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No Such Thing as an Ugly Road Win


Southern Miss outgained the Kentucky 364 yards to 254. Benny Snell was held to 67 yards on the ground and sported a lowly 3.4 yards per carry average. Why was Snell in the Wildcat so often on 1st and 3rd downs? The vaunted UK offensive line failed to open the gaping run-lanes that the BBN had grown accustomed to a year ago. Eddie Gran called a conservative game. All these sentiments were communicated with me over the course of the game.

Following UK’s 24-17 win my answer remained constant, “There is no such thing as an ugly road win.” This Southern Miss team not only beat the Cats a year ago; it did so in an all-out butt-kicking fashion in the second half.

Think about it for a minute. How many Kentucky Football teams in the past would have folded after playing subpar at best on offense with its defense forced into precarious situations in the final quarter of the game with the outcome hinging on momentum that totally favored the opponent? True, Kentucky did not wow in Hattiesburg; but it was impressive enough to move to 1-0. That’s a whole heck of a lot better than where Mark Stoop’s team started in 2016 after facing the Golden Eagles. Let’s break it down, shall we?

OFFENSE

Statistical Review

Total Offense 254 yards
Rushing 78
Passing 176
First downs 12
Total plays 55
Time of possession 29:01

Individual Leaders

Passing: Stephen Johnson – 11/20, 176 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Benny Snell – 20 carries, 67 yards
Receiving: CJ Conrad – 3 receptions, 97 yards, 1 TD

The common theme all week was that this game would be decided by the team that won the turnover margin. UK did so. But, Benny Snell’s red-zone fumble marked the first occasion that the Cats left points on the Hattiesburg turf. It happened again when Stephen Johnson failed to hit Tavin Richardson on an intermediate crossing route in Southern Miss territory on 3rd and 8. The third occasion occurred in the second half when a holding call joined a sack took Kentucky out of scoring position. Field position favored UK on many occasions. It failed to capitalize.

A plethora of three and outs were also a dysfunctional byproduct of ineffectiveness up front. This is portrayed in the fact that UK ran just 55 offensive plays; five more than it did a year ago in the 44-35 loss. Third down conversions were dreadful: 3/13. That low number lessens drives which in turn equates to a low number of plays.

One positive was TE CJ Conrad. The junior caught 3 passes for 97-yards and a score. Johnson was accurate with his tight end which was a source of malcontent in 2016. Stephen Johnson was not flashy but did account for 176 of UK’s 254 total yards. That’s 69% if my math’s correct. He finished the game 11-20 with one score running and one through the air. He’s also won three out of UK’s last four road games. Say what you want; but with a struggling running game, UK would have been in trouble against Southern Miss if not for Johnson’s output.

The offensive line was allegedly the strength of the entire team, not just the offense. That was not the case against Southern Miss. Jay Hopson’s “Havoc” defense fit that description on Saturday. It aligned in defensive sets that were so uncommon and unconventional that assigning a schematic name was impossible. He also creatively twisted, stunted, and placed his safeties in specific and intentional run-support locations. USM was intent on stopping Benny Snell. UK played into that theme by continuing to run Snell in the Wildcat formation when it was not producing positive results. QB Stephen Johnson was taken out of the equation on many plays which limited offensive possibilities.

I do think that offensive inefficiencies are fixable and will be corrected. However, I was surprised that AJ Rose was not involved in the run game. Personnel changes could be on the horizon as the Cats prepare for Eastern Kentucky. Do not push the panic button yet.

DEFENSE

Game Statistics

Total Yards Allowed 364
Rushing 55
Passing 309
3rd down 4/17
Opponent plays 78
1st downs allowed 19
Forced fumbles 4, recovered 3
Tackles for Loss 8
QB sacks 2

Individual Leaders

Courtney Love: 9 total tackles, 1 TFL
Darius West: 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble
Adrian Middleton: 5 tackles,
Josh Allen and Denzil Ware: 8 tackles, 2 QB sacks, 4.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown

Stopping Ito Smith was a rallying cry throughout the entire summer. The Wildcat defense did so by allowing the senior just 37 yards off 16 carries. He did have 9 catches for 78 yards but he never presented an imminent threat for four quarters. We talked for weeks about the USM talented receiving corps; they didn’t disappoint. Korey Robertson caught 7 passes for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns. Quez Watkins had 4 catches for 103 yards. USM’s top two pass catchers surprisingly weren’t as impactful: Allenzae Staggers 0 catches and Isaiah Jones had 2 receptions for 17 yards. However, these four receivers construct one of the better groups that UK will face in 2017. It also won several 50/50 balls which will certainly infuriate Mark Stoops.

Overall the defense fought and showed tremendous resolve. This showed true as momentum flipped and the Cats forced its opponent to punt late in the fourth quarter and held in the game’s final drive. New DL coach Derrick LeBlanc’s impact was obvious as his defensive line played their butts off:

Adrian Middleton 5 tackles, 1 solo
Matt Elam 4 tackles, 2 solo, 1 TFL
Calvin Taylor 4 tackles, 1 solo
Kengera Daniel 2 tackles, 2 solos
Kordell Looney 2 tackles
TJ Carter 2 tackles
Quinton Bohanna 1 tackle
Naquez Pringle 1 tackle

This improvement as can be seen in the above stat line is an incredible upgrade from past year’s performances. The front-line was active, disruptive, and engaged blockers at a level not seen in quite some time.

Outside linebackers Josh Allen and Denzil Ware are special. Fellow OLB Josh Paschal showed flashes of joining the duo to construct a formidable edge force. Overall, the UK defense was faster and obviously deeper at all positions on the field. It did begin to miss tackles in the fourth quarter which was a result of its offensive brethren giving it no breaks by stringing together a slew of short drives.

Safety Darius West led the secondary with 6 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 forced fumble. He’s battled back from injuries and the BBN was extremely proud of his efforts.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Matt Panton had 9 punts, averaged 42 yards per, and booted 5 kicks inside the 20-yard line to include two inside the 2. The grad-transfer made his presence known in his first game action as a Kentucky Wildcat. His play was refreshing and motivating as punting was a critical question and shortcoming in 2016.

Chuck Walker’s stat line won’t jump off the pages but the sure handed senior caught several punts in heavy traffic. Safety was key in a game that was significantly decided by the turnover margin. Sihiem King also flashed in the kick-return game.

What does all this mean?

Kentucky won the game 24-17. It’s 1-0 with EKU coming to Kroger Field next Saturday. No road win can be considered ugly, especially against a team that beat UK by 9 a year before. There’s no sugar coating the truth. Saturday’s game was not pleasant to the eyes especially when the Cats had the football. But, the defense fought back. Special teams were excellent. Did I mention that Kentucky is 1-0? If my memory is correct it was 0-1 after playing the same team it beat on Saturday this time last year.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

18 responses to “No Such Thing as an Ugly Road Win”

  1. 2thepoint

    Freddie, the article is good as usual. I was very disappointed by the play calling as you were. What worries me is whether Eddie Gran will ever be capable of adapting to the changes in the game. The answer yesterday was CJ Conrad yet Gran only called plays for him 3 or 4 times. He has to open up the passing game more.

    1. 2thepoint

      I forgot to appreciate the defense and for the win. It was wonderful to pull out the victory and be 1-0 to begin the season.

  2. notFromhere

    Excellent points, as usual. I, too, was wondering why Rose was not used. Bewildered is more accurate. Getting him some wildcat snaps with his ability to throw should be part of the package.

  3. CPACAT

    Interestingly, the units we had concern about or trouble with last year performed admirably (D-Line, punting, SJ to Conrad)the ones we thought were strong all played sub-par (O-line, secondary, running game). LBs, TE, PR, KR, Kicking were money. Did we play any Receivers?

  4. DennyC

    Freddie, will you EVER be honest in your coverage of UK Football? You’re trying to compare last years S.Miss team with this year’s team which is irrelevant. The starting S.Miss QB may be the worst QB in D-1. UK was lucky he got the starting call. Please try to keep your blue glasses off when recapping the games going forward. If you think this WASN’T an UGLY win, I can’t wait to hear how you think UK will BLOW OUT South Carolina and Florida. Quit putting lipstick on a pig and be honest with the fans who read this site . . smh . . .

    1. CatsfaninFL

      First games of the season are never pretty. Away games are rarely pretty… even for the big dogs. He’s not sugarcoating. He said it was unpleasant and work needed to be done but don’t be so negative. Having played up to the college level myself, he is right. Any road win you take no matter how bad it looks. Remember we looked like crap last year to start and lost and we still got better throughout the season. No reason to think we won’t this year too.

    2. xXWaddle10Xx

      And yet Freddie gets complements from other teams for his unbiased approach. You are in the minority of people who think he’s overly biased. Maybe you just need to see that that USM team was probably as good as some of the SEC teams we will play. We still stopped both QBs not just one who was a duel threat which has been UK kryptonite for the past decade.

    3. dshwildcats

      DennyC,

      I believe Southern Miss used both their QBs, and still lost. And, how do you know that the Southern Miss QB may be the worst in D-I? Did you watch all of the D-I QBs play this weekend? We lost the opener at home last season, in a monumental collapse, and still managed to finish the season with seven wins, and an upset of #11 Louisville at their place! So why do you feel the need to write the season off after one game, a game that we won of the road, in which the offense definitely didn’t play their best?

      I was as frustrated as Freddie, you and everyone else by the play calling Saturday! It was very difficult to develop a rhythm offensively when Gran was switching back and forth to and from the Wildcat. I think we’ll see a lot less of the Wildcat on Saturday vs. EKU. If you felt bad yesterday morning after Kentucky’s narrow victory over Southern Miss, think about how fans of Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M, etc., are feeling right now!!

  5. Kevin C

    If you’re wearing beer goggles, sure. The problem is, the way the game was called and played, was a copy/paste of what we’ve seen for the past few years. If this were a season-opening win against an SEC school…even another bottom feeder…I’d feel much better about it. But from what I saw yesterday, there’s not much reason to be hopeful for a repeat bowl season.

    1. xXWaddle10Xx

      We have one more game to clean it up. If problems persist after that I may agree with you but it was a season opening game on the road against a team who beat us last year. A win is a win and ultimately we are 1-0.

    2. xXWaddle10Xx

      I would argue there offense is better than Florida at this point.

    3. My Dixie Wrecked

      I would argue a difference between there and their.

    4. xXWaddle10Xx

      I would agree.

    5. bigfatstoopidE

      🔥🔥🔥

  6. AirRaid98

    This was definitely an ugly road win, but I’ll take it

  7. AirRaid98

    What’s the deal with Bowden? Sounds like a diva to me

    1. Luether

      Just needs a good butt kicking…

  8. TBW3011

    Everyone can bash Gran and the playcalling, but it’s not easy to call plays and try to hide your QB at the same time. Our run game MUST be hitting on all cylinders if SJ is under center. When it isn’t this is what it looks like.