It was a really fun week in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky fans were at a fever pitch after the 5-0 start that included consecutive double-digit home wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina. Not only were lines filled to talk with Matt Jones and Ryan Lemond, but Paul Finebaum was taking calls from the Big Blue Nation all week. The table was set for a statement performance to be made with ESPN in the house at Kyle Field.
However, the chips did not align for the Wildcats. Eddie Gran’s offense bombed out in College Station despite the many opportunities provided by the defense. The scoreboard will say it was close despite the box score saying it was complete domination by the Aggies. It’s time for the Cats to regroup after their first laid egg of the 2018 season.
Let’s just start with the stats. Brace yourself because these numbers are going to be ugly.
For the night, Kentucky had 178 total yards on 50 plays. That’s good for a 3.6 yards per play average. That’s not going to get the job done on anyone.
Benny Snell had a season low 13 carries for just 60 yards. Behind center, Terry Wilson completed 65% of his passes and averaged 5.4 yards per attempt. UK got 54 of those yards on their only offensive touchdown of the night.
Great perimeter blocks by Tavin Richardson and A.J. Rose sprung Bowden for the explosive touchdown. After this play it was an absolutely ugly night for Eddie Gran’s unit.
Following the offense’s only score of the night, UK had the ball for nine possessions and only collected 41 total yards. That is just not acceptable.
Your potential All-American running back only getting 17 touches is not great but it’s hard to spread the ball around when you can’t collect first downs. For the night, Kentucky only had eight first downs and this is the main reason why the group only had 50 plays. When you can’t extend drives it’s hard to get in any rhythm and for a ball control offense it makes it nearly impossible to be successful.
The ground game wasn’t the only place to struggle, however, as the offensive line and Terry Wilson both had really rough games in the passing department. After losing Drake Jackson to a groin injury in the first quarter, it was obvious that the line was having a hard time handling inside pressure. Even with Jackson’s return in the second half, the A&M front was having its way with Kentucky.
For the night, Terry Wilson was sacked on 30% of his dropbacks. That’s just a horrendous rate. Wilson could not outrun the A&M defense to the edge with safety Donovan Wilson constantly making open field tackles in isolation situations. After getting pressured early, it was clear that the pass rush had Wilson bothered and he was unwilling to stay in the pocket and make throws. Kentucky had to have him play well to win this game and that simply did not happen.
For the season, Texas A&M was the worst defense in the country in allowing big plays. Every opponent had been able to collect multiple 20+ yards gains against the Aggies all season. Kentucky only had one for the entire game. The Aggies entered this one with a stout front seven and it was going to be very hard to put long drives together for scores against this defense. Kentucky was unable to consistently get first downs and therefore the opportunities to create big plays could not be found. The ground game never got going and Terry Wilson got smothered.
In all, Eddie Gran’s group got owned by Mike Elko’s despite the Kentucky defense keeping them in the game for the entire 60 minutes.
We keep saying this over and over, but this Kentucky defense keeps playing lights out football. They’re a legit top 10-15 defense in college football and they proved it again on Saturday night against a Jimbo Fisher offense.
For the night, UK gave up 390 yards on 75 plays. That’s good for a 5.2 yards per play average. Add that in with two takeaways with only two scores allowed and that should win you a lot of football games.
Entering the contest, the man to stop was running back Trayveon Williams who was second in the SEC in rushing entering Saturday. The Wildcats held him below his yards per carry average but the junior was still able to get 138 rushing yards and scored the game winning touchdown in overtime. He’s a good back. Entering the game we talked about his big play ability and UK was able to keep him in check most of the night. He also chipped in six receptions for 72 yards and that helped the Aggies extend drives. On the season, he only had six catches and had not been used hardly at all in the passing game. Score one for Jimbo Fisher for getting him more involved in the offense.
Through the air, Kellen Mond had a solid game with 226 passing yards, a 62.1% completion percentage, a 7.8 yards per attempt average, and two touchdowns. UK was able to force two second half turnovers by Mond but for the most part he did a very solid job distributing despite taking four sacks. Trayveon Williams got a lot of targets but what really hurt Kentucky was the tight end play.
