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The Leach Report

The Leach Report: North Carolina

 

From Tom Leach….

 

We tend to focus on individual deficiencies when analyzing why a team we follow isn’t performing to the level we expected, but there’s a team stat that is a consistent theme in all three of the Wildcats’ losses this season–opponent field goal percentage.

Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina each shot 47 percent or better from the field against UK.  Carolina got there on Saturday with a 57 percent second half performance.  (And those are the only three teams this season to outscore the Cats on points-in-the-paint, too).  Texas-Arlington at 41 percent is the only other opponent to crack the 40 percent barrier.

That’s three times in 11 games that the opponent has hit the 47 percent mark.  In 2010, it only happened five times all season and the third instance didn’t occur until the 16th game.  In 2011, only three opponents hit that mark or better all season.  In 2012, it was four times, with the third coming in the 33rd game.  But last year, nine opponents made the 47 percent field goal level and the third time it happened was in game 12.

From UMass to Memphis to UK, the calling card of John Calipari-coached teams has been their defense.  And the best ones coupled that stingy defense with efficient offense.

Cal’s first three teams ranked in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency numbers of basketball stat guru Ken Pomeroy, focusing on points-per-possession (see kenpom.com).  The two teams that reached the Final Four both ranked in the top 10 on both ends of the court.  Historically, find the teams that rank in the top 10 in both categories going into the NCAA Tournament and the eventual national champion is often among that group.

Even though the numbers are consistent in the opponent field goal percentage stat, each game is its own story.  And against Carolina, the Wildcats’ turnovers contributed greatly to UNC’s shooting percentage.  Also, the Tar Heels consistently recognized mismatches and were patient enough to exploit them while Kentucky too often failed to make the defense have to shift from side to side.

Defense is about effort, communication and cohesiveness–for that matter, overall team success is about those factors.  These Cats play hard but the latter two components are seriously lacking right now.  Carolina couldn’t guard the Cats off the dribble but by defending as a team and by Kentucky attacking too often without moving the ball, Kentucky took a lot more contested shots than the Tar Heels did and not surprisingly, missed significantly more of those shots.

 

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network  

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for “The Leach Report”

 


The Leach Report: Thoughts on Julius Randle and the Georgia game

From Tom Leach…

Julius Randle joined an exclusive club in Kentucky’s win over UT-Arlington, when he recorded his fifth consecutive double-double to start the season.  That’s something only Jim Andrews (seven straight in ’72), Dan Issel and Cotton Nash (five in a row for each, a feat Issel achieved twice) have accomplished in the storied history of the Kentucky basketball program.

Randle has scored 20-plus points in four of those five games and he’s getting to the free throw line at a school-record pace.  So with all of those numbers Randle is racking up, a question that often pops up is “who does Julius Randle remind you of?”

I have yet to hear an answer to that question that seems to nail the comparison but there are some qualities in Randle that remind me of some Big Blue stars of the past.

Jamal Mashburn:  “Mash” offered a rare combination of size along with the agility of a smaller player.  He could take his man outside and score or he could him up.  I don’t yet see Randle having the scoring punch on the perimeter of Mashburn but I think Randle is better on the blocks.

Kenny Walker:  “Sky” is not the one you usually hear compared to Randle but the similarity I see is the effectiveness in the low post.  Walker scored 20-or-more 20 times in 36 games in the ’86 season and he averaged shooting 274 free throws per season in his final two years.  Walker had that quickness in the paint that made him hard to guard in the way that opponents are struggling to contend with Randle (who has had double figures in free throw attempts in four of his first five games).

Demarcus Cousins:  “Cuz” was bigger but he, too, had that amazing footwork that enabled to maneuver around opponents in the low post.  Randle is a better pure scorer at this similar point in their UK careers but he could use a little more that brute force mentality that served Cousins so well.

James Lee:  this is an old school reference but the similarity I see with Lee, along with the fact that both are lefties, is that Lee would rip the ball off the glass and be perfectly comfortable bringing it down the floor for a dunk.

We’re still early in Randle’s rookie season but it’s fun to think about those comparisons, given how many great players have suited up at Kentucky.

= = =

There’s not much reason to look back at a long night in Athens, Ga.  The Bulldogs are arguably the most potent offense in the SEC when healthy and that was a mismatch for a Kentucky defense depleted by injuries and suspensions.  And while Georgia has had a mediocre season on defense, Kentucky just doesn’t have the offense to take advantage of that, especially once it lost Jalen Whitlow, the man around whom the Cats had been building their game plans.

In our postgame interview, a dejected Mark Stoops said this would be an important week, as he looks to see which players bring their best effort in preparation for the season finale against Tennessee.  A win over the Vols would give this program a shot of momentum for the offseason workouts and help the coaching staff as it tries to round out what figures to be the highest-rated recruiting class ever for UK football.

“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

Dyshawn Mobley.  Not much in the way of praise-worthy performances for UK in this whipping down between the hedges.  Mobley did have a career-best day in rushing yards, including a 69-yard sprint to paydirt and he continues to play well on special teams.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network;  and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats


The Leach Report

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

When longtime college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy of sportingnews.com joined me on “The Leach Report” show Monday, he had an interesting take on the changes in the way the game is being officiated this season.

DeCourcy said he has long believed free throw shooting was a bit overrated by fans because other factors have as great or greater impact on the outcome but might not be as easy to recognize. Now, he looks at it differently.

“In the past, if you shot a lot of free throws, you were usually asserting a physical superiority over the other team that the opponent couldn’t manage in other ways and you could still win (while) missing free throws. Now, you can earn free throws with asserting a physical superiority over the opponent. You can make a simple move and get two free throws so better take advantage of that because you may not get to assert your physical superiority over that (opponent),” DeCourcy told our show. “If you don’t shoot free throws well, it may become prudent for the other team to foul you on purpose (if they have enough depth). That’s why it becomes more important than probably ever in the history of the game that you have to be successful making free throws. “

Fouls are going to be a big storyline for this college basketball season–we knew it was coming and from everything we’ve been told, this plan to clean up the game is not going to change as the season unfolds. It seems clear that John Calipari is convinced of that.

