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Freddie Maggard’s Take

Recap: What We Know About Northwestern So Far

William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

The long-time gap following the Governor’s Cup to the Music City Bowl allows us to present the Northwestern scouting report in small increments. Hopefully this post will allow you to catch up on what we’ve covered up to this point. There’s much, much more to follow on the Purple Wildcats, but next week we’ll focus on December’s National Signing Day.

Let’s take a look back:

Northwestern Tops Kentucky in the Red Zone

Quarterback Clayton Thorson has started over thirty games. The junior quarterback is testing NFL waters for early entry and will present a challenge for the Kentucky pass defense.

Remember that Name: Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was an All-American linebacker at NU and has two All-Big Ten linebackers at his disposal. Northwestern is ranked ninth in the nation by allowing just 111 rush yards per game.

An Early Look at the Northwestern Defense

But, Northwestern has struggled against the pass and is ranked last in the Big Ten.

Northwestern Pass Defense Similar to Missouri

We’ll continue to update the scouting report after Wednesday’s National Signing Day. For now I’ll leave you with a full-game film so you can see UK’s Music City Bowl opponent in its entirety.


Football Notes: Quarterbacks, December Signing Day, and the D-Line

Football Notes: Quarterbacks, December Signing Day, and the D-Line

Quarterbacks

Garden City Community College quarterback Terry Wilson committed to Kentucky. This news is not fresh off the press. However, I waited to write about the former Oregon Duck until I felt comfortable with the pledge. It’s not a new strategy regarding quarterbacks. I didn’t write much about nor watch tape on the Cats’ prior QB commit due to a hunch that he’d never step foot on campus. From all accounts, Wilson will be in Lexington soon and participating in spring practice. “Touchdown Terry” buzz has overtaken the BBN.

ESPN rates Wilson as the 5th best JUCO player in the Class of 2018. The Network also lists him as the nation’s top junior college dual-threat quarterback. Here are some of my notes from watching Terry Wilson on film:

– Astute RPO execution.
– Elite athlete. Shifty, fast, one-cut runner.
– Playmaker. Finds ways out of trouble in the pocket. Creator. No panic, keeps eyes on targets during distress.
– Effective vision/velocity/touch in vertical pass-game.

The highly touted and coveted signal caller brings a new wrinkle to the Wildcat quarterback competition that will ensue following the first team meeting in the spring semester. Yes, there will still be a competition. Drew Barker, Gunnar Hoak, Danny Clark, and Walker Wood will have a say-so in who lines up behind Drake Jackson against Central Michigan on September 1st.

The eventual starting quarterback decision goes beyond the Cats’ opener against the Chippewas. The 2018 schedule breaks a bit differently than in recent past. Three of its first five games are against SEC foes: at Florida, then a home game vs. Murray State prior to Mississippi State and South Carolina traveling to Kroger Field. Add in a road trip to Texas A&M and four of the Cat’s first six contests prior to the open date are of the league variety. Two of which will be at traditionally hostile locations. There must be a “without a doubt” confidence in the winner of UK’s 2018 quarterback competition due to its early season schedule difficulty as well as significance within conference rankings. Therefore, I’d expect an end of spring practice conclusion.

Rising senior Drew Barker has the most experience of the competitors. Barker’s career numbers: 55/110, 50%, 731-yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs. Redshirt sophomore (2018) Gunnar Hoak has impressed in consecutive spring games and has shown great poise and promise but has yet to attempt a pass in a game. Redshirt freshman Danny Clark is a former Ohio State commit and possesses Jared Lorenzen type arm-strength and swagger. Fellow rookie Walker Wood has battled injuries since his campus arrival.

Projection to game-like competitive environments and spring practice production charts will be closely monitored. Both will be critical in making the starter decision. Kentucky’s spring game may be a dress rehearsal and a proving ground for the eventual starter. Regardless, it’s obvious that Wilson was signed with intentions to immediately compete for the starting job. QB competitions can be fun, but also deteriorating. Offensive team leaders, especially Benny Snell, will need to hold the unit together during the process.

Terry Wilson and the UK quarterback competition will be a significant, on-going offseason storyline. Many times the starting quarterback is decided by a gut-hunch by the offensive coordinator and or head coach.

National Signing Day

We’re one week away from college football’s first go-around of the December signing period. I’d finished initial evaluations on Tuesday in preparation for National Signing Day shows. Then, Mark Stoops landed pledges from DT Jerquavion Mahone and G Kenneth Horsey.

After sequestering myself to watch film for 48 hours, I tend to think that the Class of 2018 is similar to its 2015 counterparts. Several future Wildcats played multiple sports and positions on the football field. There’s no exact formula for evaluating recruiting classes and individual prospects. But, those two factors automatically gain my attention and respect. Many 2018 commits never left the field. I like that; a lot.

We’ll talk specifics in terms like “quick-twitch”, “bursts”, and “heavy-punch” next Wednesday. But for now, I mainly generalize the class as a whole. I really like its collective competitive nature and team-first optics.

The D-Line

“Where’s the defensive linemen” is the common question I’m asked when discussion this recruiting class. Defensive tackle Qua Mahone is a late/fast-riser much like Josh Allen and TJ Carter. Those two turned out ok. 6’4, 270-pound Chaminade-Madonna defensive lineman/offensive guard Davoan Hawkins is an example of what I mentioned earlier as far as being a team-first competitor. Hawkins is a physical, explosive prospect and projects as a collegiate defensive lineman. He was a two-way starter (OG/DL) for his Florida state championship team and finished his season campaign with 50 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 7 QB sacks. Hawkins’ film jumped out at me a year ago when evaluating 2017 signee Chris Whittaker. Also, Marquan McCall is a play-now prospect at both nose tackle and offensive guard. McCall is the top rated player from the state of Michigan.

2018 defensive line contributors may already be on campus. Weight and strength gains must be factored when projecting defensive line-of-scrimmage players. Josh Paschal is listed at 270-pounds and excelled as an outside linebacker as a true freshman. Paschal has the frame to add more good weight to go along with the athletic ability to become a forceful, next-level defensive end. At 6’6, Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald redshirted and is nearing 300-pounds. I’m fascinated to see his progress in spring practice. Fellow redshirt defensive lineman Chris Whittaker reported to campus at 260 and is stronger and heavier now than he was a year ago. All the aforementioned will be showcased in spring practice and competing for playing time. I’d expect Vince Marrow to target additional defensive linemen late in the signing period.

Stay tuned. Much more to come on National Signing Day 2018 which will occur on December 20th, 2017.


Northwestern Pass Defense Similar to Missouri

Northwestern Pass Defense Similar to Missouri

Finding flaws in the Northwestern defense is not an easy task. However, at times the NU pass defense has shown to be a limitation throughout 2017. Statistically (not structurally and we’ll get to that in a later post) it compares to Missouri. The following chart contains each Northwestern opponent, the opponent’s pass yards vs. the Wildcats, and its foe’s average pass yards per game. It must be noted that the Wildcats faced two foes that are rated near the bottom in passing offense: Minnesota (122nd) and Maryland (116th) and played in three overtime games. Opposing offenses averaged 63.2% through the air in the three games it lost.

Northwestern Pass Defense Results

Opponent Pass Yards vs. NU/Completion % Opponent Pass Yards Average per game
Nevada 199 (43.2%) 270
@Duke 305 (64.4) 210
Bowling Green 256 (61.3%) 235
Wisconsin 197 (55%) 187
Penn State 286 (70.7%) 285
@Maryland 255 (44.7) 161
Iowa 233 (57.5%) 197
Michigan State 445 (68.4%) 215
Nebraska 225 (55.6%) 277
Purdue 398 (62.9%) 239
Minnesota 43 (18%) 126
Illinois 139 (45.1%) 174

 

Pic by The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern Pass Defense

Completion % Yards TD INT Yards per game
57.5% 2971 18 15 247.6

Missouri Pass Defense

Completion % Yards TD INT Yards per game
59.7% 3141 18 12 261.8

 For comparative reasons; let’s see how Kentucky’s pass offense executed vs. the Missouri pass defense.

