shot. Meyers must continue to scan for blitzing linebackers in his area, especially knowing Barker is throwing from an empty backfield.
Now the first turnover of the day:
On 1st-and-10, UK has all of its best play-makers on the field in a balanced look. Florida is showing Cover 1 man coverage pre-snap, as the field-side safety looks to be playing deep in support of UK’s two receivers on that side.
Drew Barker immediately looks to the field side, and pumps a ball fake likely hoping to draw the deep safety towards the field side. He then turns back to the boundary side where he’s correctly surmised there is no safety support and throws it deep to (who I think is his secretly favorite receiver) Jeff Badet. The main problem is Barker underthrows the route (and even if he had overthrown it, his slow release allowed the safety to make up ground).
Mechanically, this isn’t a bad throw. The tip of the ball is up and pointed away from the target in his wind-up, he takes a short target step avoiding over-striding, and he has a fluid motion with a high release point.
The underthrow comes as a result of his hips not pointing to his target. I think he was still trying to keep his hips square to middle of the field, in a continued attempt to deceive the deep safety’s reads. Which is good, but not getting your hips pointing towards your target diminishes torque. That front leg is pointing down the hash when it should be at an angle towards the sideline.
Here it is 2nd-and-9 on the second play of the game. UK is in nickel, despite Florida only featuring three receivers. UK was probably assuming a pass, but Florida ran it right at them, and into a four man front that many UK fans have been asking for in the previous week:
This would go for eight yards and set Florida up for a 3rd-and-short. Denzil Ware (yellow) misses the first tackle, Jordan Jones (blue) over runs his gap as he has a tendency to do, and a second missed tackle comes from Adrian Middleton (red). Courtney Love is unable to disengage from #74.
Several fixable failures led to this nice play that made a manageable third down. A theme throughout.
On the very next play, only Matt Elam’s second in the game, this happens:
Look at Elam’s (blue) pad level compared to the other defensive linemen on either side of him. He is upright at the snap of the ball, fatigue isn’t a factor, and he’s an upperclassmen. This shouldn’t be happening. Earlier, on the very first play of the game, he stayed lowed but he’s already creeping into bad habits territory. Luckily, Mike Edwards comes in hot, and makes the solo tackle from his safety position, but Florida has seen this and is probably thinking a play-action would get Edwards to bite forward aggressively.
I can’t do this anymore, so here is the last one. A 28 yard pass with play-action, after Florida has seen safeties fly up to the line of scrimmage, and outside linebackers crashing to make tackles in the interior.
Ware bites for the fake, and the flat zone area is wide open. If UK had a zone coverage call, then the coverage breakdown is on Ware. If it was man coverage the tight end probably belonged to a safety or inside linebacker.
Give Ware credit, he did run down the tight end and make the tackle 30 yards downfield. He was playing hard if not smart, assuming the coverage bust was on him.
This team appears to be a mess, and it’s probable the locker room environment is increasingly toxic. The fact that could happen so early in a season typically suggests the rot was present long before. Instead of focusing on that, let’s close with some positive spin only because piling on is becoming derivative.
The season is still young, and if UK can beat New Mexico State (can’t believe we are using “if” in that sentence), they host a mediocre South Carolina team with some wind in their sails. The Gamecocks have an offense that UK’s defense would have favorable match-ups against. Their defense is slightly better than the Southern Miss. team UK played well in spots against, according to S&P+.
The team climbing to 2-2 could provide renewed focus and hope. Winning still cures most wounds. The mistakes listed above are very fixable, and this team has the talent, but “Will they play like it?” is the quotidian question.
It’s not unprecedented in UK football history for the ‘Cats to bounce back from a blowout loss to rattle off a winning streak (2006-2007) but it’s rare. As fans, we can only hope this season is one of those rare times.