--photo courtesy Victoria Graff
As always on Sundays, Tom Leach joins us to give his thoughts on what occurred the day before:
It didn't take a genius to understand how difficult it was going to be for Kentucky to get wins during this brutal four-game stretch against nationally-ranked oponents. I continue to say that UK's goal is to emerge from that Alabama game on October 12 with three important factors in place--stay positive, be relatively healthy and develop an offensive identity
--and the second half of the schedule offers better opportunities for wins. Number one and two are looking good at the moment but the Wildcats have some work to do on number three.
You can take issue with certain play calls but against a defense like Florida's, it's hard to avoid losing the chess match a few times. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown must feel like a pitcher that isn't sure which pitch he can count on when he needs a big out. The Wildcats need to get good at some things, so they can count on those types of plays at crucial times. Quarterbacks always get too much credit and too much blame but it's also clear that Kentucky MUST get better at that position. Brown told my radio show audience in an interview this summer that if you have to pick one quality that is the single most important for a quarterback in this offense to possess, it would be accuracy of throws.
In the last two games, against two of the nation's highest-rated defensive units, UK has reached the opponent's 30-yard line or better 10 times and only one of those drives was the result of forcing a turnover
. From those 10 drives, UK has managed only 20 points. Eliminate the breakdowns at the ends of those kinds of drives and things will look a lot better.
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It wasn't so much one play as a series. Late in the first quarter, with the game tied 7-7, UK got a defensive stop and after a missed field goal, the Wildcats took over at their 36. In a stat that is equally shared by both sides of the ball, Kentucky has not led for a single second in any of its three losses but this was an opportunity for UK to capitalize on good field position and get in front of the Gators. On first down, Smith completed a pass to Sanders but for a seven-yard loss. An eight-yard run on second down made it third-and-nine and Demarco Robinson got inside position against Florida's tight coverage, only to have the pass thrown low and behind him for an incompletion.
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KEY CAT STATS
--1/8 on third downs.
And that makes UK 1-for-21 in the last two games. Part of the problem is getting "behind the chains" on first down and in five of those eight third-down situations against Florida, the Cats needed eight or more yards. But on the all-important first drive of the second half, facing a third-and-one at its own 34-yard line, UK went for a misdirection play and Javess Blue was tackled for a loss. By my count, Kentucky is now only 3-for-8 on third-and-one plays this season--and all five failures to convert came in losses. That is a stat that UK can and must improve.
--47 plays run by Kentucky.
The goal is 75 plays per game but Kentucky can't get reap the benefits of its uptempo style when it is unable to sustain drives. Field position is so important against a conservative offense like Florida's so even just a first down or two before a punt has great value.
--8 TFL's (5 sacks) by Florida
. In Kentucky's three losses, the opponents have combined for 24 tackles-for-loss for 109 yards worth of lost field position (90th in the nation). This stat goes hand-in-hand with the lack of third-down success.
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"WILDCAT PAW" HELMET STICKERS
--Joe Mansour/Jarod Leet
. UK's placekicker and holder executed a trick play to perfection. Leet carried out his fake of setting the ball before quickly tossing it back and hitting Mansour in stride. And then Mansour showed us his legs aren't just for kicking as he sprinted to paydirt and put a game-tying charge into the Big Blue Nation.
. An early hand injury prompted a decision to hold him for the rest of the game but McClain lobbied to play through the pain. Once it was determined that he could be wear a cast and not risk any further damage, McClain was clearly to return, depending on how much pain he could tolerate. McClain played throughout the second half and denied a Florida touchdown with perfect coverage on a fade route to Trey Burton.
. The freshman wideout had four catches for a team-best 47 yards and he displayed SEC-caliber toughness, too. In the third quarter, a pass thrown behind him set up the Florida safety for a "kill shot" for which he should have been penalized at the least. Montgomery was wobbly when he finally got up off the turf but on the next drive, he made three of his four catches for the night.
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