The 27-16 victory over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels left a lot to be desired for many fans of the Kentucky Wildcats. But in the end, the negatives and the positives are almost equal. Believe it or not, some good things did occur on Saturday. For starters, the ‘Cats did in fact win and are now 2-0.
But much of that was overshadowed by the quarterback issue that left much of the fanbase and media questioning whether or not Drew Barker should have entered the game when he did.
Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran botched the QB situation
I'll admit that I was a little harsh on Drew Barker on Saturday and in the Quickies that I posted yesterday. I continue to be frustrated in the ongoing "Quarterback controversy" that's seemingly being pushed by the coaching staff. And that's not Barker's fault.
Stoops and Gran put Drew Barker in a horrible situation. Stephen Johnson wasn't playing poorly. His offensive line was playing poorly, and the playcalling was beyond vanilla.
So down 7-3, Drew Barker was thrown in the game. We found out later that this was the plan all along, but I'm sure it was also in the plan to now be down to EKU on your home field. Once that was the case, it would have made more sense to let Johnson and the offense get it together.
Instead, what happened was disastrous for Barker. The line collapsed on him multiple times, and he didn't move the ball at all. By the time Johnson came back, the ‘Cats were further in the hole, 13-3. This isn't entirely Barker's fault.
But the some of the fans saw it as Barker's fault and that is the fault of his coaching staff. If what they wanted to do was give him confidence, all they did was shatter it further. I'm sure the boo-birds unleashing hell on him didn't do much to pep him up and get him ready for the next time he gets in the game.
And the coaching staff is lucky that Johnson is the type of kid he is which is team first. He didn't pout about not playing. All he did was come in and play better on the way to victory.
I feel bad that Barker was injured last season and had his chance taken from him. But this is Johnson's team, and there's no question about it. He's 9-3 as a starter. If they want to get Barker reps, then fix the line issues, get the offense on track with better play calling, and let Johnson know that there's nobody looking over his shoulder.
The coaches are lucky that this decision didn't end up with worse results.
The Running Game May Be Back on Track....But Benny Snell has to Stay Healthy
After gaining only three yards in the first half due to a bruised rib, Benny Snell came back and ran all over the EKU defense in the second half and amassed a total of 103 yards and one touchdown.
Sihiem King also accounted for 61 yards while Stephen Jonson added 48 yards and a touchdown of his own. Overall, 207 yards on the ground was similar to what we saw last season with the committee of Johnson, Snell, Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp.
But for the running game to be successful Snell needs to stay healthy. He was dinged up in the first game against Southern Miss and only added to that against EKU. UK hasn't even started SEC play yet, and Snell is already seeing some wear and tear.
In order to avoid this, I think AJ Rose needs some more carries. He's had one carry this season for two yards. Rose was hyped up in the preseason by the coaching staff as a guy that will contribute this season. If that is in fact the case, then we need to see it sooner rather than later.
King is a good back for packages, but he doesn't have the size to be an every down back. Rose needs to be factored in the offense more during SEC play if they want to keep Snell healthy for the long haul.
Let's not Throw Dirt on the Wildcat...Yet
So the Wildcat package has been a disaster so far. Eddie Gran even mentioned after Saturday's game that he may shelve it for the rest of the season. It's clear that Snell nor King is effective out of the Wildcat.
Both Boom and Kemp were terrific at the Wildcat because they were able to see the hole early in the progression, they were durable, and they both had quick first steps. Benny doesn't have a quick first step, King isn't big enough to hit the hole and burst through bodies, and I'm not sure either guys have proper reads out of it.
The X-factor is Lynn Bowden. I think we would have seen Bowden in the Wildcat on Saturday if not for his ejection early in the game. He is the perfect athlete for the Wildcat and sense he played QB some in high school; he could give the legit threat of being able to throw out of the package.
Let's face it: teams are not scared of Benny Snell or Sihiem King throwing the ball out of the Wildcat. They load the box with one linebacker to cover the secondary. If Gran wants this to be successful, he has to show that he can burn the defense with a pass from time to time.
Defensive Line Regression
After a fantastic debut to the season against Southern Miss, the defensive line seemed to take a step back against EKU. They didn't get to QB Tim Boyle until late in the fourth quarter. I think they did a fine job stopping the run, but the pass rush was a joke.
Matt Elam again took shots from an SEC Network talking head:
Kentucky - Didn't like their switching of qb's, nor did i like much about Kentuckys performance yesterday, Elam is lazy as I've ever seen— Booger (@ESPNBooger) September 10, 2017
Elam has become the popular whipping boy for that network. Are they calling it like the see it or are they unfairly piling on to the young man? The fact is it’s not all on Elam. Naquez Pringle, Adrian Middleton, and Quinton Bohanna need to play well too.
Playing Down to the Competition?
So far the play has been lackluster, but this is nothing new with this team. Last season, the Wildcats also played poorly against teams they were far superior to.
They blew a 35-10 lead and lost to Southern Mississippi. They were down early to New Mexico State until Stephen Johnson replaced Drew Barker and saved the day. They were down early to Austin Peay until Stephen Johnson once again had to come in and save the day.
The Wildcats played their best during the SEC season and at Louisville. For whatever reason, they seem to take teams lightly while they aren’t good enough to do so yet.
We will see what the real deal is on Saturday as they go into a very hostile environment against a 2-0 South Carolina Gamecock team that has looked very good in the early going. If they start off slow in Columbia, there may not have enough to claw back.