Passing Stephen Johnson 22/36, 298-yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Receiving Garrett Johnson 7 receptions, 111-yds, 1 TD

 Northwestern has registered 30 quarterback sacks. That’s two more than Kentucky and one less than Missouri. Its led by a pair of All-Big Ten performers in the secondary: Nickel Kyle Queiro and Safety Godwin Igwebuike. At times; NU has struggled with one-on-one matchups on the outside and with TE’s vs. linebackers. Kentucky must be able to take advantage of the Northwestern pass defense in order to have a chance to win the Music City Bowl.


Inside NU

Northwestern Tops Kentucky in the Red Zone

The Red Zone is a football term that is frequently used by talking heads and on-field analysts. We often utilize statistics from this category in order to construct an opponent’s proficiency profile. Do you know at what point on the football field is considered the redzone? I have to be honest, for years I thought the red zone started at the plus 25-yard line. In fact, the term refers to the area of the football field that stretches from the opponent’s 20-yard line to the end zone.

The Kentucky has excelled and failed in the red zone. Let’s take a look:

Kentucky Red Zone Offense

Eddie Gran’s unit entered the red zone on 39 occasions in which its scored 36 times. Its 92.31% scoring ratio is excellent; good enough for 4th in the SEC and 13th in the nation. BUT, the Wildcats managed just 24 touchdowns from those 39 trips; 61.54%. It kicked 12 field goals; 30.77%.

Summary: Excellent scoring percentage. But, the UK settled for field goals instead of touchdowns on far too many occasions. Matter of fact, its inability to score touchdowns inside the twenty-yard line significantly factored in its win/loss column. Kentucky cannot trade field goals for touchdowns vs. Northwestern in the Music City Bowl.

Kentucky Red Zone Defense

UK’s opponents entered the red zone 43 times and scored in 39 of those trips; 90.70%. Of the opponent’s 39 scores, 26 were touchdowns (70%) and 10 scores were of the field goal variety.

Summary: Surrendering 70% touchdowns ranked 13th in the SEC. This statistic has greatly influenced the win/loss column. Opponents made 43 trips, scored on 39. So, just 4 red zone drives ended with zero points.

Inside NU

Northwestern Red Zone Offense

Northwestern’s 90.74% red zone efficiency offense is ranked 2nd in the Big Ten and 21st in the nation. The Wildcats made 54 trips inside the twenty in which it scored 49 times. Of the 49 scores; 39 were touchdowns (72.22%). 10 drives finished with field goal conversions (18.52%).

Summary: 72.22% of all redzone trips end with Wildcat touchdowns. Highly efficient.

 

Northwestern Red Zone Defense

Opponents made 38 trips to the red zone in which they scored on 27 occurrences or 71.05% of the time. That percentage ranks the Wildcats 1st in the Big Ten and 7th in the nation. Of those 38 red zone trips; 20 resulted in touchdowns. Opponents are scoring touchdowns on just 52.63% of all red zone opportunities. 7 of the 38 attempts finished with made field goals; 18.4%. Thus, 11 of 38 drives resulted with zero points.

What does all this mean?

Northwestern is one of the best Red Zone teams in all of college football. In my opinion; this stat column combines “want to” with discipline and efficiency. Those terms adequately describe UK’s opponent in the Music City Bowl.


The Depth Chart Podcast: Music City Bowl Bound

The Depth Chart Podcast can’t wait to go to the Music City Bowl.  That’s right, Freddie Maggard will be in Nashville to watch Kentucky take on Northwestern.  If Freddie can muscle up and go to his least-favorite city, you can make the postseason trip to the Music City.

The podcast wasn’t all about the bowl game.  The crew also talked about…

—  A Salute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor.

—  Unfair comparisons between Mark Stoops and Rich Brooks.

—  How bad was UK’s defense behind the line of scrimmage?

—  The gang gets a few things off their chest.

—  What does next year’s quarterback situation look like?

—  Freddie’s experience at Kroger Field for the KHSAA State Finals.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


An Early Look at the Northwestern Defense

David Banks | Getty Images

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is a defensive guy. He played linebacker for the Wildcats and did so at a very high level. A consensus college All American; Fitzgerald’s fierce, on-field coaching personality and cerebral approach to the game of football is mimicked by his defensive scheme and personnel.

As you can see below; Northwestern held six of its twelve regular season opponents to less than 100-rush yards. More impressive; the Wildcats limited perennial run-powers Iowa to 89 and Wisconsin to 109-yards on the ground. This defensive strength should present a major concern for the Big Blue Nation given Kentucky’s propensity to rely heavily upon first team All SEC RB Benny Snell and its ground attack.

This chart highlights Northwestern’s opponents, points allowed, and total yards divided by the run and pass. Let’s take a look:

2017 Defensive Schedule Results  

Opponent Points Allowed Yards Allowed Rush/Pass
Nevada 20 341; 142-rush, 199-pass
@Duke 41 495; 233rush, 305-pass
Bowling Green 7 352; 96/256
@Wisconsin 33 306; 109/197
Penn State 31 381; 95/286
@Maryland 21 340; 85/255
Iowa 10 312; 89/223
Michigan State 31 540; 95/445
@Nebraska 24 337; 112/225
Purdue 13 438; 40/398
Minnesota 0 182; 139/43
@Illinois 7 239; 100/139

As our first Northwestern post that concentrated on its offense referenced; the Wildcats average 23.1 first downs per game. That’s more than three of the Football Playoff teams: Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia. This stat-line is an indication of the Wildcat’s ability to possess and maintain the football through long, extended drives. It’s also ran more offensive plays on the season than any other UK opponent including Missouri, Louisville, and Ole Miss. It must be factored that Northwestern played three overtime games in 2017.

Defensive numbers paint a picture of a run-stout, 4-3 team that’s comprised of efficient tacklers that are excellent at impeding opponents from establishing the run. Add in its inconceivable defensive red-zone efficiency, and you get a typical Pat Fitzgerald hard-nosed, no-nonsense defense. Let’s take a look at how Northwestern’s defense stacked up Big Ten competition: 

2017 Big 10 Statistical Rankings 

Category Results Big-10 Rank
Scoring 19.8 5th
Rush 111.25 4th
Pass 247.6 14th
Total 358.9 9th
QB Sacks 30 6th
Tackles for Loss 88 3rd
3rd Down 37.50% 9th
Red-Zone 71.5% (52% TD) 1st, 7th nationally
Interceptions 15 3rd
Long Scrimmage Plays Allowed 9th Allowed 161 plays of 10+yards

 

Top Performers 

Category Name Result
Tackles LB Paddy Fisher 110 tackles, Big Ten-4th
Tackles for Loss LB Nate Hall 16.5, Big Ten-2nd
QB Sacks DE Joe Gaziano 8 (Big Ten-1st)
Interceptions N Kyle Queiro 4

Northwestern executes a 4-man front which means it features two defensive tackles and two defensive ends. All four defensive linemen align in a three-point stance or with their hand in the dirt/turf. The defensive front is led by All-Big Ten defensive lineman Joe Gaziano. The sophomore leads the league with 8 quarterback sacks.

Its linebackers are yet another reflection of their head coach. Freshman LB Paddy Fisher’s 110 total tackles ranked 4th in the conference. He was named All-Big Ten as well as the league’s freshman defensive most valuable player. He’s joined by LB Nate Hall. The veteran racked up 16.5 tackles for loss which was good enough for 2nd in the conference. Combined; Hall and Fisher are a formidable duo that ranks in the top 3 of inside linebackers that Kentucky has faced in 2017. Both are excellent football players.

