Deep breaths Big Blue Nation, deep breaths. Struggling to find words to describe the emotional loss on Prime Time, here’s how the game went down:
The slow starting Cats took a brief hiatus from the bad habit against Alabama, but picked right back up where they left off tonight. On the Bulldogs’ first possession, Za’Darius Smith let the scrambling QB Dak Prescott get away before Prescott unloaded a 60 yard touchdown to Malcolm Johnson. Ryan Timmons kept it from getting out of hand early. Following Kevin Mitchell’s nasty block he took a screen pass (one of many thrown this game) 51 yards down the field to tie it up. Despite giving the D a little rest, there were more holes than normal, especially when the athletic Prescott decided to tuck it and run. The following drive the Bulldogs went untouched on a 20 yard option run that put them up 14-7.
After settling in, the game soon turned into a dog (and cat) fight. Neal Brown eased Max Smith in with plenty of quick passes and screens while effectively running the ball with Raymond Sanders. The defense got better as the game went on, but gave up another passing TD midway through the quarter. Needing a response before the Bulldogs received the ball after half, the Cats got a little help from their opponent. SR DB Nickoe Whitley punched UK players on back-to-back plays, giving the Cats 30 yards and earning himself an ejection. A 4th down conversion kept the drive alive long enough for Joe Mansour to knock down a 45 yard field goal, a career high that redeemed a 47 yard miss from earlier.
The Cats came out recharged in the 2nd half. The defense stopped MSU from the get-go, pressuring the QB with the front four while the secondary made sure that their WRs didn’t get any yards after catch. The offense picked up the tempo, snapping the ball as quick as possible after Max made a completion. They made it deep into MSU territory before having to punt. Pinning the Bulldogs back, Bud Dupree’s amazing sack on 3rd down put the ball on the 2-yard line. The punter’s hands couldn’t handle the snap, losing the ball out of the end zone for a safety. The Cats marched down the field with the help of Jalen Whitlow, finding the end zone only 5 plays later with a 19 yard diving score from Jojo Kemp. Gaining momentum, Mark Stoops pulled the trigger on a perfectly executed onside kick. Down 21-19 with the ball inside MSU territory, the Cats were ready to take over the game. Then, this...
The play of the game was an offsides call by the refs. It wasn’t long before the Bulldogs were deep in Wildcat territory before they pulled off a trick play, a Quarterback throwback to Dak Prescott for a 17 yard touchdown, his 2nd receiving touchdown of the year. Mark Stoops said after the game, “(it) was a well designed play. From the sideline you could see it coming in slow motion.”
After quick drives by both teams, the Cats had 11:03 to overcome the 9 point deficit. The drive wasn’t the prettiest, but they got within Mansour’s range, knocking down the 44 yarder to shrink the lead to 6 points. Needing some plays to get their offense the ball back, the defense came ready to play on every down except third. After three first downs, Bud Dupree made another big sack to give the Cats great field position to finish off the Dogs. After Max Smith drove the Cats inside the 30, Stoops took a timeout on 3rd down. Jalen Whitlow entered the game and got nothing on a 3rd down run. With the clock ticking, Max’s 4th down pass wasn’t close. Just like that, the comeback was over.
- Max Smith was as average as they come. It’s hard not to criticize Max’s play. Completing only 52% of his passes, Max’s balls looked like quacking ducks the majority of the time. His inability to throw the ball downfield effectively, allowed the defense to creep into the box, making it even more difficult for the run game. His decision-making was slow too, turning easy plays into incompletions. The best drive of the game was his last one, one that was taken away from him on the 3rd down. With better QB play this game was easily won by the Wildcats.
- The Cats were just as good on 4th down as 3rd. Third down offense was the usual, terrible (4-18), but the defense surprised us by allowing the Bulldogs to convert 10 of 18 tries. The picture was much different on 4th down, converting 4 tries, but the last one was the one they needed most.
- Raymond Sanders was an absolute BEAST. Ray fought hard in between the tackles, earning the majority of his 86 yards in the first half against Miss State. The most reliable offensive weapon in the first half didn’t get as many touches in the second half. While it remains a mystery as to why he didn’t get the ball more, it could have been the result of what ESPN reported as cramps, late in the first half.
- Bud Dupree’s return was glorious. After missing the Alabama game with a strained pec, Bud made his presence known racking in a season-high 13 tackles, something you NEVER see from a defensive end. Za’Darius Smith had a few hiccups early on, but he recovered to finish the game wit two half-sacks, extending his season total to 5.5.
- Joe Mansour has found his swag. Untested as a first year place-kicker, Joe Mansour responded after missing his first attempt of over 40 yards to knock down two 40+ yarders later in the game. Not only did he do well with a holder, Mansour’s onside kick was perfect. After his last few onside attempts were the furthest thing from good, Mansour proved to the BBN and Coach Peveto that he can get the job done when called upon.