The Sunday morning quarterbacks of the world told you all about how Kentucky lost to Ole Miss by going conservative with the lead.
I do not agree.
We are all in agreement that the four consecutive three-and-outs cost Kentucky the game in the end, but conservative playcalling wasn’t the problem. The Cats simply didn’t execute on critical downs against a very bad defense.
Let’s start with the first three-and-out, in which Kentucky ran the ball three straight times and punted, after taking over with great field position.
They got seven yards on the first two runs, but Benny Snell couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-3 to move the chains. The third down call is one you can question; however, it was four-down territory and Snell averaged over six yards per carry against the Ole Miss defense, so it’s not all that crazy to ask him to get three yards in two tries. Ideally, he gets the first there; the clock is ticking away; your defense continues to rest; and Ole Miss’ offense can only sit and watch. Unfortunately, that did not happen as Snell got blown up behind the line of scrimmage and they’re forced to punt. If Kentucky had thrown an incompletion there, fans are asking why they didn’t keep running the ball. Eddie Gran chose to go with what what was working, and it did not work. I can live with that.
Moving on to the second three-and-out, after an Ole Miss field goal cut Kentucky’s lead to a touchdown. This time, Gran’s offense went run-pass-pass. Isn’t that what his critics had been calling for? Open up the offense? Play to win? Which way do you want it?
Stephen Johnson threw two incompletions and the entire drive ran only 48 seconds off the clock. By passing the ball, Kentucky put its defense right back on the field, only to get torched again. If you’re complaining about this possession, it’s not that they played too conservative; it’s that they didn’t executive in the passing game.
First, Tavin Richardson couldn’t grab a pass thrown his way.
Then, Stephen Johnson missed Garrett Johnson in the open field.
Neither of those are on the coaches.
Now let’s revisit the third three-and-out, after Ole Miss tied the game by driving 76 yards on three plays. Kentucky ran the ball once for three yards and then Johnson threw two incompletions to end the drive.
Again, that is not conservative playcalling. And again, it came down to execution. On the first one, Johnson made a good throw and the Ole Miss defender made a good play on the ball:
On third down, Isaiah Epps has to make this catch:
That leaves us with the fourth three-and-out, in which Kentucky ran two straight run plays for eight yards, then got creative.
Snell ran for three and five yards to set up a 3rd-and-2 situation. Then Kentucky went aggressive and opted against a run up the middle (your complaint), only to have its protection completely collapse for a busted play.
To make matters worse, Charles Walker was open, but the protection couldn’t hold long enough to give Johnson time to make the throw.
Was that playing too conservative? No, the problem was player execution. It was a consistent theme during Kentucky’s four failed offensive possessions in the second half. Give Gran all the grief you want when he deserves it, but I don’t have much of a problem with how he called this span in the game. Ole Miss players made plays and Kentucky’s didn’t when it came time to put the game away for good. That was the most crippling aspect of the game for the Wildcats, along with the incompetent defense.