A game that was destined for disaster transformed into what will be looked at as a turning point in the Kentucky football program. The game started sour, with the Cocks reeling off two quick scores while the UK offense was doing the exact opposite, running only 9 plays in the first quarter. With Jalen Whitlow at QB (the ONLY QB) the Cats hung around, trailing only 24-7 at half.
Trailing 27-7 entering the 4th quarter, Whitlow was finally comfortable enough to get into the zone. Jalen hit Demarco Robinson for a 4-yard touchdown that was a result of booth reviewed reversal. On the ensuing kickoff Malcolm McDuffen popped the ball out of Bruce Ellington’s hands, quickly turning around the game after Ryan Timmons caught his first touchdown pass on a 14 yard grab. A 27-20 game would’ve seemed like a miracle when South Carolina fans began leaving early in the 3rd quarter. The defense began to break after that, with the Gamecocks rolling down the field with only 1 play going for less than 7 yards on the quick 3-minute drive.
The unthinkable happened again: the Cats responded. Jalen capped off an 81-yard drive with a QB sneak TD. With 4:01 left on the clock and a 35-28 score, there was a chance that the Cats could come away with the win. Then Joe Mansour had another terrible onside kick, then Eric Dixon missed a tackle, then Coach Stoops head almost exploded, then a penalty that shouldn’t have been a penalty (that isn’t being a homer, that’s counting only 11 players on the field, not 12) was the dagger for the Cats.
Big Blue Nation- Coach Stoops wants you to know that he has a team worth watching.
- Kentucky finally has ONE Quarterback. Jalen Whitlow must REALLY hate South Carolina. Using last year’s game as a coming out party, this year he ran (and passed) away with the opportunity to be THE starting QB. Neal Brown finally cut the crap and stuck with Whitlow throughout the game. After getting his feet wet without an interception through 2.5 quarters, Whitlow found his stride managing long drives to put the Cats back into the game. Despite putting up some unbelievable numbers (17-24 for 178 yards and 2 TDs; 17 rushes for 69 yards and a TD) Jalen was still visibly angry after the game that they couldn’t pull off the upset. The move to playing just one QB paid high dividends, enabling Jalen to get set in and push the tempo that Neal Brown has been yearning for since his arrival on campus. If there was a question of who should be THE guy, accounting for 82% of the offense is a great way to answer.
- The struggle was real on defense. Steve Spurrier’s offense did not stop mixing things up in the first half. He used it all: screens, QB designed runs, deep balls off the play-action, the Kentucky defense couldn’t find the pulse of the South Carolina offense. They couldn’t get things right schematically, and physically they missed A LOT of tackles. It didn’t help that Bud Dupree aggravated a strained pectoral muscle that he tweaked whiled lifting on Thursday, forcing Jason Hatcher to fill in for the final 2.5 quarters. Hatcher was one of the silver lining’s of the defense, along with Nate Willis (9 tackles), Avery Williamson (9 tackles), and (sometimes) Eric Dixon. However it’s hard to find too many silver lining’s when you allow the opponent to score on 7 of 8 drives.
- Jalen had to run for his life. The offensive line didn’t have to stop Jadeveon Clowney (bruised ribs), but Jalen never had it easy in the pocket. Darrian Miller was called out for two “unacceptable” plays last week and had back-to-back mishaps this week as well. The only thing on Jalen Whitlow’s side was great playcalling by Neal Brown. Jalen’s bread and butter was the 6 yard hitch route, WRs gained tons of positive yards on screens, and the QB draw kept the defense at bay. They found a way tonight, but John Schlarman is going to have to whip his unit in shape before next Saturday’s showdown with #1 Alabama.
- Jojo Kemp has never been used more effectively. Jojo was the go-to man out of the backfield today. He ran well inside and out on first down, and on short yardage situations he provided the power to get positive yards. There were two things we saw today that we’d never seen before: 1. The Wildcat formation 2. Kemp in the WR position. Kemp was motioned out of the backfield often, spreading the defense out while providing a nice check-down option. The Wildcat offense was phenomenal with Randall Cobb, but Matt Roark is the only person that has been able to pull it off since. The Wildcat package featuring Sanders, Timmons and Kemp caught the South Carolina defense off guard, never having a loss of yards in the formation. Neal Brown is finally beginning to figure out how to use his athletes’ abilities to their fullest potential.
A few areas of improvement
After going 1-23 on 3rd downs during the first half of Murderer’s row, the Cats converted on 3rd down 5-11 times today.
The Cats were 2-2 on 4th down, making one decision to punt on 4th and short late in the 1st half seem a little questionable.
The UK offense punched the ball into the end zone on all four trips into the Red Zone.
Even though his play was limited, Bud Dupree has a sack in 4 consecutive games.
After only having 47 plays of offense against Florida, the Cats won the possession battle for the first time this year.
The UK offense only had 2 ’3 and outs’.