The secondary is controlled by a pair of All-Big Ten performers: Nickel Kyle Queiro and Safety Godwin Igwebuike. However, Northwestern ranks 14th or last in its conference by allowing 247.6 pass-yards per game. Notably; Michigan State threw for 445-yards in an overtime loss to the Wildcats and Jeff Brohm’s Purdue Boilermakers tossed it around for 398. It has been vulnerable to long pass plays especially against taller receivers.

Joe Gaziano via Chicago Tribune

Kentucky has faced more athletic defenses than Northwestern. However, I’m not certain its faced a better coached or disciplined collection of defenders. Expect to see the Wildcat D play with extreme effort as it takes tremendous pride in swarming to the football and team tackling. Northwestern will be focused on stopping or slowing RB Benny Snell. This means that UK must find balance and a passing game if it intends on competing for the Music City trophy.

Kentucky’s offensive possessions will be limited. It must improve its red-zone touchdown efficiency and 3rd down conversion ratio. I find it difficult to compare Northwestern to a defensive opponent that UK has faced in 2017. However, UK has been productive when facing 4-man fronts. It faced mostly 3-4 defenses in conference play.

Much, much more to come on the Northwestern defense. Summary; it’s great vs. the run. Not so good vs. the pass but extremely well coached and disciplined.


A Quick Look at Northwestern

A Quick Look at Northwestern

Pic by The Lantern

Northwestern University will represent the Big Ten in the Music City Bowl. The Wildcats are extremely well coached and finished 2017 with a 9-3 record. It is ranked 21st in the nation. The Wildcats are riding a seven game winning streak and is listed amongst the best in several conference statistical categories.

First let’s take a look at the schedule. Northwestern started the season 2-3 but recovered to finish strong. Its nine wins were against opponents that averaged 5.4 victories on the season. The Wildcats played seven home games and won three road contests against two, four-win teams: Maryland and Nebraska as well as two-win Illinois. Northwestern beat Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska in overtime. By doing so, it became the first FBS team to win three consecutive overtime football games.

Conversely, the average losing opponent vs. Kentucky averaged 5.8 wins on the season. The Cats recorded road wins against two, eight-win teams: Southern Miss and South Carolina as well as five-win Vanderbilt. Northwestern won two more games than UK. But, Kentucky’s wins came against opponents with slightly better winning records; but significantly grander on the road.

NORTHWESTERN SCHEDULE

Opponent (Record) Final Score
Nevada (3-9) W 31-20
@Duke (6-6) L 17-41
Bowling Green (2-10) W 49-7
@Wisconsin (12-1) L 24-33
Penn State (10-2) L 7-31
@Maryland (4-8) W 37-21
Iowa (7-5) W 17-10 (OT)
Michigan State (9-3) W 39-31 (3 OT)
@Nebraska (4-8) W 31-24 (OT)
Purdue (6-6) W 23-13
Minnesota (5-7) W 39-0
@Illinois (2-10) W 42-7

OFFENSE

Season Result  

Statistical Category Result Big 10 Rank
Scoring 29.7 ppg 4th
Rushing 160.9 ypg 8th
Passing 244.3 5th
Total 405.2 4th
3rd Down 35.48% 8th
Red-Zone 90.74 (39 TD’s) 2nd, 21st nationally
Turnover Margin +5 2nd
Long Scrimmage Plays 180, 10+yds 4th
QB Sacks Allowed 29 9th
1st Downs 23.1 per game 2nd
Tackles for Loss Allowed 68 7th

Top Performers

Category Name Results
Passing QB Clayton Thorson 2809-yards, 60.6%, 15 TD, 12 INT
Rushing RB Justin Jackson 1154 yards, 9 TD’s
Receiving Bennett Skowronek 42 rec, 619-yds, 5 TD’s

Pic by Inside NU

The Wildcats are led by 2nd Team All-Big Ten RB Justin Jackson. Incredibly, Jackson has been named to the league’s 2nd team in four consecutive years. He also surpassed 1000-yards in four straight seasons. Jackson’s rushed for 1154-yards and scored 9 touchdowns. Kentucky has faced an extraordinarily high number of historically significant running backs: Southern Miss’s Ito Smith, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb. Add Northwestern’s Jackson to the list as the senior is the program’s all-time leading rusher.

Northwestern’s passing attack is led by 3rd team all-conference Quarterback Clayton Thorson who finished 2017 by completing 60% of his passes for 2809-yards. After a slow start to the season, Thorson significantly improved throughout conference play. His performances in the Wildcat’s final three regular season games were highly efficient. The junior displayed next-level traits. 6’4, 300-pound guard Tommy Doles was named 3rd Team All-Big Ten and is the leader of the Wildcat’s offense line.

Much like the outstanding running backs that Kentucky has faced in 2017; Thorson is yet another upper-level passer that will put a tremendous amount of stress on a UK secondary that has struggled throughout the season. Thorson is not a runner and is in the mold of South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Eastern Michigan signal caller Brogan Roback, and Missouri’s Drew Lock.

The Wildcats average 23.1 first downs per game and has executed 921 plays. Comparatively, Louisville’s play total for the season was 889. Missouri ran 848 plays; Ole Miss 804.

Mark Stoops’ run on bowl opponents has been enormously more challenging than the last Wildcat teams that made back-to-back postseason appearances. Bowl opposition can be random, friendly, or cruel like that. Rich Brooks’ first bowl opponent was Clemson in the Music City. The Tigers were preseason favorites to win the ACC but faltered down the stretch by losing four of its last five games. The next Music City Bowl featured Florida State that was minus double digit players due to suspension and lost three of its last four games of the season.

Contrariwise; Stoops’ first bowl team was against Georgia Tech in the Taxslayer. The Yellow Jackets was 6-1 down the stretch including wins over Georgia and 18th ranked Virginia Tech. That triple option nightmare is now followed by the 21st ranked Northwestern Wildcats. The Big Ten representative is one of the hottest teams in the nation and riding a seven game winning streak.

Northwestern is not the complete matchup nightmare that the Yellow Jackets provided a year ago but it will present a significant challenge especially when Northwestern possesses the football.

We’ll have much, much more on Northwestern in the days leading up to the Music City Bowl.


Final Analysis: Did Kentucky Meet 2017 Statistical Benchmarks?

Final Analysis: Did Kentucky Meet 2017 Statistical Benchmarks?

This original preseason post presented improvement ambitions for Kentucky to achieve a successful season. “Successful” is a subjective term based on individual expectancy. This post combines original content, preseason projections, and matches numerical targets with final statistical results.

Let’s update season ending data in order to see if the Cats exceeded or failed to match intended result.

Non-Negotiable Improvements

Turnover Margin

Preseason Remarks: Recovered 8 fumbles, intercepted 13 passes for a +21 margin. Conversely, UK lost 16 fumbles, threw 12 interceptions for a total of -28. Combined, it formulated a -7 total turnover margin (14th or last in the SEC).

2017 Goal: This number needs to be in the +2 level at a minimum. Mid-pack in the league was a +3 a year ago. This digit’s reduction will assist most all other statistical areas of concern. Last year’s turnovers twisted potential blowout wins into nail biters (Vanderbilt) and potential close game victories into losses (Georgia).

FINAL RESULT: Exceeded Goal. The Cats finished 2017 with a +5 turnover margin.


Punting

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 61 punts, 2335-yards, 38.3 yards per, allowed 125 return yards for a 2-yard average, kicked 5 touchbacks which equaled a total 34.6 net yards per punt (SEC-14th).

2017 Goal: Again, just shooting for mid-level production, a 39-40-yard net punt average would greatly improve field position and ease strain on the defense. Strategic, inside the ten-yard line punt placement also needs immense upgrading. Regardless, punting has to drastically improve.

FINAL RESULT: Exceeded Goal. Matt Panton averaged 42.67 yards per punt. 


Third Down Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016-Opponents converted 80 of 180 3rd down attempts for a 44.4% success percentage (SEC-13th)

2017 Goal: 39% would provide Eddie Gran’s offense with more possessions which could translate to additional points. 39% ranks in the middle of the SEC. Plus, getting off the field has been a struggle for Stoops’ defense throughout his tenure. Personnel shortages have greatly impacted this deficiency. 3rd down defense improved down the stretch in 2016 which could act as a precursor for this number to drop even further.

