I will be honest with you. That was quite depressing. Losing to Western is one thing, but getting totally manhandled is another. Truth be told, the 35-26 score was somewhat deceiving.
The Cats were beaten at every position by the Hilltoppers and were fortunate to be in a position where the missed extra point was even meaningful. If Kentucky football is going to follow Drake and being able to one day that they "started from the bottom and now we're here," we reached that bottom on Saturday night. So while almost everyone who went to Nashville all had the same reaction ("Damn that sucked"), it is still worth noting a couple of things:
(1) Defensive Line Disappointment
I expected the back seven of UK's defense to be poor (although I didn't expect the Linebackers outside of Avery Williamson to be unable to wrap up and make tackles. But I believed, as everyone else did as well, that the strength of this team would be in the front four. Well after game one, that is most certainly in question. The Defensive Line was completely dominated by a WKU offensive line that they outweighed by an average of 30 pounds a player. I am not exactly sure why this was the case, but it was extremely disappointing. Zadarius Smith was a nonfactor most of the game, Bud Dupree's name was rarely mentioned and the interior Defensive lineman did little to clog up the middle and disrupt the rushing attack. Simply put, the group that was supposed to carry the team didn't even carry its own weight. That is the most troubling fact going forward for this UK team.
(2) I am not worried about Quarterback play
The reality is that most people don't understand football. We think we do, but if you have ever actually sat down with a coach and listened to them talk about a game or break down film, you will realize that you probably don't. But we all think we can understand Quarterback play (in part because it is the one position where the television camera showcases every decision made) and thus a QB's play is the most dissected on the team. I didn't think Jalen Whitlow played terribly on Saturday. He did some good things, had some great runs and generally moved the ball well. But he also didn't look particularly comfortable throwing in the Air Raid system. Now whether that was due to play calls or his own timidity is hard to say, but it is troubling going forward. Max Smith looked better, but he was playing against a prevent defense and thus it was much easier for him to find open passing lanes. My guess is that he showed enough in the 4th quarter to get the nod versus Miami (OH) and to me, that makes sense. But of all the positions where UK struggled on Saturday, Quarterback is the least of my worries. Until the offensive line improves (they were toasted by the Western front four), whoever is behind center is going to have some problems. No matter who the Quarterback would have been, unless they could also make plays on defense, Kentucky was not going to win.
This guy enjoyed the game either way
(3) The Young Guys Impress
If you are looking for some positives from the game, take a gander at the young guys. JoJo Kemp and Ryan Timmons both were offensive sparks (although both had major problems on the blocking part of their duties) and showcased some big play ability that we haven't seen since Randall Cobb. Blake McClain may have had the best performance of any of the players on defense and he looks to be a potential big time contributor here for years to come. We saw some young receivers make plays, and JUCO transfers Stephen Borden and Nate Willis all had an impact. Joker Phillips left UK with little in the way of talent, and until Stoops can have a roster full of his players, we will see talent mismatches. But if you look at the guys who seemed to be the best athletes on the field, most were young and that is a good sign,
Is it just me or did we look unbelievably timid on both sides of the ball? I freely admit not to be a playcaller, but I was suspecting a team that threw it around, took chances, brought the heat on defense and played like a hungry, exciting team. Instead what I saw was a lot of playcalling that recalled the Joker Phillips era. A sweep on 3rd and 9? Draws on 2nd and 14? Field goal on 4th down inside the ten? Only a couple of blitzes of the quarterback? Possibly we will see more of those types of calls as the probability of beating the opponents goes down and there is more of a "what do we have to lose" mentality. But it sure seemed like last night that what I saw was a timid group afraid to lose, instead of the swashbuckling, take no fear group that I have seen absolutely dominate and destroy on the recruiting path up to this point.
(5) The Fans After the Game
I freely admit that I was nervous after the game for what the postgame show might bring me. Even though it had only been one game, I was worried fans would be angry, start calling for major changes and lamenting that Bobby Petrino wasn't hired. I saw and heard none of that. Instead it was just a large group of fans disappointed and surprised at the performance. I think that is a good sign. Fans should be disappointed. That was not the effort we needed and 9 months of positive mojo hit a major wall. But people seem to know this is a process...and a process that is clearly going to take some major time. The talent level is very low...we knew that but I am not sure we really KNEW that. What matters is keeping the team's confidence and keeping together the recruiting class. If that happens, this is a successful season. Saturday was a reality check for everyone...from players to coaches to the fans. But I don't get the sense of anyone yet abandoning ship.
So that's that. Now we have another week before the home opener against Miami (Oh). They were drilled by Marshall, so we can hopefully feel good about our chances. Let's do our best to erase the feeling of Saturday and move forward, while not focusing on the fact that four games against top 10 teams await over the next six weeks.
And by the way, a major shout out to those of you who sent me pictures of our Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife people making their presence known in Nashville: