The Kentucky football team had a chance to step on Ole Miss’ throat and walk away from Kroger Field with their first convincing victory of the season. Instead of curb-stomping the Rebels, Eddie Gran’s offense transformed into a pile of hot crap.
When Kentucky entered the locker room at halftime, the offense was firing on all cylinders. Trailing 17-13 with just over six minutes to play in the first half, Stephen Johnson and Benny Snell milked the clock down to 13 seconds left on the clock before Snell punched it into the end zone.
The Cats used the halftime lead and momentum to roll right through the Ole Miss defense to start the second half. After only four plays, C.J. Conrad went 46 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown that gave UK a ten-point lead.
“Great execution,” Eddie Gran described those drives after the game. “Kids did a great job, they were phenomenal. I thought we did have them off balance. We had some formations that hurt them. We kept coming back to those. I think they did a great job of coming out in the second half and going down and scoring.”
The UK defense took the offense’s momentum and shoved it down Ole Miss’ throat to force a three-and-out. A bad punt was made even worse when a holding penalty gave UK the ball in Ole Miss territory. The Rebels were on the edge of self-destruction.
Kentucky was teed up to run away with the game. Then it all went to shit.
On third and short, the Ole Miss defense dialed up a blitz in the A-gap, right where Snell was running. Mark Stoops said after the game they planned on going for it on fourth down, but the tackle for loss right up the gut pushed back the Cats too far to take the risk.
That three-and-out turned into four straight three-and-outs. Instead of turning their ten-point lead into 17, Kentucky had just 14 yards over 12 plays. Johnson quickly went from great (17/18 183 yards and a touchdown) to eeeesh (0/4 and he took a sack).
“There was just a few MA’s [missed assignments] here and there,” Johnson said. “It’s just stuff we gotta get fixed. Me missing a couple of throws on third down or second down, we can’t fall behind like that.”
Stoops and Gran could not specifically point to what went wrong. Stoops said they “just got off balance.” UK’s offensive coordinator blamed it on third down deficiencies.
“We didn’t convert on a couple of third downs. Ended up 7-for-13 but it needed to be nine; it needed to be ten in a game like this. The conversions and in the red zone. You can’t score three points on a team like that. You gotta get touchdowns. ”
Benny Snell was rushing for almost six yards per carry before the string of three-and-outs. He put the pieces together on the Cats’ final drive, but he was not clicking for most of the third quarter.
“I just felt like it was the little things. We were running the ball. I felt like I could have been more patient.” Snell said it was “just little errors here and there.”
When Kentucky missed the opportunity to put Ole Miss away, Ole Miss seized the chance to make a comeback. It took them less than a quarter to turn a ten-point deficit into a three-point lead. The Kentucky offense did respond with an excellent 95-yard drive to retake the lead, but it was too little too late.
This is a crushing loss in many ways. The overturned fumble and the last-second fade in the corner of the end zone sucked, but UK should have never been in that situation. They had an opportunity to squash Ole Miss into oblivion, assert their dominance over an opponent and win over the Big Blue Nation once and for all.
They might not get another golden opportunity like they did tonight — up ten with a drive starting in Ole Miss territory — and that’s what makes the 37-34 defeat such a crushing loss for the Big Blue Nation.
Benny Snell said UK has to learn to finish. He’s confident they will do that next week vs. Vanderbilt. pic.twitter.com/u8mKx4oT4o
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) November 5, 2017