FINAL RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Allowed 41.07% conversion rate on 3rd down.


Rush Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Opponents had 576 carries for 2966-yards, 25 TDs. 5.1 yards per attempt and 228 yards per game ranked 12th in the SEC.

2017 Goal: A realistic goal and more likely a blue lensed view would be for the Wildcats to allow 195-200 yards per game. Lack of proven defensive line depth significantly factors in this estimation. However, UK has an upper-level linebacker corps and secondary which includes the conference’s top two returning tacklers: LB Jordan Jones (109) and Safety Mike Edwards (100). I’m least confident in rush defense improvement than all other statistical projections within this study. (I was wrong here.)

FINAL RESULT: Exceeded Goal. Allowed 162.17 rush yards per game.


Advantage (Critical) Developments

Quarterback Sacks

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Kentucky produced 21 QB sacks for a -171 yards (SEC-11th)

2017 Goal: 29. 83% of last season’s QB sacks came from the linebackers. Josh Allen and Denzil Ware combined for 12.5. That total was more than Bud Dupree and Za’Darious Smith combined for in their last season in Lexington. Factor in LB Jordan Jones, Jamar “Boogie” Watson, and a potential rookie or two and 29 is easily an attainable goal.

The Cats had several close call sacks during which the quarterback escaped pressure in 2016. The most important number here is the aforementioned 83%. The defensive line and select defensive backs will need to increase its contribution in order for total sacks to increase by eight.

FINAL RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. 28 QB sacks. Must be noted that UK registered zero QB sacks in its final game vs. Louisville.


Tackles for Loss

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 69 tackles for loss for -277 yards, averaged 5.31 TFL per game.

2017 Goal: 80. This column has varied over the years. From 54 in Stoops’ first season to 65 in Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith’s last season in Lexington. 2015’s 53 TFLs was last in the league. Kentucky’s jump to 69 a year ago was quite impressive but not surprising with four explosive linebackers. Matter of fact, LB Jordan Jones (15.5 TFL) and LB/DE Denzil Ware (12 TFL) are the league’s number one and three returning leaders in this category respectively.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. In fact, failed to do so by a sizable margin. Kentucky finished the season 13th in the SEC with just 58 tackles for loss.


Scoring Offense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Scored 49 touchdowns, 44 extra points, two 2-point conversions, 16 field goals for 390 total points, 30 points per game (SEC-9th)

2017 Goal: 35 points per game. A decrease in turnovers will increase scoring opportunities. Couple that with a sustained, efficient Red Zone offense and it’s easy to envision UK adding five points per game.

FINAL RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Averaged 25.8 points per game.


Scoring Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Allowed 50 touchdowns, 48 extra points, one 2-point conversion, 19 field goals, 407 total points, 31.3 points per game (SEC-11th)

2017 Goal: 27 points per game. With question marks surrounding its defensive line, projecting the Wildcats to decrease its total points per game by four-points per game is a realistic approach. This number isn’t as much of a reflection of an ineffective defense but more out of respect to offenses it will face. Many are expected to light up scoreboards. Missouri, Georgia, Louisville, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and even Florida are all projected to possess more offensive weapons in 2017. Expect several shootouts.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Allowed 28.6 points per game.


Sustains

Offensive 4th Down Conversions

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 12 out of 16 attempts, 75% (SEC-1st)

2017 Goal: More of same; 75%

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal – 55.56%


Rushing Offense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 560 carries, 3044 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 30 touchdowns, 234.2 yards per game (SEC-3rd)

2017 Goal: Continued success. The Cats will be in more shootout games this fall. Its ability to maintain line-of-scrimmage management and a physical run game will be the separating factor that could catapult Kentucky to an improved win total. Ramifications of losing Stanley Williams will be quickly identified.

RB Benny Snell is an established, 1000-yard rusher. Finding a rotation behind Snell will be paramount. Promising freshmen AJ Rose and Bryant Koback are capable, fast, and powerful. Sihiem King is a change of pace and direction back that could get quality carries.

QB Stephen Johnson is the key to the Kentucky rushing game. He must be able to present the threat of an RPO (Run-Pass-Option) to keep additional defenders from stacking the box. In addition, a higher completion percentage of short to intermediate pass plays can also act as a preventer from opponents focusing solely on stopping the run.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Kentucky averaged 167.75 rush yards per game.


Pass Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Opponents attempted 352 passes, completed 202, 13 interceptions, 57.4%, 2679 yards, 7.6 yards per, 20 touchdowns, 206.1 yards per game (SEC-5th).

2017 Goal: Projecting a number here is difficult. This category will be greatly impacted by pass rush and an increase of quarterback sacks. UK has talented cornerbacks and an elite safety. It has a top-5 SEC secondary. However, numbers are driven by exterior influences.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Allowed 263.5 pass-yards per game, 14th in the SEC.


Red Zone Offense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Converted 36 times from 42 trips to Red Zone, 85.7%, 25 touchdowns, 11 field goals.

2017 Goal: Sustain success and become more diverse.

SEASON RESULT: Exceeded Goal. UK converted on 92.31% of all red-zone trips. However, it scored just 24 touchdowns or 61.54%. Kentucky’s inability at times to finish drives with touchdowns influenced its win/loss category.


Field Goal Percentage

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Attempted 19 field goals, converted 16 for 84.2% (SEC-3rd)

2017 Goal: Kicker Austin MacGinnis is one of, if not the best kicker in the history of the University of Kentucky. Enough said.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Austin MacGinnis is hit 77.8% of attempted field goals. However, the program’s all-time leading scorer has been called on for several 50+ yard kicks which adds to level of difficulty.


What does all this mean?

Kentucky failed to meet the following defensive goals: QB Sacks, Tackles for Loss, Pass Defense, and 3rd down conversions. It exceeded the run defense expectation. The lack of explosive, across the line-of-scrimmage plays (TFL-QB Sacks) was a reflection of a defensive front that failed to force the issue. Defense is circular, a lacking pass rush coupled with struggling secondary coverage equaled a staggering increase in pass yards allowed. Add the two together; 3rd down conversions lessened. Linebacker was the expected strength of the defense. The position group finished the season with disappointing performances against Louisville and Georgia.

Offensively, Benny Snell once again demolished program rushing records but the team dipped in run-game production. Sihiem King was a times a complimentary addition to the Wildcat rushing attack. AJ Rose’s absence in the rotation lessened a second, physical presence. The offensive line took time to gel. This was not a surprise given the unexpected attrition after losing starting left tackle Cole Mosier and Nick Haynes’ situation. Stephen Johnson and his receivers did not frequently connect on deep routes which led to opposing defenses to stack the box which factored in a lower rushing yardage total. Again, unexpected attrition impacted. Eddie Gran was down 3-4 All SEC candidates that he was expecting to contribute in 2017.

Matt Panton was a significant upgrade at punter and Kentucky vastly improved its turnover margin.


EKU Athletics

2017 Kentucky All-Opponent Team

EKU Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcat’s 2017 regular season ended after a disappointing loss to the Louisville Cardinals. This means that it’s time to release the third annual All UK Opponent Team. Criteria for selection is based solely on performance by opponents when playing against UK.

Head Coach: Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton

The Eagles finished the season at 5-7 after going 7-6 a year ago. Eight of Creighton’s 2017 outcomes were decided on the game’s last possession. This included a 24-20 loss at Kroger Field. EMU’s game plan was accurate and well executed with a roster that was not exactly stacked with elite athletes but played with extreme effort as well as passion.

I might also mention that EMU did not have the services of its starting running back or all-conference safety against the Cats. His program is extremely disciplined, organized, and competes with minimal resources. Summary, Chris Creighton gets the absolute most out of the talent on the EMU roster.