A referee friend of mine said Cal had game officials calling more UK preseason scrimmages than ever and you heard the coach say on Sunday that he had ordered any player not shooting 80 percent or better at the line to make sure to get up 100 free throws a day. This was in the wake of a 16-missed-free-throw-night against Michigan State and it’s not the kind of thing I remember Cal doing in the past.

Cal is a coach that more often than not is ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in the game, be those changes in recruiting or officiating. When the three-point shot came into college basketball, sharp coaches knew it wasn’t just how many your team made that was important but also how many you give up–a big disparity in that area would often lead to defeat and that might well be true with this trend toward more fouls being called this season. You can’t control how many free throws the other team makes so it’s important to make sure your team doesn’t leave too many points on the table at the FT line. The Cats are improving in that area but still not where they need to be.

= = =

Alabama was the worst matchup of the season for Kentucky because of the disparity in overall talent but Georgia is arguably a close second–because the Dogs have one of the league’s best offenses, led by one of the best quarterbacks, and the Cats are struggling to put points on the board.

Aaron Murray is averaging 309 yards per game through the air and Georgia is averaging 33ppg in SEC play to Kentucky’s 14.5. UK was better on third down last week (7 of 16) but will likely need to improve on that stat to have a chance against the Dogs.

KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

Kentucky needs a healthy plus-number in the turnover margin stat. Even with four interceptions last week, UK is tied for the fewest giveaways in the SEC with 11. And Georgia ranks dead last in takeaways with only nine. For the season, the Dogs are minus-8 in turnovers.

Georgia’s pass rush versus the UK O-line. UGA ranks second in the league with 28 sacks and Kentucky is at the bottom in sacks allowed, having given up 28. That’s a scary stat for the Big Blue, given how the Cats struggle when they get into second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

Can UK finish drives? Kentucky was one or two first downs away from being in field goal range several times last week and a few three’s might have won that game. The best hope for improvement this week is that Georgia’s defense is a good bit younger than the last two SEC defenses the Cats have seen. In SEC games, UGA’s defense is giving up almost 415 yards per game.

Kentucky often plays Georgia tough, both at home and away, but when UGA is healthy, its offense is one of the best in the league. Other than the games against Bama and Mizzou, Kentucky has found a way to stay close into the fourth quarter in the games it lost. Coach Stoops said he thought the Vandy game marked the hardest and most physical his team has played all season and they will definitely need to call on that resilient spirit Saturday to hang with the Dogs.
(stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The Leach Report: Michigan State/Vandy

From Tom Leach…

 

I think UK basketball fans look at the season like the top golfers on the PGA Tour look at their seasons–it’s all about the majors.  For the Wildcats, the “majors” on this schedule are Michigan State, North Carolina, Louisville and tournament time.  And we’ll tend to measure this team’s championship-level credentials by the improvement they make from each of those markers to the next.

The Harrison brothers caught most of the bad press from UK’s loss to Michigan State.  On one hand, that comes with the territory at Kentucky, in this accelerated-learning environment of trying to win a title with freshman-dominated teams.  But it’s also important to remember that they were going up against a senior point guard in Appling and arguably the best 2-guard in the nation in Harris–and Andrew and Aaron Harrison had to do this in their third college game.  CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish did a good job of putting their play in Chicago into a big-picture perspective when he  appeared on “The Leach Report” Friday, noting that he saw firsthand how Derrick Rose did not blossom until late in his only season at Memphis.

Most of you are probably expect a revenge-game beat down tonight against Robert Morris.  Whatever unfolds at Rupp, I think my broadcast partner has the right take on these next few games:

 

Mike Pratt @MikePratt22

 

Tonight first pop quiz for this Cat team since Calipari Prep School began after MSU loss. Lets all sit back and see what develops!!

 

= = =

For the long-suffering Kentucky football fans, this game at Vandy may have been the most frustrating of the season.  So many chances to seize control of a winnable game and the Cats were never able to find anyone to step forward with that big play that WR Jordan Matthews so often made for the ‘Dores.

GAME-CHANGING PLAY(S)

If you have to pick one, go with the blocked PAT following Kentucky’s first series–and only touchdown.  All the momentum the Cats had generated with that first drive just evaporated and by halftime, in a game it felt like UK had controlled, Vandy led 9-6 because of the PAT block and a turnover that led to a short Vandy TD drive.

  In reality, it wasn’t a game-changing play that anybody made but the numerous opportunities for game-changing plays that UK did not make.  After Vandy went ahead 9-6 late in the first quarter, the Wildcats moved to the VU 45-yard line or closer on five of their next six drives but failed to come away with any points.

The difference in this game was not a game-changing play but a game-changing player in Matthews.  He made all the big plays for the Commodores and he’s the type UK just does not have right now.

“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

Donte Rumph.  The senior DT had his best game, with a career-best 10 tackles.  Rumph stuffed the run in the middle and also moved side to side to make tackles.

Avery Williamson (2 sacks) and Bud Dupree (1.5 sacks) also merit praise for their play in what was the defense’s best overall game of the season.  But that defense will be tested on a much-higher level next week by Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network;  and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats

 


© Dennis Wierzbicki

The Leach Report

Randle

© Dennis Wierzbicki

It’s understandable to be disappointed about Kentucky’s loss to Michigan State. But surprised? No. This is a Spartan team viewed, along with Kentucky, as one of the half-dozen or so legit national title contenders and MSU returned 84 percent of its offense from last season and 79 percent of its rebounding.

Whether it’s missed free throws, 17 turnovers, not blocking out Michigan State’s best offensive rebounder on the Spartans’ final possession or giving up too many transition baskets (something that a key point in the scouting report on MSU), it’s easy to say Kentucky could have won with just slight improvement in any one of those areas. In the heat of the moment, no coach is going to say “boy, I’m glad we lost that game because I’ll have their attention now” but John Calipari may look back on the outcome later in the year (say maybe in Dallas while contemplating a Final Four matchup) and think this game served a very young team well.