Junior college transfer Jace Sternberger is emerging as a legit All-American candidate and he had another outstanding game on Saturday night. The former Kansas Jayhawk recorded five grabs for 95 yards and a touchdown. This was the first time all season Kentucky had seen a bonafide weapon at tight end and they struggled to keep him in check.
It was bend-but-don’t break effort for the Wildcats but that’s to be expected when your offense cannot move the chains. Kentucky gave up their fair share of yards but they did what needed to be done to be successful. Kentucky was able to get pressure on Mond and it was nice to see players like Phil Hoskins and Chris Oats be involved in the pass rush. Josh Allen gets all of the attention but Boogie Watson is emerging as a legit secondary pass rushing option. The redshirt sophomore has now recorded a sack in three consecutive games.
Even on the two drives A&M scored, you could make a case the officials had egregious no calls/flags that shouldn’t have been. On the touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter, Josh Allen was called for a roughing the passer penalty on a very soft hit to Kellen Mond’s chest. The Aggies would get six a couple plays later. In the third quarter, a booming punt by Max Duffy would be returned out to midfield but on replay it was clear there was two obvious missed block in the back calls. These are going to happen, however, and you have to play through it. It would be nice if Allen started to get some respect on his pass rush. He has been nearly unblockable this season and is getting held a few times a game no calls occurring.
It wasn’t a dominant performance by the Kentucky defense but that was to be expected. Texas A&M is a legit top 25 offense with a quarterback full of potential paired with a dynamic running back and an All-American tight end. The Aggies entered this one averaging just under 37 points per game with a 6.7 yards per play average. Kentucky easily held them under both those numbers on Saturday. Add that in with two takeaways and Kentucky should’ve walked out of Kyle Field with a double-digit road victory.
Max Duffy continues to be a star. The sophomore has been a revelation to this football team and owes quite a bit of credit for the defense’s success because of the field position advantage he is able to provide. For the night, the Aussie punted the ball 10 times with an average just under 50 yards. Three of these landed inside the 20 and his long went for over 60 yards.
The return department gavenothing with Braden Mann producing three touchbacks and averaging 59.6 yards on punts. He boomed one over 80 yards and has the biggest leg in college football.
In overtime, Miles Butler got another crack at a field goal opportunity and this one clanged off the crossbar. It was only a 43-yard attempt and it appeared that the former walk-on put everything he had into the kick.
During the upcoming bye week it may be time to think about readjusting the kicking situation. Butler could be the guy from 40 yards or less but sooner or later you’re going to need points from the 40-50 range. It may be time to give Chance Poore a shot.
Kentucky faced a better special teams unit for the second straight game but this time they lost the battle. Braden Mann outmuscled Max Duffy in a punter’s duel and that shouldn’t happen for the rest of the season. The one big punt return allowed set up a Texas A&M score. Due to the great kicks by A&M, UK was never able to truly give it’s offense great field position and that added to their woeful performance.
On a whole they played well, but they just went up against one of the best punters and kickoff specialists in the country. Braden Mann was the MVP for Texas A&M.
It’s been a rough run for the Big Blue Nation since the overtime ended with Kentucky letting a winning opportunity against an SEC West team totally slip through their fingers. The Twitter Machine has been filled with “Eddie Gran stinks” and “Terry Wilson needs to be benched” takes. While I understand the frustration, for Kentucky to reach their potential Wilson has to be under center.
On Saturday night, Kentucky got away from their identity and tried to be something they’re not. Going up against a nasty front seven with athletic safeties on the perimeter, Kentucky was worried about getting their run game going. So they tried to spread it out and allow Wilson to make throws from the pocket.
On the surface, I understand this strategy because of how many big plays the A&M secondary has given up through the air this season. However, with a young quarterback on just his second road start, it was clear that the pass rush had him rattled early. Wilson was bailing out of the pocket way too early and then great plays by the A&M safeties kept him from springing any long runs. Kentucky constantly lost on first down and lived behind the chains all night. That’s how you lose with a young quarterback on the road.
The defense is a bonafide strength of the team and the offense needs to protect it. With that said, UK is struggling to find explosive plays. Wilson has not been able to stretch the field with vertical throws and hasn’t had a huge running play since the wins over Florida and Murray State. Defenses have adjusted and now it’s time for Eddie Gran and his offensive staff to find a counterpunch during the bye week.
On to Vanderbilt.