Best Team: The Georgia Bulldogs

Kirby Smart and the Dawgs are making the short trip to Atlanta for a rematch against Auburn in the SEC Championship. The winner will likely be an automatic qualifier for the College Football Playoff. Kentucky stood toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs for a quarter but was overwhelmed in the second half.

Smart had a group of talented juniors that decided to make a return to Athens for their senior year in order to contribute for a title. It’s safe to say that their quest for a special season is still in play as it sits at 11-1 and very much still in the playoff hunt. Seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel constructed the best 1-2 RB punch in all of college football. Defensively, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter spurned the NFL. Both significantly contributed to the team’s success. Ironically, UGA was led by a true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm as well as an All American candidate at linebacker, Roquan Smith. 

OFFENSE

Best Unit-The Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville racked up 562 total yards and 44 points in the Governor’s Cup. The Cardinals were led by reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. A solid group of receivers, an improved offensive line, and a pair of physical running backs controlled the game from start to finish.

POSITION NAME SCHOOL
Quarterback Lamar Jackson Louisville
Running Back Nick Chubb Georgia
Running Back Sony Michel Georgia
Tight End Dawson Knox Ole Miss
Tackle Paul Adams Missouri
Tackle Zack Bailey South Carolina
Center Lamont Gaillard Georgia
Guard Trey Smith Tennessee
Guard Deion Calhoun Miss State
Receiver Korey Robinson Southern Miss
Receiver Emanuel Hall Missouri
Receiver A.J. Brown Ole Miss


DEFENSE

Best Unit: Georgia

Georgia was hands down the most talented and efficiently structured defense that Kentucky faced in 2017. With future professionals littered throughout its depth chart; Kirby Smart reaped the benefits of returning ten starters from the nation’s 16th ranked defense from a year ago.

Position Name School
Defensive Line Jeremiah Harris Eastern Michigan
Defensive Line Jeffrey Simmons Miss State
Defensive Line Josiah Coatney Ole Miss
Linebacker Jeffrey Canady Eastern Kentucky
Linebacker DeMarquis Gates Ole Miss
Linebacker Terez Hall Missouri
Linebacker Roquan Smith Georgia
Cornerback Jaire Alexander Louisville
Cornerback Chris Lammons South Carolina
Safety Chris McLaurin Miss State
Safety Malkom Parrish Georgia


SPECIAL TEAMS

 

POSITION NAME SCHOOL
Kicker Gary Wunderlich Ole Miss
Punter Johnny Townsend Florida
Kick Returner L.J. Scott Eastern Kentucky
Punt Returner Mecole Hardman Georgia

Kentucky faced several elite offensive skill players in 2017. Lamar Jackson was the best quarterback in my opinion, but arguments could have been made for Ole Miss’s Jordan Ta’amu or Drew Lock. Georgia’s collection of running backs was the best in the nation and are on this list.

Ole Miss and Missouri sported two of the better collections of pass catchers in America. Both spread out the catches vs. the Cats. Southern Miss and Louisville’s receivers ranked just below but were also very skilled. Tennessee offensive lineman Trey Smith was arguably the best line-of-scrimmage player that UK faced. The true freshman was plain dominant.

The defensive team may have a few names that will surprise. Eastern Kentucky and former Knox Central Panther Jeffrey Canady racked up 13 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 QB sack against the Cats. Matter of fact, the Colonels nearly posted two linebackers on this team as Kobie Grace registered 15 tackles.

Eastern Michigan DE Maxx Crosby is 6th in the nation with 11 QB sacks but it was fellow DE Jeremiah Harris that made the cut after posting 5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups against Kentucky. Much like the EKU linebackers, both Crosby and Harris were deserving of recognition.

Linebacker was a difficult choice. Missouri’s Terez Hall may not make All SEC lists but he’s more than deserving to be on the All UK Opponent team by posting 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1 pass breakup. Same can be said of Ole Miss’s DeMarquis Gates’ 14 tackle performance against the Wildcats. Georgia has the best collection of linebackers in college football. Tackles and explosive plays were spread out equally amongst the four when the Cats travelled to Athens. However, Roquan Smith was the best backer that the Cats faced in 2017 and is an excellent football player.

Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton topped the opposing head coach category. His postseason honor must be taken in context. Sure; Dan Mullen, Kirby Smart, and Bobby Petrino are all excellent and well known head coaches. But Creighton did more with less than any coach I’ve seen in recent years. I’m uncertain about his place in today’s crazy world of coaching searches. However, I can say without hesitation that he’d be high on my list.

Believe it or not, punter was a tough choice as well. Seemingly, UK faced a nationally ranked punter on a weekly basis. But Florida’s Johnny Townsend earned a spot by averaging 52.2 yards per.

So there you have it. As usual, this list will lead to agreement and disagreement. But, at the end of the day; these players, coach, team, and units were “bests” when facing the University of Kentucky.

It’s not personal, it’s personnel.


Cats Relinquish the Governor’s Cup

Louisville dominated all three phases on Saturday and regained ownership of the Governor’s Cup trophy. Saturday didn’t feel right from the beginning and worsened by the minute. From the Nick Haynes tweet, multiple personal fouls, fights, missed tackles/open receivers as well as a field goal all factored in the Wildcat’s worst loss of the 2017 season. Of course, the best player in college football had a heavy hand in the process. Lamar Jackson accounted for 70% of Louisville’s 562 total yards.

So, let’s look at numbers for a minute. Prior to Saturday, the Cardinals were averaging 560 total yards and 38 points per game. It was close to matching those exact statistics in this year’s Governor’s Cup. To be frank and based on data, the Card’s offensive output was somewhat expected. However, other than Benny Snell’s ground attack; the Kentucky offense could not get out of its own way by wobbling on first down, self-inflicting penalties and an ineffectual passing game. CJ Conrad’s absence was felt on and off the field.

Credit Louisville for the win. It was the better team with the best football player in America and most certainly deserved to be crowned Kings of the Commonwealth. But the Wildcat’s offense was all but nonexistent in its non-Snell intentions.

OFFENSE

-100% in the Red-Zone with 75% being touchdowns.
-60% on 3rd down.
-250 rush yards.
-Win time of possession.

Above were pregame goals for Kentucky to limit Lamar Jackson’s possessions and to win the football game. The Cats had just three trips to the red-zone in which it scored two touchdowns but missed a field goal. It converted 46% on 3rd down and rushed for 228-yards. Neither met expectancy. Quarterback Stephen Johnson completed just 42.1% of 19 passes for 110-yards and no scores. Receivers were rarely open. When available, Johnson’s passes were often inaccurate or he was pressured/sacked. Penalties shortened drives as the Cats were forced to punt on four occasions.

Opportunity and circumstance altered the Wildcat offensive plan. Louisville scored first and often thereafter. Kentucky is not built to play from a significant deficit. Benny Snell was taken out of the equation when Eddie Gran was forced to go into a hurry-up mode. But when his name was called, Snell solidified his position as potentially the best running back in the Southeastern Conference by rushing for 211-yards and 7.4 yards per carry.

Louisville had registered just 22 quarterback sacks on the season. It totaled three to go along with four tackles for loss against the Cats. Again, credit Louisville. Its defense struggled early in the season, mainly due to injuries, but has now recorded three consecutive solid performances. To summarize, the Card’s defense was peaking in week 12; the Cat’s offense sputtered down the stretch.

Offensive Statistics
Scoring
17 points
Rushing
43 rushes, 228-yards (lost 34)
Passing
8/19, 110-yards
Total
338
First Downs
20
Yards per Play
5.5-yards
3rd Down
6/13 (46.1%)
Red-Zone
2/3, 2 TD’s
Time of Possession
30:31

Top Performers
Passing
Stephen Johnson
8/19, 110-yards
Rushing
Benny Snell
29 carries, 211-yards, 2 TD’s
Receiving
Kayaune Ross
3 catches, 44-yards

DEFENSE
Louisville was Louisville on Saturday. Lamar Jackson was Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals were averaging 560 total yards per game; it finished with 562. It was averaging 38 points per game; finished with 44. It averaged 54% on 3rd down against UK after registering 45% on the season. Those 9 percentage points extended drives and led to points on the scoreboard. Incredibly, the Cardinals racked up 32 first downs on just 64 plays.

