An After Action Review, or AAR for short, is a militaristic format that’s deployed to analyze a mission or action. KSR utilizes a similar method to break down Kentucky’s 17-14 loss to South Carolina.
Kentucky entered the contest with a 6-4 record with a chance to finish .500 in the SEC and a take seven-win season into the Governor’s Cup. South Carolina was 4-6 and desperate for a victory to maintain hope for a six-win season and bowl eligibility.
Saturday’s result was a bad loss to a bad football team.
OBJECTIVES VS. RESULTS
I normally outline objectives or goals in a game preview article that’s published on Thursdays. I did not write one this week. My energy was focused on producing a post that outlined my current health situation. I apologize. However, I did formulate a path to victory. I spoke of these on the KSR Pregame Show. Let’s see how the ‘Cats measured up.
South Carolina has a bad defense. This was supposed to be a “get-right” game for the Wildcats. Multiple opportunities were presented for UK to go get the win. But, like similar SEC losses in 2023, the Wildcats failed to manufacture “kill drives” or to capitalize off numerous chances that the Gamecocks presented. South Carolina all but delivered hand-written invitations to get beat, UK failed to RSVP and didn’t show up to the party. Let’s get into it.
Run the Football
Again, South Carolina is not exactly a defensive juggernaut. Kentucky found reasonable success on the ground. If anything, I’d question why the run was not the game plan’s focus. Kentucky rushed for 138 yards and averaged nearly five yards per pop. Ray Davis managed just 12 attempts and 62 yards for a 5.1-yards-per-clip average. Ramon Jefferson added six rushes and 50 yards for an average of 8.3. 150 yards was the goal. It should have been easily accomplished, but it wasn’t.
Pitch and Catch
Repeat: South Carolina does not have an upper-level, SEC defense. The Gamecocks entered Saturday ranked 14th out of 14 conference teams by allowing 268 pass yards per game. Additionally, USC had produced the fewest tackles for loss and QB sacks prior to Saturday.
The Kentucky pass game had moments but failed to sustain or exploit the Gamecock pass defense on numerous occasions. In what seems like a season-long happening, Barion Brown was highly targeted. The results weren’t exactly ideal. Brown was thrown to 11 times and produced just four receptions for 30 yards. He did score a touchdown. Dane Key was targeted five times which led to four receptions and 51 yards. Key did have a critical fumble. This portion of the Wildcat attack was baffling.
Much like I’ve highlighted all season, deep shots were futile. Receivers either dropped the pass or were overthrown on many attempts in a game that felt like bunts, singles, and doubles were more valuable than home runs. In all, Devin Leary went 17-34 for 171 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Kentucky held Spencer Rattler to 19 completions off 27 attempts for 207 yards and a couple of touchdowns. For context purposes, the Carolina QB entered Saturday night as the SEC’s top-ranked passer at home after posting an 80% completion percentage. He also had an 11.2 yards per attempt number to go along with a 339 yards per game average. He’d thrown 15 of his 17 touchdown passes in Columbia. Saturday night stats screamed of a Wildcat victory. But, the result was yet another loss to a lesser team coached by Shane Beamer. Saturday’s trip to Columbia was an empty and pointless experience.
Third downs haunted the ‘Cats. This was especially the case in South Carolina scoring drives. The Gamecocks converted 5-14 for the night. All five came on scoring drives. Failures in situational football and culture drives were won by the home team and lost by the visitors.
WR Xavier Legette caught six passes for 94 yards and scored two touchdowns. To summarize South Carolina’s offense, the Gamecocks were a two-man operation with the worst offensive line in the SEC. The ‘Cats failed to pounce when it mattered the most. Let’s go into goals vs. results.
Pressure Spencer Rattler
Kentucky produced two QB sacks. It frequently chased the signal caller, but scramble drill completions and drive-extending runs were the result of a lack of up-front edge setting. Again, the worst OL in the SEC with a singular pass-catching target and no run game should have made for easy pickings. It didn’t.
Limit Xavier Legette to Less than 70-yards
Legette had six receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns. South Carolina was 0-4 when the prized pass catcher had less than 70 yards. Nope.
The third phase was actually good on Saturday. Wilson Berry produced a boomer when the situation called for the punter to nail one. Beamer Ball calls for trickery. The goal was to not be fooled by the cooler kicker.
Don’t Be Fooled
A fake punt helped Mizzou get back into and win the game earlier in the season. UK was not fooled. Special teams received the only “GO” for the night.
This is bad. Kentucky was presented with an opportunity to finish the season .500 in SEC play and to earn its 7th win of the season. UK was the obviously better team but lost the game due to being situationally ineffective. Actually, the game summed up the season.
Kentucky was presented with multiple plays and series to win the game. It failed yet again. This year’s Wildcat team has not shown the propensity to finish an opponent. A 6-5 record that includes three losses to equal to or lesser than opponents is the result. Now, UK has lost to Beamer in consecutive years to go along with last year’s home loss to Vanderbilt.
2023 is the final year of the SEC East’s existence. UK finishes in the basement with Vanderbilt. That is uncalled for, unfortunate, and embarrassing. Kentucky will likely never see a friendlier schedule than it’s had over the course of the past two seasons. The failure to finish divisional play with advancement in status and record can be viewed as a backward step in the program’s trajectory.
What’s next? A date with Top-10 and CFB Playoff-hunting Louisville. The Cardinals will be seeking revenge for a lopsided series that’s favored the blue and white as of late. The Pizza Place, or whatever it’s called now, will be slammed packed with mad, and eager fans. Jeff Brohm’s team will have likely circled Saturday since training camp. To say that the Cards will have a chip on their shoulders would be an understatement. Can, or will, UK match that intensity? We’ll see.
I’d love to be here on a Sunday morning in the KSOffice projecting a Governor’s Cup Trophy’s return trip to Lexington. But, that’s not where I am at. Not after last night. Maybe later this week, but not now.
If you read my post from last week, then you’d understand how I’m writing and talking more from the heart than my head as of late. Sadly, neither are favoring the Cats in the rivalry game after Saturday’s debacle in Columbia. I hope I’m wrong. But Louisville is trending upward, Kentucky has been on a downward slope since the Youngstown State game a year ago. Anyway, I still love my ‘Cats and hope for the best.
It’s ok to not be ok.