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Kentucky Wildcats Football: The good, bad, and ugly from first half of the season

There has been a lot to like, and a lot of room for improvement, from the first half of the season

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Kentucky is halfway through the 2017 season and holding a 5-1 record, just like many thought.

Kentucky is in a good spot with the season, with some winnable games left on the back half of the schedule.

Through the first half of the season, there has been good, bad, and ugly. Hopefully some of the major issues will see some progress in the second half of the season.

The Good

Stephen Johnson: Kentucky’s quarterback has been one of the best in the conference this season, and still doesn’t seem to be getting the kind of recognition he deserves. Take a look at Johnson’s stat line through six games: 99-155; 63.9 percent completion; 1,238 yards; 9 TDs and 2 INTs; 2 rushing touchdowns.

For perspective, Johnson is 3rd in conference in completions, 3rd in completion percentage, 5th in yards, and 6th in touchdown passes.

With all six games being close games, Johnson has shown ability to stay calm under pressure, lead drives late in games, and hold a general command over the offense, but most importantly, Johnson is winning.

Another stat: In games where Johnson is the primary signal-caller for the Wildcats, the Wildcats are 12-4 including six of those being conference wins

. That’s really impressive, no matter how you look at it. Johnson is a winner, short and simple, and he has arguably been Kentucky’s biggest offensive threat in the first half of the season with his arm and his legs.

Plus, it’s hard not to love this photo of Johnson sticking his tongue out at this South Carolina defender.

Kentucky v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Special Teams: Call it the Dean Hood effect... Kentucky’s special teams have been one of the most efficient in the country, according to ESPN’s ratings, which rank Kentucky fifth in special teams efficiency.

Austin McGinnis has been good as expected (when given the opportunity to kick within his range). New punter Matt Panton is averaging 42.5 yards per punt this year, ranking 47th in the country, compared to last year when Kentucky averaged 39.6 yards per punt.

Not only are the Wildcats punting farther, but the coverage teams have done well in limiting return yards and downing punts inside the 20. Through the first half of the season, Kentucky has downed 12 punts inside the 20. Last year, they downed 10 punts inside the 20 over the course of the season.

Guys like Charles Moushey and Tristan Yeomens have made names for themselves as special teams specialists that have made a major impact early in the season.

Not to mention, the blocked punt against EMU by Josh Paschal, the blocked field goal by Lonnie Johnson, and the fake punt run by Kash Daniel are two of the biggest plays of the season that came via special teams.

The Bad

The inability to put teams away: That has been arguably the most frustrating part for Kentucky fans. One could argue Kentucky was the better team in each of the first six games, but their inability to put teams away kept the Wildcats from being 6-0 going into the bye.

Each game has been close, when there have been opportunities to pull away and close the game out. Instead, games against Eastern Michigan and Missouri were decided on passes to the end zone, and we all know how that Florida game ended.

In the second half of the season, Kentucky can’t afford to build a fourth-quarter lead and let teams like Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Tennessee linger around. The Wildcats have to learn to develop a killer instinct to put teams away.

Secondary Performance: Kentucky has a ton of talent in the secondary. Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, and Darius West are some of the best talents Kentucky has had in the defensive backfield in quite some time. Mark Stoops has also done a great job of building depth in the secondary with some really good players, which is why it is disappointing to see how many passing yards and big plays (see Missouri game) this group has given up.

Kentucky opponents are averaging 288.7 passing yards per game with 12 touchdowns. That number will have to improve in the second half of the season. Hopefully that will occur as guys get healthy.

The Ugly

Offensive Line: An area many thought would be an area of strength for Kentucky has turned out to be a weakness. It’s clear Kentucky misses Jon Toth as the offensive line has struggled with snaps from the center position (though Drake Jackson has shown improvement) and overall performance. Cole Mosier’s season-ending injury at the left tackle position has also had a clear affect.

Kentucky’s struggles in short-yardage situations have been frustrating to say the least, especially a year after Kentucky’s offensive line really thrived. The bye week will be a chance for linemen to get healthy and for Stoops and OL Coach John Schlarman to work some different combinations.

The team simply cannot afford to have the protection breakdowns that it has faced and allow Stephen Johnson to take as many hits as he did in the first half of the season.