The Kentucky defense didn’t help itself with personal fouls, vague pass coverage, and missed tackles. While being on the sideline, I can objectively say that neither teams were exactly angels on the field. But, the Cat’s three personal fouls to start the 3rd quarter, multiple scuffles, and Jordan Jones’ continuous misconduct were not a positive reflection of the program or university.

For the second consecutive game Kentucky did not tackle well. Given that some missed tackles were against the ever-elusive Lamar Jackson, but pursuit angles and ineffectiveness against non-Jackson ball carriers critically led to the outcome. Louisville threw for 216-yards and often had wide-open receivers running free throughout the secondary.

A large portion of unreliable pass coverage can be attributed to its restricted, line-of-scrimmage pass rush. The Wildcat’s failed to register a QB sack. Its pass defense was ranked 116th in the nation going into the Louisville game. On many occasions, Lamar Jackson had the comfort of sitting five or more seconds in the pocket in order to dissect coverage and find an open receiver. The organic defensive line infrequently pressured the quarterback. When blitzes were called, linebackers rarely pressured. Man to man coverage behind the blitz was ripped apart by crossing and other route combinations. It may be just me, but it felt as if Jackson passed for more than 216-yards.

Of note; Kentucky registered just 2 tackles for loss. So, zero sacks and two TFL’s did not equate to forcing the issue across the opponent’s line of scrimmage and produced zero turnovers.

Defensive Statistics
Scoring
Allowed 44 points
Rushing
346-yards
Passing
216
Total
562
First Downs
32
Yards per Play
8.5
3rd Down
6/11 (54.5%)
Red-Zone
6/7, 4 TD’s

Top Performers
Tackles
Courtney Love
10
Tackles for Loss
Kordell Looney
1
QB Sacks
N/A
0

 

SPECIAL TEAMS
-Austin MacGinnis’ last game in Kroger Field resulted in a missed field goal and one kickoff that sailed out of bounds.
-Matt Panton averaged 42.2 yards per punt.
-Louisville strategically and effectively kicked short to limit Lynn Bowden returns.
-Louisville did not punt; thus no return yards.

What does all this mean?

On Saturday two decent teams faced off in a rivalry game. Both possessed one great player. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was unbelievable as expected. His surrounding cast was motivated, efficient, operative, and precise. Conversely, Kentucky’s Benny Snell was mostly unstoppable. However, his supporting cast failed to capitalize in the passing game, incurred far too many senseless penalties, and were imprecise during key moments of the football game.

The Kentucky football team needs to emulate its best player which happens to be the sophomore running back. Snell plays with heart, passion, intensity, exactness, and desire on each and every snap.

Where do we go from here? Mark Stoops said his team needs to decompress and get away from the facility after a long, roller coaster season. The Cats finished 7-5 for the second consecutive season and will have the benefit of bowl practices which are invaluable for program growth. Recruiting season is heating up with an early signing date on the horizon. The Cats badly need to maximize bowl prep to ensure a better effort than seen vs. Georgia and Louisville.

So, did the Cats meet anticipation in 2017? The answer to that question is dependent on individual expectation management. Most of the BBN was giddy about 2017 due to the depth chart that was projected from the 2016 Taxslayer Bowl. Unexpected personnel departures badly hurt this team; more so than I anticipated. I was wrong. The Cat’s leading receiver and all conference hopeful WR Jeff Badet transferred to Oklahoma. 1000-yard rusher RB Boom Williams’ entered the NFL Draft but was not selected and is apparently out of the game for now. Multiple game starting guard Ramsey Meyers gave up football after graduation. Preseason injuries also became an unforeseen obstacle that lessened offensive punch. Eddie Gran lost starting left tackle Cole Mosier and Dorian Baker prior to traveling to Southern Miss. Both were poised for a strong senior season. All SEC guard Nick Haynes played sparingly due to illness. Attrition is a part of the game that impact every team in college football. However, personnel losses must be taken into consideration when evaluating the season. Benny Snell’s second consecutive historic season was darn near superhuman given the aforementioned circumstances.

The Cats frustrated defensively; especially in its two recent outings. The back end of the schedule was heavy laden with extremely talented individual players. Team records may have not been overwhelming but there were some individual athletes that were prevailing. The Cats faced far more upper-level quarterbacks and skill players than it did in 2016. Again, no excuses just data supported facts. But, I expected the 2017 defense to be better than it performed.

I’d like to thank you for reading and following along during the 2017 season. I realize that opinionated posts produce responses with differing sentiments. That’s perfectly ok.

After a disappointing loss to Louisville, Kentucky is 7-5.


Scouting the Louisville Cardinals

Scouting the Louisville Cardinals

Pic by The Sun Sentinel

The Louisville Cardinals will travel to Kroger Field coming off a convincing 56-10 home-win over Syracuse with the reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback that will be seeking vengeance from last year’s Governor’s Cup loss. Kentucky enters Saturday fresh off a disappointing road-loss to Georgia, beaten up, and with a group of prideful 25 seniors that will playing their last game on Kroger Field. Both teams are 7-4. The Wildcats are a 10-point home-field underdog.

There’s one overbearing reason that the Cardinals are favored; quarterback Lamar Jackson. I watch lots and lots of college football. In my humble opinion, Jackson is the best player in America for the second consecutive season. I really don’t think there’s a close second. Adding to the game’s projection is a new-found running game by non-Jackson ball carriers and an improving/healthy defense that held Syracuse to 10-points a week ago.

The Cardinals best win is over Virginia (6-5). The victory over UVA is its only win over a team with a winning record. Conversely, Kentucky defeated 8-win South Carolina in Columbia as well as Southern Miss in Hattiesburg (7-4) and Missouri (6-5) at Kroger Field.

 

2017 Schedule-Results

Purdue W 35-28
@North Carolina W 47-35
Clemson L 21-47
Kent State W 42-3
Murray State W 55-10
@NC State L 25-39
Boston College L 42-45
@Florida State W 31-28
@Wake Forest L 32-42
Virginia W 38-21
Syracuse W 56-10

OFFENSE

Louisville ranks third in the nation by averaging 560 total yards per game: 319 passing and 241 on the ground. The UofL offense starts and often finishes with QB Lamar Jackson. Jackson has accumulated 4,560 yards and 40 TDs through eleven games. The Cardinal offensive line was an obvious liability a year ago but has shown vast development under former UK OL coach Mike Summers. Of note: Summer’s unit includes three freshmen. Surprisingly, Louisville is averaging 30:31 time of possession compared to its opponent’s 29:29. One driving factor for increased time of possession is that its converting 45% on 3rd down.

Kentucky has faced three teams with upper-level receivers in 2017: Ole Miss, Southern Miss, and Missouri. Make that four as of Saturday. Cardinal pass catchers can be categorized in the same class as the aforementioned. WRs Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, Seth Dawkins, and Traveon Samuel are fast, skilled, large, and well adapted to Lamar Jackson’s frequent scrambling to maximize the width and length of the football field.

QB Lamar Jackson is the team’s top NFL prospect. This Louisville offense can manufacture a tremendous amount of pressure on the Kentucky through its speed, tendencies to spread the field, ability to quickly obtain the edge in both the run and pass game, and; well Lamar. Running quarterbacks have given the Cats fits throughout the years. Defensive coordinator Matt House is set to face the most elusive QB I’ve seen in 40-years. 

