When something appears too good to be true, it usually is. Kentucky football fans should know this by now. Drew Barker was 11/19 for 187 yards with four touchdown passes. The Cats were averaging 10.75 yards per play. On the other side of the ball, the elite pocket passer many fans feared threw it into the hands of the Kentucky defense three times. The Cats were cruising, 35-10 as the second half as the clock drew near zero. Then... A blown coverage led to a 71 yard touchdown. It was a sign of terrible things to come.
What Led to UK's DemiseIt started with the blown coverage at the end of the first half. Marcus McWilson and Mike Edwards weren't on the same page in the zone defense. McWilson would replicate the error later in the game to give the Golden Eagles another gift. The gaffe that many will claim as the epicenter was a dropped interception. Southern Miss had just scored and the momentum was beginning to shift. Then Nick Mullens hit Blake McClain right in the numbers, square in the chest, yet McClain couldn't hold onto the ball. That missed opportunity hurts, but it's forgivable. When they start to stack up, it only gets worse. Two Kentucky pass interference calls kept a drive alive for Southern Miss that resulted in a touchdown. A horse collar penalty produced similar results. Kentucky came close to taking back the momentum a few times. Garrett Johnson took a screen pass down into the red zone, but a fumble from Drew Barker prevented Kentucky from returning to the rhythm they had in the first half. The turnover put UK's defense right back on the field. That's where they stayed for most of the second half, cramping while Ito Smith and George Payne ran around and through the defense. When they finally got off the field, a quick interception from Drew Barker took them off the bench. Despite their awfulness, Kentucky was still only down six with ten minutes to go. A touchdown would give them the lead and a reenergized crowd down the stretch. Boom Williams got it four times in a row. He got 6 yards on each carry, until the dagger. Cole Mosier's holding penalty voided a first down. The following play Drew Barker was sacked. As one live blogger so eloquently put it, "There's nothing quite like shooting yourself in the foot while there's a knife at your throat."
The Awfulness of the Second Half by the Numbers
- In the last seven games, the Cats have given up at least 200 yards on the ground five times.
- UK's been outscored 58-0 in the second half of their last two games.
- In those two games, they've blown 46 points worth of leads; 21-0 to UofL, 35-10 tonight.
- Southern Miss scored 31 unanswered points.
- UK had only 13 yards of offense in the 3rd quarter on 8 plays, -20 rushing yards.
- Kentucky had 2 first downs in the second half. They're all bad stats, but that one was so pathetic it had to be in bold.
- Southern Miss outgained UK 295-56.
Special Teams GaffesEven though Kentucky built a big lead in the first half, that doesn't mean they got off to a good start. In fact, I don't know that the season could have started worse. Electing to receive, C.J. Conrad dropped a pass on first down. Two plays later, UK was three and out. The first punt of Grant McKinniss' career was blocked. After a Southern Miss touchdown, the Cats bounced back. After putting together a decent drive, Austin MacGinnis lined up for a 40-yard field goal. The hold was botched. MacGinnis never had a chance and another opportunity was squandered. Even though there was life in the return unit, the rest of them have some work to do.
Where was the Run?Heading into the gam there were many uncertainties, but the only certainty was that Kentucky would be great on the ground. With two of the best backs in the SEC, an experienced offensive line and a coordinator who earned his job as a running backs coach. It was a no-brainer. Any idiot could easily project a fantastic running attack. Instead, it was more of the same. Boom Williams averaged 7.2 yards per carry, keeping up with last year's mark that was one of the best in the NCAA, yet he still only had 13 carries. UK finished with 130 yards, after only rushing for 20 yards in the second half. The inability to run the football was in actuality an inability to possess the football. Southern Miss ran 95 plays compared to UK's 50. Struggling to stop the run was going to be tough, but the offense made it impossible for the defense to fight through fatigue.
A Few Bright SpotsIt was a great first half, so I can't write an entire recap without dishing out any praise. JD Harmon's interceptions were excellent. Jordan Jones proved that he'll be the team's leading tackler. A man that plays with a screw loose, he had 19 tackles; the next closest had 10. Tavin Richardson had a few highlight reel catches. What will be the first of many, arguably his best catch was one that didn't count. A one-handed stretch was completed, but his foot didn't make it in bounds in time.
I will close by saying, "I can't believe I made it through this entire post." I've experienced and covered some of the worst losses you could ever lose, but tonight turned my insides into a knot; a nauseous internal combustion of disappointment. It's not that they fell apart just like they did last year, it's that they showed ZERO mental toughness. There was no fight. There was a sense of helplessness that should not happen after you dominated an opponent for 30 minutes. It shouldn't happen. Kentucky football fans endure unending pain. It will not be long before the pain is too exhausting to continue. We can't do this forever, and neither can Mark Stoops.