Coach Cal has compared this year’s team most often to his first one, the John Wall-Demarcus Cousins group. And it’s worth noting that those Cats didn’t have to face a ranked opponent until they beat number 10 North Carolina on December 5. Kansas was only ranked 12th when the eventual national champion team of 2011-12 beat the Jayhawks in the Champions Classic and that UK team had two sophomores and a senior in the top six.

This the highest-ranked opponent that Kentucky has faced the earliest in the Calipari era and Michigan State had a veteran backcourt to show the way. Those two things are especially important to consider when discussing the play of the Harrison twins, point guard Andrew in particular. Those two are extremely hard on themselves but what they’ll come to learn is that it’s okay to be a perfectionist, as long as the thing they’re thinking most being perfect is the team. In high school, individual play for guys like them is directly tied to the team’s wins and losses. But now, with so much talent around them, the Harrisons and every player on this team can come to understand that the team can still win even if they don’t play their best. If the shots aren’t falling, get rebounds. Make a turnover? Get it back by locking down your man on defense.

Learning lessons hurts when it means you lose a game. It took the 2010-11 Cats a bunch of tough losses to learn what they needed to learn but in the end, they were two points away from playing for a national title.

= = =

One of the first steps in elevating the Kentucky football program will be winning the games against the other teams fighting to make that climb up the SEC ladder, teams like Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. The Cats play both on the road and they came up a little short at State, so this game at Vandy is an opportunity to take a significant step in growing this program. Rich Brooks will tell that coming back from 13-0 down to beat Vandy in ’04 and winning a 48-43 shootout in ’05 were important steps in starting that run of five straight bowls that began in 2006.

KEY STORYLINES

Can Kentucky sustain drives. An encouraging stat lost in a 48-17 defeat to Missouri was that Kentucky had multiple long scoring drives in the second half against a very good defense. That’s a noteworthy element of improvement for the UK offense and they will likely need to repeat it this week, as Vandy ranks first in the SEC in allowing the fewest plays of 20-plus yards.

Continue to avoid turning it over. Kentucky is tied with Alabama for fewest turnovers (seven) in the SEC Vandy will test that trend as the Commodores have been making a living off turnovers lately. Against Florida, the ‘Dores turned three interceptions into touchdowns and in the last three games, they have had eight scoring drives that started inside the opponents’ 40-yard line. Getting those turnovers and being productive with them is why Vandy is averaging 32 points per game (to UK’s 23) while averaging only 19 yards-per-game more in total offense.

Win the battle v. VU’s offense on first down. Vandy ranks last in the SEC in rushing yards and if the Cats can force the ‘Dores into having to throw it often on third down, it’s noteworthy that Vandy completes only 43 percent of its third-down passes.


The Leach Report: Basketball through four games and the loss to Missouri

tom leach and pratt

John Calipari’s task of trying to mold essentially a new team each season into a national title contender is similar to a thoroughbred trainer trying to win the Kentucky Derby. He or she gets a new horse as a two-year old and there’s often about six months or so to get that horse in position to win the roses in the only chance it will have.

Horses with great talent almost always run fast in the morning workouts and they often make it look easy in their races, when the competition is inferior. But eventually, the trainer wants to see that horse get “hooked” by a comparable rival, to learn about its will to win and how it handles some adversity. For Calipari, that time probably comes Tuesday night, when the young, talented Wildcats face Michigan State in Chicago.
Through four games, here are some things I really like about this team:

the ability to switch on defense at every position. This helps Kentucky adapt to the new way the game is being officiated, as it does not put as great a premium on containing straight line drives to the basket–but it does demand great communication.

Julius Randle is a relentless rebounder. My broadcast partner, Mike Pratt, loves to see guys who rebound “outside the area,” going to get the rebounds that don’t just fall into their lap. Randle excels at this and it seems to be contagious, as Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are much-improved in that area.

Andrew Harrison is the true quarterback on the floor Kentucky was missing last season. In terms of his inclination to set the table for others, Harrison might just be the most pure point guard Calipari has had at Kentucky and now he just needs to learn to play the way Calipari wants. The coach talked about this in the postgame interview, saying Harrison needs to blow by his man or move the ball to a teammate and now keep it in his hands quite so much.

I’m really eager to see this matchup because a veteran team like Michigan State will expose what flaws the Cats have. Win or lose, they’ll learn a lot but never underestimate the chances of that horse that has tons of talent.

= = =

If you’re trying to upset a top 10 team, you must force them into mistakes or capitalize on unforced errors to score without having to drive the length of the field. Against Missouri, the UK football team’s breakdowns in special teams play, a rarity this season, helped the Tigers to four touchdown drives that started inside the Cats’ 45-yard line and that’s a formula for what happened to the Cats on Saturday.

Missouri is arguably the best team on Kentucky’s schedule next to Alabama so the only way to really close the gap is what Mark Stoops and company are doing in recruiting. For now, the Wildcats must focus on what John Calipari means when he talks about holding onto the rope. Times are tough, a third straight losing season is now mathematically inevitable, but it’s imperative for building the foundation for a brighter future that these Cats finish out this season with a resilient spirit That’s the legacy for this senior class to leave behind.

GAME-CHANGING PLAY(S)

Missouri was the dominant team so no one play changed the course of this game. For Kentucky, two breakdowns with the punt–a block and a 13-yarder that set up Mizzou for two short-field scores–were crucial mistakes. Also, the Cats’ inability to capitalize on an early Tiger fumble on the second kickoff of the game was a big missed opportunity.