Projected Starters

Quarterback 8 Lamar Jackson 6’3, 211 Jr.
Running Back 7 Reggie Bonnafon 6’3, 212 Sr.
Tight End 80 Charles Standberry 6’3, 241 Sr.
Left Tackle 74 Geron Christian 6’6, 315 Jr.
Left Guard 79 Kenny Thomas 6’6, 322 Jr.
Center 75 Robbie Bell 6’5, 305 Fr.
Right Guard 66 Cole Bentley 6’3, 316 Fr.
Right Tackle 73 Mekhi Becton 6’7, 340 Fr.
Receiver 1 Traveon Samuel 5’7, 170 Jr.
Receiver 5 Seth Dawkins 6’3, 214 Soph.
Receiver Jaylen Smith 6’4, 220 Jr.

 Top Performers

Rushing QB Lamar Jackson 190 carries, 1287-yards, 17 TDs
Passing Lamar Jackson 226/378, 3273-yards, 59.8%,
Receiving Jaylen Smith 47 catches, 798-yards, 5 TD

Offensive Results

Scoring 38.5 points per game ACC-1st
Rushing 241 yards per game ACC-2nd
Passing 319 ACC-1st
Total 560 ACC-1st
3rd Down 45% ACC-2nd
Red-Zone 85%, 29 TD’s ACC-6th

DEFENSE

Pic by Scout.com

Out goes Todd Grantham to Mississippi State and in comes defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon from Mississippi State. Grantham got the better end of the personnel swap. Charlie Strong’s defensive recruits have mostly moved on which has left Sirmon with fewer explosive athletes than Grantham has at his disposal in Starkville. The Card’s new defensive leader has been a polarizing figure within the Louisville fan base, message boards, and talk radio. Early season injuries and personnel deficiencies seemed to be as contributing to inefficiencies as coaching and scheme. Its responded as of late with impressive and vastly improved home performances against Virginia and Syracuse.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander is elite and the defense’s top NFL prospect. Alexander is a shutdown cornerback. Freshman linebacker Dorian Etheridge leads the Cards in tackles (69) and is followed by two safety Chuckie Williams (68). LB Stacy Thomas was on my 1st Team All Opponent squad from 2016; heck of a football player.

Defensive end James Hearns is playing at a high level and has recorded 13.5 tackles for loss and 7 quarterback sacks. Opposing offenses have experienced more success throwing the football (allowing 244 ypg) than on the ground (147.2). Boston College was the exception as the Eagles rushed 59 times for 364-yards and recorded 5 rushing touchdowns. Wake Forest experienced the most accomplishment in the passing game vs. the Cardinals: 28/34, 461-yards, 5 touchdowns.

Projected Starters

Defensive End 91 Trevon Young 6’4, 254 Sr.
Nose Tackle 94 G.G. Robinson 6’3, 305 Soph.
Defensive End 99 James Hearns 6’3, 248 Sr.
Defensive Tackle 14 Drew Bailey 6’3, 294 Sr.
Linebacker 32 Stacey Thomas 6’1, 242 Sr.
Linebacker 17 Dorian Etheridge 6’3, 227 Fr.
Linebacker 21 London Iakopo 6’0, 223 Jr.
Cornerback 10 Jaire Alexander 5’11, 192 Jr.
Cornerback 15 Trumaine Washington 5’10, 181 Sr.
Safety 24 Zykiesis Cannon 6’0, 185 Sr.
Safety 22 Chucky Williams 6’2, 216 Sr.

Top Performers

Tackles Dorian Etheridge 69
Tackles for Loss James Hearns 13.5
QB Sacks James Hearns 7
Interceptions Trumaine Washington 4

Defensive Production

Scoring 28 points per game ACC-11th
Rushing 147.18 ypg ACC-5th
Passing 244 ACC-11th
Total 391.2 ACC-9th
3rd Down 40.4% ACC-11th
Red-Zone 87.10%, 23 TD’s ACC-12th

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Blanton Creque 12/14-FG
Punter Mason King 44.1 per
KO Return Traveon Samuel 18.5 per
Punt Return Russ Yeast 3.3 per

Blanton Creque is the top ranked placekicker in the ACC and St. Xavier product Mason King is averaging 44.1 yards per punt.


What does all this mean?

How to stop Lamar Jackson is the million-dollar question that has led to many sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators. The answer is simple; you don’t. Kentucky must control the other two phases of the game in order to limit the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s number of offensive possessions.

For the Cats to Win

— Win time of possession by more than 5 minutes.

— Average 60% plus on 3rd down conversions. Move the chains, run the clock, keep Jackson off the field.

— 100% in the red-zone with 75% coming from touchdowns, not field goals! This has been an issue for the Cats in its four losses.

— Create a special team’s explosive play: force a turnover, long return in punt/kickoff, or block a kick/punt.

— Take advantage of scoring situations. Kentucky failed to do so a week ago in Athens by dropping touchdown passes, overthrowing scoring opportunities, etc.

— Tackle. UK was not efficient in this category in its last outing vs. an athletic Louisville offense; tackling will be vital.

— Maintain edge and gap integrity. Cannot afford to consistently allow Lamar Jackson to run freely down the sideline or up the middle due to vacated rush lanes.

— Be creative. This accounts for offense and defense. TE CJ Conrad is out. Greg Hart and Justin Rigg are also banged up. Eddie Gran will be forced to become creative in personnel groupings, motions, formations, and play-calling. Defensively, Matt House will call a mixture of coverages and blitzes in an attempt to keep Lamar Jackson off balance. Again, stopping Jackson is darn nearly impossible. Limiting the quarterback by outside factors was the winning formula for Mark Stoops in 2016.

*The Louisville media kit provided at the Monday press conference did not contain depth charts. The listings above were gathered from outside sources.


The Depth Chart Podcast: Louisville

The Depth Chart Podcast is here a few days early to provide a Thanksgiving treat to all of our travelers across the Big Blue Nation.  After Kentucky’s loss to Georgia, Freddie has everything you need to be prepared for Rivalry Week.

As the Cats search for their second consecutive Governor’s Cup victory, Mark Ennis of 93.9 The Ville joins the program to share intimate insight on the Cardinals’ late-season resurgence.  Highlights:

—  Why the Georgia loss disappointed Freddie more than any other loss.

—  Are any UK underclassmen ready for the NFL?

—  How UofL’s offensive line has improved.

—  Is UofL’s defense still that bad?

—  How do you contain Lamar Jackson?

—  A Salute to Seniors.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


After Action Review: Georgia

PIC BY HISTORY.ARMY.MIL

An After Action Review is an Army method utilized to analyze an intended action. Let’s apply a version of this process to the Kentucky vs. Georgia football game to determine what caused the final outcome as well as addressing the Cat’s need to sustain and improve:

WHAT WERE INTENDED RESULTS

-Win the football game.

WHAT WERE ACTUAL RESULTS

-Lost the football game 42-13.

WHAT CAUSED OUR RESULTS

Line-of-Scrimmage

-Kentucky stood toe-to-toe with Georgia for the first quarter and for the greater portion of the 1st half. That changed as the game went on as the Cats were beaten up front on both sides of the line-of-scrimmage in the second half. 

-Some of this can be attributed to the game’s scoring dynamic which took Kentucky’s necessity to run the football out of the equation.

-UK accumulated just 262 total yards, UGA-504.

-Losing Quinten Bohanna to injury significantly altered the defense’s up-front talent level. Bohanna has the potential to be special.

-Kentucky registered one tackle for loss and quarterback sack. Did not affect across line-of-scrimmage action for the Georgia offense.

-The Cats allowed three quarterback sacks and three tackles for loss.

Tackling

-Georgia rushed for 381-yards. A large portion of yardage gained was a result of missed tackles by Kentucky defenders.

-Gap integrity was not an overbearing deficiency especially in the early onset of the game. Break downs occurred later, especially on the edge. Poor tackling became obvious.

-Missed tackle for loss opportunities limited UK from getting the UGA offense off the field. In other words, extended drives.

-Credit Georgia and its two senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. UGA is 2nd in the SEC in rushing and 10th in the nation.

Missed Opportunities

Two dropped potential touchdown passes are not the recipe for an upset road win.

