There hasn't been a game in recent memory that was as big of a gut punch as what I witnessed on Saturday night. The Kentucky Wildcats were looking to cruise in the first half, leading 35-10 at one point, until Nick Mullens connected with Isaiah Jones for a 71-yard bomb with second left until the intermission. It was 35-17, and the collapse was on at that point.
So let's get to it.
Drew Barker and his receivers were lights out in the first half. For the game, Barker went 15/24 for 323 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He connected with eight different receivers, most notably with Garrett Johnson. Johnson was terrific with six catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Barker was confident in the pocket in the first half, and the protection was excellent. He also showed the ability to scramble and make plays when he had to. He also had the screen game working. Jeff Badet scored on a long run after catching a screen pass from Barker.
But whatever worked in the first half went south quickly in the second. The offense sputtered as the 'Cats were feast or famine. A run game was never established. Boom Williams had a drive going, but that was negated by a holding call against Cole Mosier.
But for one half the Wildcats looked like an offensive juggernaut.
We knew the front seven on the defensive side of the ball might be an issue, and that ended up being the case. The combination of Ito Smith and George Payne accounted for 273 yards on the ground for Southern Mississippi. Even in the first half, I thought that the Golden Eagle line was pushing the Kentucky defensive line around and questioned why they weren't running it more.
Shannon Dawson put that to rest as he made the call to punish a worn out and under-manned unit for the rest of the game. Kentucky's offense couldn't sustain a drive and the front seven paid dearly. Matt Elam was a non-factor. It's more evident now that he will not live up to his five-star billing for Kentucky.
The only defensive lineman that I thought played well at all was Courtney Miggins. The rest of them were unimpressive to say the least.
Yet again, no second half adjustments worth a damn by the Kentucky coaching staff. The Golden Eagles came out with a plan to utilize the run on offense and take away the passing game on defense, and it worked to perfection. Mark Stoops and DJ Eliot, in particular, looked like amateurs against a first-year head coach and the offensive coordinator that was fired just months ago.
I found this tweet from Matt Jones to be quite telling:
In UK's last 2 games (UL and Southern Miss), the total score in the 2nd half has been 55-0— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) September 4, 2016
The motto for this season is "#Finish" because that is something that Mark Stoops teams have never been able to do at Kentucky. Two seasons in a row, the 'Cats started off brilliantly only to blow it spectacularly in the end. This game, along with the game against UofL last season, are microcosms of the Stoops Era.
A lot of flash and talk to start, but nothing to show for it in the end.