“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

Jalen Whitlow. He did match his career-high with 225 passing yards and his coaches were impressed with how he performed with a sore shoulder that was aggravated during the game. Three games remain for Whitlow to stake a claim on the QB position or find himself in a three (or four)-for-all battle in the spring.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network; and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats


The Leach Report

LylestoUK2

When five-star recruit Trey Lyles announced his commitment to the UK men’s basketball program Tuesday, he cited “coach Cal’s record with guys like me” (meaning NBA prospects). Skeptics will say it doesn’t matter where kids with that kind of talent play college basketball and they say 2012 notwithstanding, relying on rookies is not the path to championships either.

To the first point, a guy like Shabazz Mohammed might disagree, having seen his stock drop in his one season of college basketball at UCLA. Even if you believe it doesn’t matter that much where a kid with that kind of talent plays college basketball, a parent might say why not play the percentages rather than question Calipari’s formula, which has produced 17 NBA draft picks in four seasons.

As to the championship angle, there is no path guaranteed to produce titles but it would seem to me that the goal should be to put one’ s program in position to win them. If you get to enough Final Fours, chances are you’ll win it all a time or two.

Let’s look at the past four years since Calipari came to Kentucky. If you give a team one point for every round it clears in the NCAA Tournament (i.e. one point for winning a first-round game, six for winning it all, etc.), UK has 13 points even with missing the Big Dance last March. Next best are Kansas, Duke and Ohio State with 11 points and then Louisville with 10. And Kentucky is the only team to have reached the Elite Eight three times during that span.

Legendary Big Blue fan (and former governor, senator and baseball commissioner) Happy Chandler used to say “opinions die but records live” and the record of the UK program speaks for itself in Calipari’s time here.

Kentucky was two points away from advancing to the title game against an 8-seed in 2011. The year before, UK had the misfortune of having a team with a lack of 3-point shooters run into an opponent that used a rarely seen 1-3-1 zone. Doubters will point to the 2012 championship season as the exception, but I would contend that last year is actually the outlier.

So, as the top-ranked Wildcats embark on a new season, BBN can take confidence from the comments of ESPN college writer Jason King, who said this to “The Leach Report” last week, having watched several UK practices:

“This group is just a totally different kind of group. These are aggressive, competitive athletes that walk around with a swagger about them that I didn’t see with that last group (last season’s freshmen). I think he’s got the right pieces with this group. This group responds well to coaching. When I was there, he jumped them a few times and they didn’t back down. I just like the makeup of this team better.”

= = =

Mark Stoops and company are laying the foundation for future success for the Kentucky football program and the recruits they’re getting a buying into that vision. But wouldn’t a signature win be a great asset in closing the deal on UK’s highest-rated class ever?

The best opportunity for that kind of moment comes Saturday, because Missouri is a top 10 team and the game is on UK’s home turf.

KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

UK’s O-line versus the Missouri front four. Kentucky has struggled all season when it gets “behind the chains” (facing second-and-long or third-and-long situations) and Missouri leads the SEC in sacks and tackles-for-loss. And the Tigers lead the SEC in holding opponents to only 3.6 yards per carry on first-down runs.

Turnovers. Kentucky has not given the ball away in four games while Missouri has at least three takeaways in each of its last four outings and 17 interceptions for the year.
Jalen Whitlow. In his two full games as “the man” at quarterback, against South Carolina and Alabama State, Whitlow has completed 66 percent of his passes with 4 TDs, 0 interceptions and averaged a respectable just over 7 yards-per attempt. He’s eight games into a new offensive system and his best receiver, Demarco Robinson, is as close to fully healthy as he’s been since week two. If Whitlow wants to make himself the leader in the UK quarterback derby next spring–rather than just one of the guys–upsetting Missouri is the way to do it.

= = =

NUMBERS GAME

–11 of the 17 interceptions for Missouri have come inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, giving the Tigers several short-field scoring opportunities.

–Missouri averages 237 yards per game on the ground (only Auburn does better in the SEC).

–Kentucky leads the nation in fourth-down conversions with 15, and the 71% conversion rate (15/21) ranks 7th nationally. (stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)

 

Listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network

Check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The Leach Report

The Leach Report

kemp

There was nothing Sportscenter-worthy accomplished here this weekend but it was a pleasing weekend for Big Blue Nation, with the start of basketball season and a feel-good football victory.

Let’s start with basketball. For a team with four freshmen in the starting lineup to have a slow start to an exhibition game is not a great shock but it gives John Calipari a good teaching tool. The way UK completely shutdown Transy to start the second half was a good sign in that the players responded to the way Calipari surely challenged them in the locker room at halftime.

I don’t expect the Cats to have any issues with focus for a game like Michigan State, North Carolina or Louisville but that kind of thing can get a team beat in an early NCAA Tournament game. We’re a long way from that point in the season but it’s the kind of point Calipari can drive home between now and then.

Tonight’s exhibition game and the two contests next weekend will give Cal a chance to set his rotation for the showdown against the Spartans on November 12 in the State Farm Champions Classic. Guys like Marcus Lee and Derek Willis are making bids to increase their minutes so let’s see how others respond to the challenge over the next 10 days.

As for the football 48-14 football win over Alabama State, the Cats did what was expected. They seized control early against an outmanned foe and never looked back. I think the most important element of this performance was that it should give Jalen Whitlow and the offense a shot of confidence. Whitlow was especially good on third down, which has been a big problem this season for both QBs. The downside was the injuries suffered by wideouts Alex Montgomery and Ryan Timmons, the extent of which are not yet known.

Mark Stoops and his staff are off to a good start in fixing UK football’s biggest issue–the need for move talent overall. In the meantime, the Cats are doing some things that bode well for the future–limiting turnovers (none in the last four games, a possible school record), keeping penalties down and being more than solid on special teams.
A few more thoughts on the win over ASU:

KEY CAT STATS

There’s one particularly noteworthy stat that came in under the radar. Kentucky has struggled with the passing game on third down but Whitlow had his best performance in that area in this game. For the game, he was 5/7 on third down throws, with four of the completions coming when the Cats needed eight or more yards. Of course, this wasn’t an SEC defense but it can give Whitlow some confidence when he’s in those situations this week and the game is moving a lot faster.

