South Carolina averaged 37 points per game at home entering Saturday’s night contest. The Kentucky defense limited them to just 17 points. A familiar refrain for the Big Blue Nation, Mark Stoops’ offense simply couldn’t score enough to win the football game.
Stoops described the offense, particularly the run game, as “terribly inconsistent.” The Wildcats were prepared for South Carolina’ scheme shift to a 3-4, but Kentucky failed to execute.
“We didn’t play very good offense today, period,” said Stoops. “Then when we when we were moving, we got hot there in the first half and we finished it with turnovers. That can’t happen.”
Turnovers were the primary culprit behind the 14-point performance. One was at midfield and the other two were in scoring territory. That alone does not account for Kentucky’s lack of offensive firepower against one of the worst defenses in the SEC.
“On the offensive side of the ball, we’re taking this one. We just are. We’re taking it. Defense did plenty in order for us to win this game,” said offensive coordinator Liam Coen.
“We got to dig deep. I don’t have all the answers right now. I wish I did. But this one’s on us. We have to be able to score more points than 14 and give our defense a real chance to breathe a little bit there. That’s 100% on us.”
Devin Leary’s Tipped Pass Problem
When scripting a game plan, coaches will see opportunities to make their hay in specific areas. Liam Coen did not see a specific vulnerability tonight, expect for maybe one area: deep pass plays. Like so many other time this year, those shots to Barion Brown did not connect. The Kentucky wide receiver only caught four of his 11 targets. Once Coen thought they found something that worked, it quit working.
“There was times in both phases that we did good things and I didn’t feel like, ‘Man, we can’t run it or we can’t throw it tonight.’ I didn’t really feel that way,” Coen said.
“It was just, we would do something really good in the run game. Then we’d go minus one again. Then we would have a really nice throw and catch, and then we maybe get a ball tipped again and just zero consistency and when it comes to operating, and that’s that’s really disappointing.”
The tipped passes have become a plague on the Wildcats. Josh Kattus was wide open in the end zone in the first half, but the ball never made it passed the linebackers. On the final drive of the game Tayvion Robinson was wide open downfield, potentially far enough to get the Cats a chance at a field goal. Another South Carolina fingertip prevented it from getting there. The Gamecocks got hands on six of Devin Leary‘s 34 pass attempts.
“It’s not just his size,” said Stoops. “I mean, I think there’s some there that he’s got to just put a little air under it. There’s some there. He’s got to trust it, trust the call. I think maybe worrying about somebody coming from the backside, like even early we had, we had somebody open. We ended up scoring on that drive, but missed one there. Just layer it a little bit more and trust it.”
Kentucky Offensive Issues Linger for Stoops
Mark Stoops has spent most of his Kentucky tenure searching for solutions to improve his offense. Eddie Gran saved his job by developing a rushing identity that raised the floor, but the lacking of passing proficiency put a hard ceiling on the program.
When Stoops made the move to Liam Coen, Kentucky had its most efficient offense in a decade. That 2021 crew had Will Levis, Chris Rodriguez and Wan’Dale Robinson. This team is led by a quarterback who’s only completing 57% of his passes (and it’s much worse in SEC play). The primary wide receiver target is equally as inefficient and their leading rusher is trending in the wrong direction to end the season.
The offensive woes hit a new low point in Columbia. Even an FCS team scored 21 points on this South Carolina defense. Like deja vu all over again, the Kentucky offense is approaching an offseason with more questions than its coaches have answers.