Chattanooga was ready for a fistfight for 60 minutes. Kentucky was not. Despite the roller coaster ride, the Wildcats are now 3-0.
The Mocs made Mark Stoops and his club earn this victory before Kentucky begins a seven-game stretch in the SEC. However, there is no hiding from the elephant in the room — this football team has a lot to work on before making its first road trip of the season.
As we wrap up from Kroger Field and begin the rest of our weekend, here are KSR’s takeaways from that nail-biting win over the plucky underdog from the Southern Conference.
Chattanooga owned the trenches
During this 40-26 run that Stoops and his football program is on during the last six seasons, the one constant has been the line of scrimmage play. The Wildcats have been built from the inside out and Kentucky wins games by winning the point of attack battle.
That did not happen against Chattanooga.
UTC’s defensive line had its way with the Big Blue Wall holding Kentucky’s tailbacks to just 3.53 yards per rush on 21 carries with just one attempt going over 10 yards. Meanwhile, this defensive line group was able to create pressure on Will Levis and helped the Mocs produce three takeaways.
This made Kentucky one-dimensional, and that is not how Kentucky is built to move the football. Meanwhile, UTC’s old and experienced offensive line was able to lean on Kentucky in the second half as the offense finished with 171 rushing yards and averaged over six yards per attempt.
Kentucky is built to beat people on the line of scrimmage, and Saturday the Wildcats got beat at their own game.
Ball security issues remain
Kentucky entered the game with seven fumbles, and two interceptions tossed. After another 60 minutes of action, the Wildcats have 10 fumbles and five interceptions tossed.
That cannot happen.
Kentucky’s offense has done a lot of good things. The Wildcats are finishing drives when scoring opportunities arrive and creating explosive plays at an effective clip. However, sloppiness with the ball is leading to drives being eliminated by self-inflicted errors. This is a group that is playing sloppy football.
The Wildcats are currently minus-six in the turnover column but are 3-0 in the win/loss column. The winning cannot continue if the sloppiness does not go away.
Chattanooga eliminated Kentucky’s explosive plays
The Wildcats entered Saturday with a 20.44 percent explosive rate on offense as Liam Coen’s first offense in Lexington has been one of the most explosive attacks in college football.
For Chattanooga to have a chance, the Mocs had to take away the big play. Former South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s unit was able to accomplish the mission.
The Wildcats recorded just eight chunk plays — rushes of 10-plus yards, passes of 15-plus yards — for an explosive play rate of 12.9 percent. Kentucky couldn’t land the knockout punches, and that forced the offensive to win with efficiency.
Without a consistent rushing attack, that was very hard. Expect upcoming opponents to copy the blueprint used by Ward and Chattanooga.
Lack of havoc, part II
Playing defense can be difficult if offenses are allowed to play ahead of the chains consistently. Kentucky’s defense has been unable to get ahead of the offense in the last two games.
After struggling to force negative plays against Missouri, the same thing occurred against Chattanooga. Kentucky didn’t record a sack, had five tackles for loss, one interception, and three pass break-ups for a havoc rate of 14.29 percent.
While not terrible, Kentucky was able to produce many negative plays for the first three quarters. The Wildcats turned it on in the second half, but the lack of pass rush has been a glaring miss for the defense over the last eight quarters.
Thank goodness for the timely pick-six by redshirt senior Tyrell Ajian.
Leaky run defense
Entering the game, Kentucky knew that Chattanooga was a run-heavy attack. The Mocs had a run rate of just under 60 percent despite barely putting up four yards per play.
Offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo and Chattanooga were able to bolster those numbers on Saturday.
The Mocs had a run rate of 44.44 percent in the game catching Kentucky a bit by surprise, but UTC delivered with the ground game. Tailbacks Ailym Ford and Tyrell Price combined for just a 37.04 percent rushing success rate but it was the chunk plays that hurt Kentucky.
The Wildcats were creased for two rushes of 30-plus yards, which accounted for nearly half of UTC’s 171 rushing yards. Those leaks must be fixed quickly.
Kentucky’s big-play defense has been excellent to this point in the season, but the Wildcats are set to play three run-heavy SEC offenses — South Carolina, Florida, Georgia — before hitting the bye week. The Wildcats cannot afford to give up chunk plays on the ground.
A win is a win, but this football program has a ton to work on.