= = =

“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

Whitlow. He got UK off on the right foot with a school-record 88-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game. OC Neal Brown is pushing Whitlow to do more freelancing and Whitlow was more inclined to do that in this game. For the night, Whitlow was 16/26 for 186 yards and no turnovers while accounting for four touchdowns.

Demarco Robinson. He practiced the whole week for the first time since the second week of the season (because of a nagging ankle injury) and he had one of his best games. He had single-handily kept UK’s streak of turnover-free games in tact by rescuing two fumbles, one of them for a touchdown. And of his four catches, two came on third downs and another on fourth down.

Jo Jo Kemp. 13 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown was a nice stat line but it was more impressive when the news was revealed in postgame interviews that Kemp had played on this game on the day his grandmother was buried. Kemp had returned home recently to say his goodbyes and he told reporters he chose to stay and play because it’s what his grandma wanted.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network; and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats


The Leach Report: Alabama State

The Leach Report: Alabama State

Halloween-UKcarving

TCB. Takin’ care of business. That’s the mission this week for the Kentucky football team. Fans won’t remember much about a Kentucky victory against Alabama State but they’ll always remember a loss. That means this Wildcat team must approach this game in a mature manner, not taking anything for granted. This team has shown great heart from day one but we all need a little positive reinforcement from time to time and a win would do wonders for this group right now. There are opportunities left for signature achievements, as long as the Cats take care of business this Saturday.

= = =

KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

Energy. The mood around the UK football camp this week was quite positive. Losing a game like Kentucky did at Mississippi State, on a big stage, could lead to a letdown, especially against an opponent the Cats are expected to beat. So it was good to hear Mark Stoops sound so upbeat and loose in his post-practice interviews this week, indicative of a coach who likes what he is seeing on the field and off.

Stop the run. Kentucky had arguably its best game of the season in controlling the opponent’s run game, given how well Miss State had been running the ball. The Cats must build on that this week, against an Alabama State team that features former Georgia star Isaiah Crowell in the backfield.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Every season, we see top teams in lower-division leagues jump up and surprise teams from bigger conferences that are struggling to get wins. Kentucky must respect its opponent and do something it hasn’t often done this season–start fast and keep ASU from gaining confidence by getting a lead.

= = =

NUMBERS GAME

–Jalen Whitlow is completing 66 percent of his passes for the season, right about where a quarterback needs to be in Neal Brown’s system. However, when you break it out by downs, Whitlow is hitting 73 percent on first and second downs but only 47 percent on third. The numbers are similar for Maxwell Smith.

–Kentucky had not committed a turnover in the past three games. That’s happened several times over the years but research back as far as 1946 by the UK sports information staff shows UK has never had a stretch of four consecutive turnover-free games.

–Kentucky is averaging 4.95 yards per rush on first down runs. The only UK team I could find in the last 10 years that did better was the 2009 team that was one of the SEC’s best ground attacks that season. It indicates that the Cats have finally started to find something they can do well consistently and that should give them a chance to pull off a surprise or two in the final third of the season.

(stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)

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THIS WEEK IN BIG BLUE HISTORY

This week in 1991, Doug Pelfrey hit a school-record 53-yard field goal at the buzzer to beat Cincinnati, 20-17. Every week in college football, we see those kinds of game-winning kicks but as far as my quick research could tell, Kentucky has only had one of those in the past 22 years–Seth Hanson’s game-winner at the buzzer at LSU in ’98.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The Leach Report: Mississippi State

The Leach Report: Mississippi State

msu2

What would be the biggest win Kentucky could get in the second half of Mark Stoops’ first season? Georgia? Tennessee, because it’s a rival? Missouri? My vote would go for this next game at Mississippi State. Get this one and you’re likely going to win two in a row, since Alabama State is next up. That would energize the fan base heading into a home game against a possible top 10 foe (Missouri). Kentucky is as healthy as it’s been since week one but any chance at getting this upset will no doubt hinge on getting good play at the QB spot. I expect this game will be like the one at South Carolina in that it will be up for grabs in the fourth quarter but it will be up to the Cats to go take it.

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KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

Get better against the run on first down. State loves to pound you with the run game but if Kentucky can improve against the run on first down, they can get the Bulldogs into some third-and-longs. Like UK, the Bulldogs have struggled on third downs, particuarly when throwing (47 % completions and three interceptions).

Dropping in class. That’s the term they use in horse racing when a thoroughbred faces lesser competition and the Cats are dropping out of grade one races when it comes to the caliber of defenses they’ve been facing. In three of the last four games, the team UK faced is currently ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. Kentucky averaged only 9ppg in those matchups but averaged 27 against WKU and South Carolina. The Toppers and Gamecocks are both in the top 24 in total defense while the highest-ranked defensive unit that UK will face in the second half of the season is number 35 (Mississippi State).

Red Zone efficiency. Neither UK nor MSU has been strong when it comes to scoring touchdowns once they get inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Kentucky ranks 108th while State is 70th. I’m guessing both will have multiple red zone opportunities in this game so gaining an edge in that stat could be significant. That’s especially true since UK and MSU are tied for the fewest turnovers in the league, with only six each.

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NUMBERS GAME

–Maxwell Smith is completing 74% of his throws on first down but only 44% on third down (and he’s just 2/10 when it’s third-and-six or less). Last year, he was 69% on third down and 10/15 when he needed six or fewer yards. Once inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, Smith is hitting only 44% of his passes (v. 69% last year). Get those numbers to look more like last year and UK’s offense can improve in a hurry. And remember that Neal Brown has said accuracy is the key trait for a QB in this offense while arm strength ranks well down the list.

–Miss State has 49 runs of 10-or-more yards, which ranks 21st-best in the nation.

–State ranks 110th nationally with only eight sacks all season and that’s a good matchup for UK with Smith as the starter, since he lacks the scrammbling ability of Whitlow.

(stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)

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THIS WEEK IN BIG BLUE HISTORY

In 2003 this week, Derek Abney tied the NCAA record for returning kicks for touchdowns with a punt return TD against Mississippi State. The year before, in Starkville, Abney returned two punts in one game for touchdowns.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The Leach Report: Alabama Post-Game

In the last six years, Kentucky has now faced four teams that were ranked number one in the country.  And to me, this Alabama squad is clearly the best of those four.  When the Cats upset #1 LSU in 2007, you had a senior quarterback throwing to three future NFL players.  And there were several guys on the defensive side who were just a year or two away from playing in the league.  Those are the kinds of players Mark Stoops and company are recruiting, so the talent disparity won’t be so great in future matchups against top-ranked teams.

Kentucky is beat up physically right now and probably mentally as well.  It has faced three of the four best defensive units in the nation in the past four games (Louisville, Florida, Alabama) so what they’ll see in the second half of the season will be a sense of relief for a struggling offense.  When the caliber of defense was at least slightly lower last week, the Cats showed promise behind Jalen Whitlow (hopefully he can get healthy soon.).

UK players need to keep the faith.  But it’s always easier to do that when one has a little success to buoy the confidence.  That’s been hard  to come by in this four-game stretch so this open date could not come at a better time for this team.    .

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GAME-CHANGING PLAY(S)

It was Christian Jones’ 21-yard punt return early in the second quarter.  Punting from its own 36, Kentucky could have put the Tide 76 yards from the end zone by hitting the net punt goal of 40 yards.  But the punt was short and then Jones made a smart play in running up to field it in a crowd, rather than letting it land and roll.  With the run back, the punt netted only seven yards of field position and Bama  treated it like a turnover, with a play-action bomb on first down.  That play went for a 42-yard gain (should have been picked off by Ashley Lowrey) and set up a  one-yard TD run to make it 10-0.

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KEY CAT STATS

–Big plays.  Alabama hit the UK defense for nine plays covering 20 yards or more, six of them in the second half.  Kentucky had one–the 30-yard TD pass to Javess Blue.

Third-down conversions.  UK was 2-for-12, with both successful plays coming late in the game.  Alabama was 10 of 14 and was able to get a fourth-down conversion after one of the misses.  Maxwell Smith went to the air on six of those 12 missed third-down plays and had only one completion–an 11-yard gain on third-and-21.  Whitlow passed on both of his third-down plays, with an incompletion and a sack which led to his injury.  This offense will continue to struggle until the Cats can get more consistent play at the QB spot.

7.8 and 7.6.  Those were the respective yards-per-carry average for Bama tailbacks T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake.  Some say the Tide had one of college football’s all-time best offensive lines last season and this one looked overpowering in this matchup–also keeping the QB’s sack-free.

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“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

Raymond Sanders.  He averaged 5.1 per carry on 14 rushes and had only one run for a loss.  Most impressive for Sanders were the yards he gained in this game after the first hit by a Bama defender.

Eric Dixon.  After missing that late tackle at South Carolina last week, Davis responded with a tremendous effort.  He was the second-leading tackler for UK with nine and he led in solo’s with seven.  And it was Dixon who forced Alabama’s second fumble.  Overall, it was just the passion with which he played the game that stood out.

 

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network;  and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats


The Leach Report: Alabama

The Leach Report: Alabama

AJ-McCarron-2013

When Kentucky faced Florida, I could envision a possible upset because the Gators weren’t that great on offense. Last week, South Carolina’s defense wasn’t nearly as good as Florida’s so you could generate some hope if the Cats’ offense could find its best form, which it did. But this week, Bama is without weaknesses on either side of the ball and this is going to be the toughest of the four challenges UK has faced against Top 20 teams.

With that said, Bama’s defense isn’t any better than Florida’s and Kentucky had a few chances to make some plays against the Gators–and the offense looks better now than it did then. Defensively, UK must keep the Tide from using first-down runs to constantly find themselves in second-and-four or less for Kentucky to have any chance to stay in this game.

This is a “Rocky” game for the Cats–it’s all about going the distance and letting the chips fall where they may.

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KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

Can the UK offense build on its fourth-quarter performance last week? UK finally started to find some rhythm against South Carolina and I thought it was a sign of a growing confidence in Jalen Whitlow that the coaches called for two downfield throws on the final scoring drive. Whitlow has minimized turnovers and that’s imperative to have any chance to hang close to the Tide in this matchup.

Can Kentucky hit some big plays? Sustaining drives without getting a large chunk of yards at some point will be difficult against this defense. Kentucky already has three more pass plays of 25-plus yards than it had all of last season but Bama’s defense is one of the nation’s best at limiting those kinds of big plays.

Can the Cats find a way to rattle A.J. McCarron? It’s a task that is much easier said than done. McCarron, to me, is underrated. Saban doesn’t ask him to put up big numbers but when they need the quarterback to win the game, McCarron can do it, as he showed in the victory at Texas A&M. Forcing some turnovers is crucial to any hope Kentucky has but McCarron is a veteran who is not prone to taking unwarranted risks.

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NUMBERS GAME

– Alabama has committed only four turnovers this season. That’s tied for fifth in the nation.

– Kentucky gave up a few big plays last week but overall, that’s one area where the UK defense has made significant strides over recent years. Opponents have completed only six passes for 20-plus yards and that’s tied for third-lowest in the nation.

