You’re mad. I’m mad. We’re all mad.
Kentucky led 35-10 late in the first half as it entered a danger-zone. Final moments prior to halftime have been this program’s Achilles heel dating back to last year’s Auburn loss. It continued to be so on Saturday as an overtly blown coverage exposed a wide open Southern Miss receiver for a touchdown with seconds left before intermission. A 25-point second quarter lead was whittled down to 18 in an instant. After halftime UK trekked into another peril period as Southern Miss drove the field for a score and kept doing so to the tune of 27 unanswered, second half points.
In quarters three and four Shannon Dawson continually, effectively, and successfully dialed up simple run plays that were aimed squarely at Kentucky’s besieged defensive line. The result was a disconcerting 44-35 home loss. What went wrong? What went right? Let’s try to remove emotion, which is virtually impossible, and analytically evaluate pregame Keys to the Game:
Rush for 200 Yards: NO
The most stunning outcome of the night was Kentucky’s inability to consistently run the football. There were spurts of efficiency in the first half. The second stanza; nada. In fact, the Cats only managed 13 third quarter yards on 8 plays including a negative 20 on the ground. It managed only 130 net rushing yards for the game. Boom Williams was a lone RB bright spot by averaging 7.2 yards per carry; but with only 13 attempts it never felt as if he was given enough tries to carry a struggling second half offense. Kentucky didn’t execute or have the appearance of a team stacked with a stable of capable and highly talented rushers. UK managed three turnovers and 56 total second half yards.
Fall camp was littered with talk of a revamped and physical rushing attack. UK’s offensive line was considered by most as a team strength. However, it couldn’t move the chains to fend off USM’s second half charge when a series of first downs would have put the game out of reach.
It’s not personal, it’s personnel. I live and die by that philosophy. Saturday entered a surreal world beyond that simplistic approach especially in the second half.
Team with Most Rushing Yards Wins the Game
Southern Miss ran the football 68 times for 262 yards compared to Kentucky’s 25 attempts for 96. With all that glitters/gold in the passing game; Saturday’s final score resulted from good old fashioned smash-mouth football. Unfortunately for the Cats, the evening’s blue-collar team wasn’t wearing blue and white.
60% Completion Percentage
Tale of two halves Part II. Drew Barker was brilliant in the first two quarters. The third and fourth were not as kind to the sophomore quarterback. Barker’s final numbers: 15-24, 4 TD’s, 323 yards,1 INT, and 4 QB sacks. One of the night’s many frustrations included flashes of first half brilliance only to come to a screech halt after halftime.
Barker threw for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half. When bands marched and music played Southern Miss adjusted. Second half results don’t indicate that UK did the same.
Keep Mullens on the Sideline: NO
Kentucky managed to limit the senior quarterback’s possessions during the first game’s first 29 minutes. Stat of the night: Southern Miss ran 95 offensive plays compared to Kentucky’s 50. Staggering discrepancy that painted a picture of second-half, Southern Miss dominance.
Force 3 Turnovers: YES
Mullens threw three, first half interceptions.
Pressure Quarterback: YES/NO
Three QB sacks in quarters one and two. Second half pass rush was all but nonexistent. But then again, when USM ran the football with ease and wasn’t reliant upon the pass.
Limit RB Ito Smith to 130 Yards: NO
Ito Smith finished the night with 36 carries, 179 yards, and 1 TD. Heck of a football player. Fellow running back George Payne also broke the 100-yard plateau by totaling 101 yards on 16 carries. Kentucky’s tackling and defensive line gap integrity were questionable. Preseason concern regarding the front seven should now be reduced to the front three. UK linebackers were surprisingly effective but extremely overworked. Jordan Jones produced 19 tackles, Kobie Walker-10, Courtney Love-9, and Josh Allen also had 9 prior to leaving the game due to injury. NT Matt Elam was the leading defensive lineman with 4.
Win Field Position: YES/NO
Please see above. First half yes. The second half saw favorable field positions on two occasions but both resulted in turnovers.
Average 41 Yards Per Punt: NO
Not close. Kentucky punted 5 times for an average of 34.2 yards per. This includes Grant McKinniss’ first career kick that was partially blocked. UK finished dead last in SEC punting a year ago by averaging 39 yards per kick. It averaged 5 less on Saturday.
Raise Punt Return from 6.8 to 12 Yards Per: NO
Kentucky netted zero return yards for the game.
So, the question remains; what’s next? There is no pause or restart button. The program can’t simply quit and decide to not play out the remainder of the schedule. Folks that I talked to at halftime that had predicted a USM win were rationalizing and retracting their projection to cover all bases. Folks that picked UK to win were justifiably fuming midway through the fourth quarter. Sides were taken between the “I’m done” and the “I told ya so’s.” Trust me, I heard plenty from both sides and that’s ok. Folks are mad. I’m mad. We are all mad. Fan reaction following an emotional and disappointing loss are individually driven, all of which contain no wrong or right answer.
In its last two football games Kentucky has been outscored 58-0 in the second half. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson ran through, around, over the Wildcat defense for 31 unanswered points. Ito Smith and George Payne continued that trend on Saturday.
USM churned out 95 offensive plays. Kentucky’s intent was to keep QB Nick Mullens on the sideline by controlling the clock by utilizing a physical run game. It was Shannon Dawson that utilized this strategy in order to take and maintain the lead.
What’s next? As for me, I’m going to continue to be a football nerd and present material based off research and data. Opinion pieces will follow because I have obligations to keep on keeping on. The team, well it can’t just call it a season after an embarrassing performance and not travel to Gainesville. Life and football must go on. Now, for the Big Blue Nation; that’s your call. All reactions (positive, negative, an indifference) are understandable.
You’re mad. I’m mad. We’re all mad.