Some final thoughts…
- We mentioned earlier in the week that there hadn’t been such a lack of optimism about Kentucky’s chances in a football game in quite some time and Saturday night proved exactly why that was. Florida is plenty good enough to beat Kentucky. When Kentucky is also beating Kentucky, it gets ugly. The Cats have probably played worse games this season, but they got a quick painful lesson about life in the SEC when they essentially handed out freebies to the Gators. There were the four turnovers, one that was returned about two yards for a touchdown, dropped passes, miscommunications on play calls….pretty much everything a team shouldn’t be doing in the fourth game of the season. If they can’t stop beating themselves, it’s only going to get uglier from here.
- As expected, Florida found success in making the big play. The script for these games is almost identical from year to year and, after Kentucky forced a couple of early punts, things reverted back to where they typically are. Florida’s offensive touchdowns came on gains of 45, 1, 20, 84 and 60 yards. And while those scores were probably scored on pure talent and speed – the type that UK just can’t really compete with – the repetitiveness of such touchdowns has almost become a sort of psychological hex. We knew they were coming. We all said it before the game. That’s just what Florida does. Not just to us either. They just do it to us more.
- After the game, Joker Phillips gave his take on the state of the team:
“Well, we’re 2- 2, I’ll tell you that, and it’s not a pretty 2-2, there’s no doubt about that. We’re a football team that looks good at times, and definitely tonight there were some good things, and that’s the thing that’s lost in this. We did some good things at times. We threw the ball, we moved the football. “
- As almost a bullet point to that note, Kentucky got slaughtered on the ground. The Gators used three running backs to combine for 350 yards on 29 carries. Jeff Demps (187 yards), Chris Rainey (106) and Mike Gillislee combined to average twelve yards per carry on the ground. Add in another 50 and the Gators racked up 400 yards rushing. To put that into perspective, UK has 492 yard rushing – ON THE SEASON. They got manhandled up front and then got torched when the backs got their opening. Afterward, Rick Minter had the line of the night:
“It’s kind of like lightning struck the outhouse and we were in it.”
- On the offensive side of the ball for the Cats, it was essentially the same old story. What Kentucky has on offense is really just whatever Morgan Newton can create for them. Newton finished the game 16/33 for 124 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while also picking up a team-high 50 yards on the ground. He again flashed signs of being a solid quarterback, but fell victim to the same old things that have haunted him all season – a collapsin offensive line and the almost comical inability to throw to anyone except his primary receiver. Watch Newton when he drops back and you’ll see he never looks anywhere other than the side of the field he wants to throw the ball too, which is generally LaRod King’s half. I talked with Craig Yeast on the radio after the game and he said that he sees what Newton is doing and agrees that it’s just a maturity thing right now and he seems like he’s not comfortable enough with his receiving corps to be willing to look at them all. If the Cats are going to progress this season and advance past this painfully stagnant offense, it’s going to come through Newton maturing in that area. With that being said, I did like what I saw from him in terms of taking control of the huddle and getting after guys about where they’re supposed to be. Some of that came when UK ran the no-huddle offense, but it has to happen more. He’s clearly the best player on offense right now (which says a lot) and he has to be the leader.
- Late in the game Joker pulled Newton out of the game and put in Maxwell Smith, who played pretty ok, finishing 6/11 for 41 yards. Joker said he wants to get him snaps when he can do so and that no one should really read anything into it. So please don’t. I’m begging you to please resist the urge to start a grassroots internet movement calling for Smith to see action. Morgan Newton, despite the mistakes he’s making, is clearly the better player at this point and this team stands to gain absolutely nothing from Smith seeing more action or the fans clamoring for it. When he gets in the game, let’s hope he makes the most of his reps. Otherwise, let’s pretend like he’s not even there. This team’s starting quarterback doesn’t need another thing to worry about.
- As far as the receivers go, it was another game of drops and, honestly, it might have been the worst. In the first three games, UK’s wideouts were just dropping catchable balls. Against Florida, they were letting them bounce off of themselves into the air and giving the Gators plenty of chances to pick them off. After the game, Joker spoke about the continued inability of the receivers to receive and said this about his frustration with the group:
“Being an ex-receiver, ex-receiver coach, it’s pretty high right now. If you’re going to play in this league, at this level, you’ve got to be able to catch the football. We can’t use the excuse that these guys have not been — quarterbacks handle the ball every play, so expecting the guys to be able to handle it when it comes to them. Pretty frustrating. It’s my job. I’ve got to get it corrected because that, too, is the lack of how precious the football is when we’ve got it because you see a lot of balls bounce off receivers that end up in interceptions, and that’s giving the ball up. So you’ve got to secure the football when you have an opportunity.”
- Make sure you look for the special edition milk cartons this week featuring UK’s running game. Another week of being a non-factor, another week of an offense that’s forced to rely on an unproven and painfully raw passing game. The offensive line can accept some of the blame and the lopsided score can as well, but this simply will not cut it in the Sunbelt, let alone the SEC.
- After watching this team struggle for four games, the painful truth is that they don’t really do anything very well. There are so many aspects of the game where you think that they might be close in having some consistency, but they just don’t have it anywhere. There’s not one aspect of the football game that you can point at and say you expect them to perform reasonably well in every week. You can point to the inexperience as a large reason for that, but you can’t ignore that it’s there. The defense isn’t what we thought it was after the first two games. Morgan Newton isn’t where we thought he was after the Lousiville game. The running backs aren’t where we thought they were after Central Michigan. And most importantly, the offensive line isn’t anywhere near what people said they were in the offseason. And that adds up to bad football.
- With two uninspiring wins, a disappointing loss to Louisville and a blowout at the hands of Louisville now on the books, this team now heads to Baton Rouge in the worst possible spot. This is where coaches lose players. With nothing to really hold their head high about, the Cats face another potential blowout team next week without the veteran leadership in the locker room necessary to guarantee that everyone stays focused. That’s not to say that they can’t do it. That just means they’re going to have to pay special attention to keeping themselves in each other’s corner and not making sure their morale goes down the tubes. Joker Phillips is going to be earning his money the next 13 days. This could have a massive impact on the rest of the season.
- With a trip to LSU and South Carolina on the slate for the next two weeks, Kentucky needs to focus on nothing more than getting better and taking small steps forward together in the next two games. They’ll be heavy underdogs in both contests, but they have an opportunity to improve and grow closer together before a very important final six games. At the beginnin of the season, we looked at the final six as the stretch where the season would be made and nothing has changed, save for the lackluster start. There are no games that are guaranteed – that includes Jacksonville State – in the final six, but there are also no games that should get blown out of. These next two weeks will be critical for improvement and preparing themselves to make a push in the second half of the season.