Through two weeks, the Kentucky Wildcats have not looked great, but they are 2-0. While Mark Stoops’ style of play will not consistently blow out opponents, the team and the fanbase are in need of a confidence-building performance ahead of the start of SEC play at Vanderbilt in Week 4.
The opponent in front of them, the Akron Zips of the MAC, are 1-1 and have had both of their games decided in the fourth quarter. According to Vegas, the game should be well in hand for the Cats by the fourth quarter, but there are some things that need to be seen, especially after last week.
Let’s break it down.
More Tempo and Efficiency in the Passing Game
Through two games, the Kentucky offense has been heavily reliant on the passing game, calling a pass on 61.5 percent of their plays, ranking top 20 nationally, and only averaging 114 rushing yards per game, the second least in the SEC.
The change in Kentucky’s offensive philosophy is thanks to offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who did the same in his first year at UK 2021. This time around, the passing game hasn’t been as efficient as one would like, at least early on, with only 60.9 percent of their passes being completed, which ranks third from last in the SEC (interestingly above Alabama at 60.8 percent).
While efficiency certainly needs to improve, so does tempo, and the two may be related.
Really cool moment today having Liam Coen back at practice.— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) September 13, 2023
He talks about his medical scare, he thanks the staff and medical staff
He mentions how amazing the BBN has been and how awesome his players have been
All that and more in the first few questions today at practice pic.twitter.com/uX73lGKixi
According to Coen, Kentucky QB Devin Leary performs best when he is in rhythm and can just react rather than overthinking, which is what an increase in tempo can provide. As it stands, the Wildcats only average 56.5 plays per game, which ranks near the bottom of the country. It’s not like the slow pace has helped Kentucky in terms of time of possession either, only averaging 27 minutes per game.
Fortunately, Stoops has mentioned the need to speed up the offense this week in post-practice interviews. If the offense can increase the tempo, the efficiency may very well improve as well.
Secondary Needs to Step Up
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats have been good on defense, especially at stopping the run, holding both of their opponents to under 100 yards rushing. While the front line has been good, as expected, the secondary has room for improvement. With many questions surrounding the group coming into the season, their play hasn’t inspired optimism.
Giving up an average of 221 yards through two games, the Wildcats are allowing their opponents to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes. The majority of the opponent’s success has come in the middle of the field. Given the standard that defensive coordinator Brad White has set, that is unacceptable.
Akron will bring another test for the Kentucky secondary, with their receiver corps being a strength of the team, having four receivers already over 80+ yards on the season. With the Zips being Kentucky’s last non-Power Five opponent, a good showing from the secondary would be much welcomed.
Play with Discipline
During Mark Stoops’ tenure at Kentucky, one consistent trait of his teams has been discipline. Unfortunately, that was not the case last season nor this season thus far.
With 17 penalties for 121 yards, Kentucky has been one of the most penalized teams in the country (ironically, Akron is just behind with 18 penalties for 152 yards). These unforced errors have created a lot of issues for themselves, giving opponents good field position and/or giving them another set of downs with a mistake on third down.
Over the offseason, the staff talked about getting back to their brand of football. Two weeks in, they are still talking about “cleaning things up.” It is time to apply it on the field and play smart football.
Kentucky Wildcats (2-0) vs. Akron Zips (1-1)
Time/Date: 7:30 pm ET on Saturday, September 16th, 2023
Location: Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky.
TV Channel: ESPNU
Announcers: Courtney Lyle and Hutson Mason
Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Satellite Radio: XM Channel 203, Sirius Channel 98, Internet Channel 966
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Predictions: TeamRankings has Kentucky coming away with a 38-13 win. I’m predicting the Wildcats to notch a 38-17 victory!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.