– Kentucky’s pass defense in the red zone has been quite good, limiting opponents to 43 percent completions. That will be tested by McCarron, who is 10/11 this season inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

– Alabama may be the most physical team UK will face this season. And the Tide averages six yards per attempt when they run it on first down.
(stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)

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THIS WEEK IN BIG BLUE HISTORY

In his second year on the job, Kentucky’s new coach recorded his first shutout, a 26-0 rout of Georgia. The year was 1947 and the coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, whose name will come up a lot this weekend as the Alabama program that became legendary under Bryant’s leadership pays a rare visit to the Bluegrass. The story about Bryant leaving because he got a cigarette lighter for a gift while coach Adolph Rupp got a new car is false but it’s become an urban legend over the years. Those close to the programs then will tell you that the two coaches were good friends, although it’s certainly plausible to think each was a little jealous of the acclaim the other got for his accomplishments.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The Leach Report: South Carolina Game

Here is your Sunday morning Leach Report from Tom Leach…

 

Mark Stoops is trying to teach his team “how to win” and there’s a lot of more that goes into changing the culture of a program that just X’s and O’s.  And Stoops can use the 35-28 loss at 12th-ranked South Carolina as a great teaching tool.  On the plus side, Kentucky “didn’t flinch,” to borrow a phrase offensive coordinator Neal Brown used in his postgame remarks.  Just 16 minutes into the game, it looked like Kentucky was on the way to another entry on the list of beatdowns inflicted by Steve Spurrier-coached teams.  But this time, the Cats kept getting back up in Rocky-like fashion and they went the distance.  On the other hand, Stoops can tell his team to think about what it feels like to come up short of a statement-making win and know that they wasted a day of practice in the past week.  And when you do put yourself in position to do something noteworthy, you have to take what you want, whether it’s making a key tackle, making a touch catch, etc.

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GAME-CHANGING PLAY(S)

It was Connor Shaw’s 31-yard run on a read option play in the fourth quarter.  USC was facing second-and-three on its own 18-yard line after Kentucky had scored 14 straight points to pull to within 27-21.  Shaw’s run got the Gamecocks out of a hole and they drove in from there for the game-clinching touchdown.

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KEY CAT STATS

 5/11 on 3rd downs.  And UK followed two of the misses with conversions on fourth downs.  Good job by offensive coordinator Neal Brown of finding a new offensive set, the Wildcat plays with a running back taking a direct snap, to give UK a chance to succeed in short yardage situations that had been a problem in the three previous losses.

4 touchdowns on 4 trips into the red zone.  Coming into this game, Kentucky was last in the SEC in terms of its percentage of producing touchdowns once it reached the opponents’ 20-yard line but the Cats  scored 4 TDs in four of those situations against South Carolina.

6 “big” plays for South Carolina.  USC had four plays that went for 20 or more yards in its first three drives and added two more in the second half.  Kentucky had only two such plays and both came on the Cats’ final TD drive.

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“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

–Jalen Whitlow.  17/24 passing for 178 yards and 2 TDs plus he ran for 69 more and a TD.  Finally, Whitlow started to relax and find a rhythm in the second half and it looks like the Cats are on their way to find an offensive identity.

–Ryan Timmons.  4 catches for 36 yards and his first UK TD.  He’ll evolve into a Percy Harvin type of player for the Cats and it’s always impressive to see a rookie step up to the challenge of his first true road game.

Jordan Aumiller.  He matched his career high with 3 catches and he’s developed into a solid blocker.  It would have be easy for Aumiller to throw in the towel when he fell out of favor with the previous staff so kudos to him for hanging in there.

 

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network;  and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats


The Leach Report

The Leach Report

stoopssec

Mark Stoops verbally took his team to the woodshed on Wednesday and it’ll be interesting to see how this team responds.  It’s clear Stoops has little patience for excuses and he’s finding, as Rich Brooks did, that coaching up the mental toughness is sometimes as big a challenge for this program as the physical toughness.  I think South Carolina is better on offense than Florida but not as good on defense and this is a young UK  team facing a truly hostile environment for the first time this season.  One key in this rebuilding effort is for these players to stay positive in very adverse circumstances and that resolve will be put to a stern test Saturday.

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KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

Rise to the challenge.  Mark Stoops lit his team up for a poor attitude that day, saying some guys wanted “to hide.”  The Cats had best heed their coach’s warnings because Kentucky    has not won an SEC road game since 2009 and in the last two years, the average margin of defeat has been 30 points.  These are teams that will come and find you if you try to hide.

Quarterback play.  Any chance for a Kentucky upset will require whoever mans the QB spot to dramatically elevate the level of play there.   UK moved to the opponents’ 30-yard line 10 times in the last two games but  managed only four scores.  And the third-down numbers have been ugly.  It’s not all on the QB’s but the passing accuracy needed for this offense to click has been missing.

Runnin’ Gamecocks.  USC’s Mike Davis is averaging 127 yards/game, which ranks 11th nationally.  This defense isn’t as good as the last two the Cats have faced but Steve Spurrier is helping that defense out by relying on a potent rushing attack.  And while UK has done a good job in limiting big plays this season, it has not yet successfully forced teams into enough must-pass situations.

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NUMBERS GAME

–South Carolina ranks only 58th nationally in total defense but the Gamecocks are top 20 in sacks and tackles-for-loss.  Avoiding negative yardage plays is crucial for UK in this game.

–UK opponents are averaging 5.75 per carry when they run on first down.  The Cats must find a way to improve in that area against a South Carolina offense that is relying heavily on the ground game.

–Opponents are completing 64% of their passes against South Carolina and averaging 8.1 yards-per-attempt (2nd worst in that stat in the SEC).  Those numbers suggest UK will have at least a slightly better matchup than it had last week, when just getting open against that Florida secondary was a challenge.

(stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I’m not discouraged.  I do see bright spots.  I’m just not seeing it consistently.” –offensive coordinator Neal Brown, on dealing with the slow progress of a young offensive unit.

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THIS WEEK IN BIG BLUE HISTORY

Tomorrow is the 16th anniversary of the first time the goalposts came down at Commonwealth Stadium.  Tim Couch’s overtime pass to Craig Yeast gave the Cats their first win over Alabama in 75 years.  It’s a reminder that the Air Raid took flight from the outset of that season in part because of the talent at key spots that Hal Mumme and company inherited.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network 

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The LEACH REPORT:  UK vs Florida

The LEACH REPORT: UK vs Florida

Stoops-FLA-watches

–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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GAME-CHANGING PLAY(S)

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.

Blake McClain. 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.

Alex Montgomery. 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.