-Missed opportunities for scores with overthrown passes.

-See above for tackling reference.

-Block/Tackle/Pitch/Catch.

-Special team’s errors.

WHAT WILL WE SUSTAIN–IMPROVE?

SUSTAIN

Benny Snell’s Heart

22 carries for 94-yards and a score vs. a defense that allows 103 rush-yards per game.

-Snell’s yardage would have been higher if the game’s score hadn’t skyrocketed out of control.

-Benny Snell’s effort and desire are the standard that the Kentucky Football team needs to emulate if it wants to beat Louisville.

Kicking and Punting

Matt Panton averaged 42-yards per punt and placed two inside the 20-yard line.

-Austin MacGinnis was perfect for the game, 2/2 FG’s and kicked 2/4 touchbacks. He was averaging 37% touchbacks for the season.

IMPROVE

Run Defense

-Allowed 381-yards, 5 rushing touchdowns.

-Georgia averaged 8.7 yards per carry.

-Four UGA running backs accumulated over 40-yards.

-See tackling comments.

Red-Zone TD Efficiency

-Kentucky 3/3 in Red-Zone, 1 touchdown.

-Georgia 3/3 in Red-Zone, 3 touchdowns.

Special Teams

Georgia averaged 20 yards per punt and 30.5 on kickoff returns. Must be noted UGA only returned one punt which led to the 20-yard average.

-Roughing the punter/kicker call changed the game’s early momentum in favor of the opponent.

-When facing a superiorly talented team on the road, special teams must be special to pull off an upset.

What does all this mean?

Mark Stoops is 3-0 coming off losses in 2017. Kentucky is a better football team than it showed in Athens. Film study and game review will not be a comfortable experience; as is shouldn’t be. The Wildcats will need to vastly improve this week in practice in order to have a chance to retain the Governor’s Cup. Late-season health is also an issue. Key players such as Quinten Bohanna, CJ Conrad, and Mike Edwards sustained injuries in Athens. QB Stephen Johnson has been beaten up for a while now.

The Cats are 7-4.


The Tackling Deficient Cats Routed by Georgia

There’s no easy way to say this; Kentucky’s tackling performance, or lack thereof, was the most inefficient defensive exhibition of the season. Missed tackles for loss, squandered mid-line and open field tackles, poor pursuit angles, and just about every other fundamental aspect of bringing the opposing ball carrier to the ground were insufficient between the hedges. Kentucky failed to register explosive stats as well by recording just one tackle for loss and quarterback sack. The glaring number from the game was 381. Georgia rushed for 381-yards against the Wildcat defense that was allowing 121 per contest.

Dreadful tackling, very little explosive defensive production, 31% 3rd down conversion ratio, two dropped touchdown passes, and subnormal special teams play equaled a blowout loss to the #7 ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia is a very, very good football team. However, Saturday can only be categorized as a disappointing performance by Kentucky.

OFFENSE

Kentucky converted 31% on 3rd down which means that drives were rarely sustained. I did like the aggressive play calling. The Cats dropped two potential touchdown passes in the first half. What could have been a close game at intermission resulted into a 21-6 spread in favor of the home team. The proper recipe for an upset road win includes maximizing scoring opportunities. Those two missed scoring chances did not lose the game for the Cats but merely added to a long list of blunders that proved too much to overcome.

The Cats surpassed UGA’s allowed rushing yards per game by accumulating 124. I can imagine this number would have been larger if the game’s circumstance did not flip due to Georgia’s frequent scoring in the second half. The game flowed perfectly for Georgia. A 21-13 lead turned 28-13 after four plays. At that point Kentucky was forced into more passing situations which all but took Benny Snell out of the equation. Self-inflicted mistakes by the Cats aided Georgia’s dominance.

Kentucky Offensive Statistics

Scoring 13 points
Rushing 124 yards, (3.4 yards per carry)
Passing 138
Total 262
3rd Down 4/13 (30.76%)

 

Top Performers

Passing Stephen Johnson 12/22 (54,5%), 138-yards
Rushing Benny Snell 22 carries, 94-yards, 1 TD 4.27 yards per carry
Receiving Garrett Johnson 4 catches, 36-yards

DEFENSE
Missed tackles. Missed tackles. Missed tackles. You get the picture. Running backs Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, D’Andre Swift, and Brian Herrien were bottled up early but had their way with the Wildcat defense in the second half. Gap integrity was a concern going into the game. Reality was that UK was frequently in the right place at the right time but frustratingly did not execute tackles at the point of contact. This did not apply to the edge late in the game. UGA secured the outside for a plethora explosive runs. Defensive back pursuit angles were unfitting as Dawg runners ran through, over, and around the Cats for 381 rush-yards.

Georgia did nothing fancy. Matter of fact, it ran the same exact play on consecutive downs with the same positive results. Pass plays often consisted of play action or max protection with two receivers in the route. NT Quinten Bohanna’s absence was noticeable. The true freshman has played at a high level. Edge containment was poor. This falls on defensive ends, outside linebackers, and cornerbacks. Kentucky linebackers are the strength of the defense. Saturday was the group’s least efficient performance of 2017.

At the end of the day Georgia was just plain more physical than its visitors. Its running backs were meaner than the defenders with intentions to tackle. Football can be a complicated game, but it can also be just that simple. 381 rush-yards appeared exceedingly easygoing for the Dawgs.

Kentucky Defensive Statistics

Scoring 42 point
Rushing 381-yard, 8.7 yards per carry
Passing 123
Total 504
3rd Down 4/8 (50%)

Kentucky Defense Top Performers

Tackles Darius West 7
Tackles for Loss TJ Carter 1
QB Sacks TJ Carter 1
Interceptions Josh Allen 1

Georgia Offensive Top Performers

Passing Jake Fromm 9/14, 123-yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing Nick Chubb 15 carries, 151-yards, 2 TD’s, 10.1 yards per carry
Rushing Sony Michel 12 carries, 87-yards, 3 TD’s, 7.3 yards per carry
Rushing D’Andre Swift 7 rushes, 66-yards, 9.4 yards per carry
Rushing Brian Herrien 3 carries, 48-yards, 16 yards per carry
Receiving Javon Wims 6 catches, 83-yards, 1 TD

SPECIAL TEAMS

Roughing the punter call completely shifted the game’s early momentum. Following a three and out, Lonnie Johnson and Charles Moushey tackled the Georgia punter. The result of the penalty led to a touchdown drive. The Dawgs never looked back. Austin MacGinnis was 2/2 for the night, Matt Panton averaged 42 yards per punt. Mecole Hardman averaged 20-yards per punt return and 31 on kickoffs. Overall, an atypical  performance.

What does all this mean?

There were few positives to take from this game. Early onset offensive line blocking and Benny Snell’s 22 carries, 94-yards, and 1 touchdown can be construed as inspiring. Same can be said of first quarter defense. However, given the defense’s porous tackling and injuries to key Cats Quinten Bohanna, Josh Edwards, and CJ Conrad; beating Louisville for a second consecutive season now appears more daunting. Sunday through Friday are critical for this football team. Mark Stoops must correct, motivate, regroup, and prepare his team to take on the defending Heisman Trophy winner who will be inspired to make amends for last year’s late-game fumble.

Kentucky is better than it showed against Georgia. The Wildcats are 7-4.


The Depth Chart Podcast: Georgia

After an exciting win over Vanderbilt, The Depth Chart Podcast crew is here to prepare you for Kentucky’s tall task at Georgia.  Nobody outside of the Kentucky locker room believes the Cats can win.  Is there a path to victory in Between the Hedges?  Find that out by listening, and…

—  Freddie still can’t go to Nashville.

—  How UK’s secondary was able to pick off Shurmur four times.

—  Has UK overachieved?

—  Drake Jackson’s start shows signs of a fantastic Kentucky career.

—  A reason to feel confident the Cats will compete with Georgia.

—  Life lessons from Hunter S. Thompson’s Dad.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.