Kentucky beat the 120th ranked team in the country in rather unimpressive fashion Saturday afternoon, but beggars can’t be choosers. The offense and special teams were impressive. When Drew Barker went down there was some collective breath-holding in CWS, but Stephen Johnson stepped up completing 72% of his passes for a cool 355 yards, and now sports a rating of 231.
Johnson wasn’t the only offensive back-up to capitalize on opportunity. With Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp banged up, true freshman Benny Snell would rush for 136 yards and add four touchdowns. Other true freshman Landon Young also did a good job in his first start at offensive tackle.
Contrary to the analysis covered below, the offensive back-ups largely performed when the defensive back-ups struggled. One side of the ball appears to have quality depth has we had suspected here in the preseason.
Also notable is the improvement of punter Grant McKinniss. Against Southern Miss., he averaged a poor 35 yards per punt, against Florida it rose to a respectable 43 yards, but against New Mexico State the figure rose again to 48 average yards per punt. If he keeps that up, he’ll be the best punter in the SEC.
That Defense Though...
DJ Eliot said today they're still looking for a difference-maker on D. Just wants guys doing their job, not trying to compensate for others— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) September 14, 2016
The defense continues to struggle. New Mexico State’s offense was averaging about 325 yards per game before exploding for 500 total yards against Kentucky. The mistakes UK are making boil down to poor fundamentals which one may subscribe to a younger defense and questionable coaching. For example, in the previous two seasons I charted, UK averaged about eight missed tackles per game outside of garbage time. This season the team is averaging 19 missed tackles per game.
In the second half against New Mexico State, the defense did show slight improvement. To whit: the Aggies produced 345 yards of total offense and 35 points in the first half. The second half would only see 155 yards of total offense and seven points. So the defense made tactical changes and that’s a positive sign, right?
I don’t think so. For the most part, tactics are always changing on the fly, and it’s the rare “Eureka moment” that occurs in the locker room during halftime. Largely the team tackled a bit better, and the Aggies made some mistakes that killed drives.
See these second half possessions:
Xavier Hall runs for 12 yards in two carries. The Aggies get hit with a penalty making it 1st-and-25. Hall gets another nine yards rushing, followed by pass break-up, and a second Aggie penalty on this drive. UK’s defense holds on 3rd-and-20 as it damn well should. The penalties killed this drive.
No major complaints. The Aggies threw two incompletions, and only allowed a three yard run. One of the incompletions was a bit overthrown, but coverage wasn’t that bad from the corner and the safety was closing in support. A great throw would have probably been a completion, but UK can usually live with that.
This was a terrible series for UK outside of Denzil Ware pressuring the quarterback. The Aggies would march 75 yards in eight plays to score a touchdown. The defense also shot itself in the foot with a 15 yard Courtney Miggins penalty. Alvonte Bell would not play assignment football, and got burnt on a zone read. Altogether, the defense would allow three explosive plays on this drive alone leading to a touchdown. Individual miscues added up to a lot of yardage allowed.
D-line take a lot of heat for run D, but both of these are poor angles by LB/SS allowing a cut back. pic.twitter.com/9hcLwxnc4C— todd greenwell (@GreenwellTodd) September 17, 2016
Another terrible series for the defense after their offensive teammates just went on an 11 play six minute drive. UK rotated its back-ups with the 13 point fourth quarter lead which makes some sense. Specifically, they inserted TJ Carter and Naquez Pringle on the defense line. On the first play Pringle got blown off the line of scrimmage, and on the second play Carter immediately jumped his gap making it easy to block himself, and then Pringle would miss a tackle. That play is here. Carter got pulled after this play, and I don’t think he saw the field again.
The Aggies would average 6.6 yards per play on this drive, and the defense was absolutely bailed out by a Derrick Baity interception in the end zone on a poor quarterback decision to throw into double coverage. If that doesn’t happen, the Aggies probably walk away with a touchdown.
No major complaints. UK held the Aggies to a three-and-out. Many of the back-ups stayed in and fared better, including Pringle but the rate he was getting yelled at by teammates suggests he’s still having issues aligning correctly.
No complaints. With four minutes in the game, and down 20 points, the Aggies were in pass-only mode, and the ‘Cats held them to a three-and-out.
The defense was slightly better in the second half, but it was against the country's 80th best offense, according to S&P+. Penalties and a red zone turnover derailed two drives. UK's offense chewing up clock decreased their exposure.
UK's defensive line back-ups are very raw, and it's difficult to imagine they will be reliable contributors even by November. The fact the starters don't have real competition for their starting job explains why they continue to play, and maybe why they aren't improving quicker.
Three games into the season, UK's best path to bowl eligibility is for the offense to become more efficient, and chain together 10-play six and seven-minute scoring drives in order to keep the defense off the field.
This Week In Pathos
Below is the Facebook status of former UK defensive tackle, currently successful Bay Area businessman, Slidell, Louisiana native, and my pal Lamar Mills who played at Kentucky from 2003-2006.