Your Kentucky Wildcats just pulled off the first-ever double-bye in program history.
After tying the game at seven apiece early in the second quarter, the Cats did just about nothing to put up a fight on the road against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The opposition managed more rushing yards than UK’s total yardage, finished +2 in the turnover margin, and destroyed the time of possession. Absolutely nothing finished in favor of the Wildcats, and it’s best if we just move on and pretend it never happened.
But my job is to write about it. So let’s break down… whatever that was.
Kentucky had two weeks to prepare for this game
Throughout the afternoon, many fans and media personalities made Bulldog QB Nick Fitzgerald out to be the most dominant force the college football world had ever seen and Kentucky had no shot at even attempting to stop this man. He dominated both through the air and on the ground, throwing for 155 yards and a touchdown, along with rushing for 115 yards and two scores. The defense looked like a deer in headlights with the 6’5, 230 lbs. quarterback lined up behind center.
A lot of people seem to forget, however, that Fitzgerald was Mississippi State’s quarterback last year. The same Mississippi State team the Wildcats took down at home.
This wasn’t some revolutionary talent that the Wildcats had no answer for. This was a player and team UK beat last year, and would have been in convincing fashion if you take away a few costly fumbles by Stephen Johnson to put the Bulldogs right back in the game.
The Wildcats had two weeks to prepare for Fitzgerald and the Bulldog offense. They didn’t attempt any trickery to throw the Kentucky defense off, they ran the same offense they had all season long. The same offense the Wildcats had six games worth of film on. And they bought into the media hype and played scared.
Stoops is now 2-3 following a bye week in his career at Kentucky, proving that the week off isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Another score before the half
When the Wildcats went three-and-out following the controversial deep throw on third and one with 3:08 remaining in the first half, Kentucky fans knew exactly what was coming.
Like clockwork, Fitzgerald led the MSU offense down the field, eventually rushing for a 40-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-one where three defenders had the opportunity to bring him down in the backfield. The score pushed the Bulldog lead to 17-7, and they received the opening kickoff in the second half. At that point, we knew things could get ugly in a hurry.
And they did.
KSR friend and Depth Chart podcaster Andrew Eaton found this statistic highlighting Kentucky’s struggles before the half in recent years.
In the Mark Stoops era, Kentucky has surrendered 20 total touchdowns in the final 3:00 of the first half. In the final minute of the first half, the Wildcats have given up 13 touchdowns and 106 total points in the last five years.
To break that down even further, in 56 games, roughly one of every four teams sees the Wildcats surrender a touchdown within the final minute before halftime.
I would say that’s unbelievable, but at this point, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Eddie Gran called his worst game of the season
So. Many. Missed. Opportunities.
I think a lot of it had to do with the pressure of “playing not to lose” critics. Fans have been on Gran for conservative offensive play calls for the past several weeks. Last night he wasn’t “conservative” by any means, but he overcompensated at the wrong times.
Mark Stoops threw in a subtle jab in his post-game presser, saying he and the Wildcat offense “played to win” yesterday afternoon on the controversial third-and-one play call.
That being said, there’s a difference between playing “not to lose” and playing smart.
Why not try out that play on first or second down? Why wait for multiple third-and-short opportunities to throw the ball 30+ yards down the field? Especially when Stephen Johnson had been underthrowing his deep balls throughout the first half, and that continued throughout the game.
The run game hasn’t been working, but that doesn’t mean you have to take deep shots downfield when you only have to go 36 inches to move the chains.
Guys like CJ Conrad, Charles Walker, Juice Johnson, and Lynn Bowden could absolutely dominate in the dink and dunk game. This doesn’t have to be a boom or bust offense, nor is that what it’s designed to be. You have a talented finesse quarterback, use him as a finesse quarterback.
Eddie Gran is an unbelievable football mind and he has done a phenomenal job in his time at Kentucky. That being said, his stubbornness is a kick in the gut sometimes.
Benny Snell has to be Benny Snell again
Seven rushes for 18 yards, with a long of five yards is unacceptable for Kentucky’s premier back. There’s no other way to put it. Snell is one of the most talented running backs in the SEC, but he has yet to prove that this season against a legitimate defense.
Could it be opponents zeroing in on him, knowing he’s a power back without the speed of Boom Williams tiring the defense to start the game? (Yes.)
Could UK’s use of only two backs be finally coming back to haunt them? (Yes.)
The opposition is stacking the box with eight or nine defenders, just daring the UK offense to run the ball up the middle on them. And sadly enough, they do.
The Wildcats’ inability to convert via run on third and short is absolutely killing this offense. If the passing game struggles like it did yesterday, we’re getting zero production with the ball in our hands.
I’m no Kirk Herbstreit, but you won’t win many football games like that.
For the sake of all that is good, let’s move on to Tennessee.