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network; and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats


The Leach Report

UK vs. Miami, OH

KEY STORYLINES/MATCHUPS

Fast start. Remember that first-quarter debacle at The Swamp in 2008, with two blocked punts? Starting with that game, Kentucky has not produced a first-quarter touchdown against the Gators. Over the last five seasons, the scores (in favor of Florida) after one quarter have been 28-0, 31-0, 14-0, 21-3 and last year’s 3-0. Since 2005, UK has held a lead over the Gators for a combined time of one minute, 37 seconds–and that came in the ’06 game. Getting a lead on that stingy UF defense will be easier said than done but if the Cats can do it, the Florida coaches may have to alter what figures to be a conservative, run-oriented gameplan with a QB going on the road to make his first-ever start.

Can UK rattle Tyler Murphy? A creative bit of defensive strategy, utilizing Jason Hatcher in a 3-4 alignment, slowed down a very potent Louisville offense for almost an entire half, by giving quarterback Teddy Bridgewater some looks that confused him. Bridgewater is superb at pre-snap reads so Kentucky could confuse him, one would think the Cats would have a chance to throw a rookie like Murphy a curve or two. It would seem logical that UK’s best chance for an upset would involve forcing a turnover or two on Florida’s side of the 50, to give the UK offense a short field to cover for points, which figure to be hard to come by against the Gator D.

Win the turnover battle. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time UK won an SEC game in which it had at least one more turnover than it forced. And the Gators are 3-8 under Muschamp when they’ve lost the turnover margin stat.
NUMBERS GAME

–Florida loves to play power football. Since Muschamp arrived in 2011, only 10 teams have held the Gators under 125 rushing yards and UF is 2-8 in those games

–Staying out of 3rd-and-long is imperative. Florida opponents are 7/24 passing with four interceptions in situations of third down-and-seven or more to go. And the numbers last year in those situations were similar.

–Kentucky’s defense on third-down plays has been a night-and-day difference from last season. The Cats ranked sixth nationally through three games with opponents converting at a rate of 23 percent. Last year, UK ranked dead last in the nation at 53 percent. (stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)
THIS WEEK IN BIG BLUE HISTORY

Kentucky has 13 wins all-time against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the matchup–and two of those wins came during this time of year. In 1964, Kentucky upset #1 Ole Miss 27-21 and in ’69, the Cats stunned the eighth-ranked and Archie Manning-led Rebels 10-9. In one game, wide receiver Rick Kestner had a career-day with 185 receiving yards while in the latter, the defense played out of its mind. An offensive player having a big day and a defense being stingy would seem to be key elements to any script for a UK upset this Saturday.

 

–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and via Facebook for “The Leach Report”


The Leach Report: Looking at Kentucky and Louisville

The Leach Report: Looking at Kentucky and Louisville

Stoops-LOU-coachesLowrey

As always, Tom Leach joins us on Sundays to breakdown the game and let us know the thoughts of the Voice of the Wildcats:

When trying to pull off an upset, you don’t have to be perfect but you do have to take advantage of opportunities. Facing an outstanding quarterback, Kentucky deployed a defensive strategy that kept Louisville off its game for almost the entire first half. But a combination of dropped passes, inaccurate throws and two lost fumbles kept the Cats from possibly taking a lead into the locker room. If you do that, you might limit the Cards’ ability to get their running game cranked up and make them play with a fear of losing and then who knows? More than any numbers can illustrate, I think Kentucky fans left the game with just a feeling that their program is back on the right track. And here’s why–JoJo Kemp, Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue, Jeff Badet, Alex Montgomery, Za’Darius Smith, Jason Hatcher, Blake McClain and Nate Willis have each done some impressive things in the first three games and all of them are Stoops-era recruits.

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GAME-CHANGING PLAY

It was that late-second-quarter fumble when the Wildcats were marching toward a potential game-tying touchdown. Instead of the heavily-favored Cardinals having to head to the locker room worrying about the season goals slipping away, they could relax a bit and take solace in knowing they had the ball to start the second half. Long TD drives by UofL on either side of that fumble is when the Cards gain breathing room and put an inconsistent UK offense into a two-touchdown hole.

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KEY CAT STATS

—- 5 three-and-out drives in the first half for UK. Some strategic moves kept Louisville’s offense out of sync until late in the first half and had Kentucky managed a few more first downs, the Wildcats would have benefitted from a big edge in field position–and might have been able to build a lead.

—- 17/37 passing. Eight of those incompletions came on first-down pass attempts, negating Kentucky’s ability to fully deploy its uptempo pace. OC Neal Brown has constantly preached that this offense is built on stringing plays together but between the dropped passes and inaccurate throws, the offense never could find much rhythm for most of the day.

—- 6 TFL’s by Louisville. Kentucky had only one sack so the other five tackles-for-loss by the Cards came on running plays. The defensive lines UK is about to face are going to be better than anything they’ve seen thus far so whether it’s missed blocks upfront or bad reads by runners, the Cats need to reduce the negative running plays.

Kemp-LOU-runs

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“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS

—- JoJo Kemp (80 yards on five carries). Coach Stoops made it clear in his postgame remarks that we’ll see more of this guy, who averaged 16-yards-per-carry Saturday. Even if you take out his 47-yard run, Kemp still averaged just over eight-yards-per-carry.

—- D.J. Eliot. Kentucky’s defensive coordinator knew Bridgewater excelled at pre-snap reading of the opponent so UK had to disguise its tactics until the snap, while balancing the desire to not give young players too much to have to think about it. The inexperienced Wildcats executed beyond the years and Louisville had one turnover and only three first downs in its first six drives.

—- Avery Williamson (15 tackles). If you’re in a fight, you want this guy on your side. It’s much easier to do one job’s when things are going well, but Williamson’s production stays consistent when adversity hits, too. Most of his 15 tackles came in the second half when things weren’t going as well for Kentucky and I’ll always remember his 20-tackle effort in that Vandy game last year when his team was getting blown out.

—-l isten to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network; and follow him on twitter @tomleachky and via “The Leach Report” page on Facebook

–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats