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Cats fight hard, come up short, 38-20

Alabama Kentucky Football

Damn.  It seemed like it was really in the cards today.  A late-arriving crowd seemed gassed up and full of emotion after a week of good times around campus and the lingering despair from the Florida thrashing seemed to be fully pushed out of everyone’s mind.  But, 57 seconds into the game – and following a DeQuin Evans personal foul (we’ll get to that later) – Mark Ingram shook past Randall Burden for a 12-yard touchdwon and the number three team in the country had a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the contest.  As Burden lay face first on the turf long after Ingram had raced past him and scored, his body language screamed of a repeat of last week against Florida.  And when Mike Hartline threw an insanely stupid pass that was intercepted on the ensuing UK possession, it seemed like Groundhog Day.

But, something happened.

The Cats defense took the field and forced a big three-and out.  On the third down play, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy tested the Cats deep and, as Lindley defended the pass, Corey Peters slammed McElroy to the turf.  It seemed to ignite a fire on the Wildcat sideline and the Cats offense came in and moved the ball behind some (gasp!) creative playcalling.  The Cats came out in the Wildcat formation, which had strangely been absent lately, and moved the ball on the ground behind Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke.  After moving the ball on the ground and after a great screen pass from Hartline to Locke, the Cats found themselves in field goal range and Lones Seiber knocked down a 49-yarder with just under 7 minutes left, making the game 7-3 and making him UK’s all-time leading scorer. It was the first of two 49 yarders for Seiber.

But Seiber wasn’t the only special teams star as Ryan Tydlacka had a huge first half as well. The punter pinned ALabama within their own five yard line on two consecutive kicks, thus limiting the playcalling options and frustrating Greg McElroy and company. On the second kick, the Tide found themselves inside the two yard line and with a scare as Micah Johnson barrelled through the line and crushed Trent Richardson on the goal line. The crowd wanted a safety, but a review ultimately showed that the initial ruling that the ball crossed the goal ine was correct, taking wind out of the Cats’ sails.

And, with that “call on the field stands” announcement, you could sense that things were starting to change.  McElroy would lead the Tide on a 99-yard drive for a touchdown and on the first play of the next possession, Derrick Locke would be stripped by Rolando McClain.  The ball bounced into Courtney Upshaw’s hands, who raced 48 yards untouched into the end zone.  With that, the Kentucky hope seemed to die, and Alabama entered the half with a 21-6 lead.

But, with the ball to start the second half, Kentucky wasn’t entirely out of the game and took the field hoping to finally score their first touchdown and make it a one-score game.  However, just like in the first half, Alabama was back on the scoreboard in no time.  Hartline hit an Alabama defender right in the numbers across the middle and Mark Ingram raced 32 yards two plays later for a 28-6 lead.  Hartline coughed it up yet again on the next possession and, five minutes into the second half, the Tide had expanded their lead to 31-6.  At this point, even the most optimistic UK fan had given up hope.

However, Kentucky showed more resolve and would put up two more touchdowns before the game ended, saving face with a fairly respectable score of 38-20.  After throwing two interceptions on the first two possessions of the second half, Hartline hit Randall Cobb for a 45-yard touchdown.  For all the hell given to Hartline  (nearly all of it – except the booing – deserved at this point), it was nice to see him take the field and keep fighting with confidence.  He would have buckled and given up last year when faced with the same situation and seeing him throw that bomb was nice.  However, there is no doubt that going forward, the Kentucky coaches are going to have to find a way to get more success out of the quarterback position.  For me, that means more Wildcat formations and coaching up Hartline.  To you, it could mean benching him.  I don’t doubt for a second that we’ll hear plenty about this in the next seven days.

A few notes…

 – For the second consecutive week, Kentucky committed one boneheaded penalty after another, beating themselves with personal fouls again.  It started on Alabama’s first offensive possession as DeQuin Evans got called for a late hit, which pushed the Tide into the red zone.  And then they got called for roughing hte kicker on the extra point.  Late in the game, Calvin Harrison was called for another late hit foul, which set up yet another touchdown run.  On the game, the Cats committed seven penalties for 78 yards, which – believe it or not – is actually an improvement last week (# of penalties, not yardage).  You aren’t going to win many games in this conference when you’ve got your head up your tail like this.

 – It’s something that’s been plaguing them since the Miami game and it reared its ugly head again today.  Kentucky showed terribly poor tackling again – particularly from the secondary – in the loss to Alabama.  The defense appears to be the kind that gets all fired up to lay a big hit on someone, which seems to be perfectly fine.  Micah Johnson had a great hit on the goal line stand and Sam Maxwell really stuck one on Richardson in the third quarter.  Even Winston Guy popped one of the receivers.  But, more often than not, the defense tries to lay the wood on someone instead of wrapping up and bringing someone down.  The tackling was pitiful against Louisville and Florida and, despite some improvement, was still not very good against Alabama today.  Slapping and shoving might work against Eastern Kentucky, but I doubt it will fare too well against South Carolina, Georgia or Auburn.

 – And, just to add some insult to injury (or rather, injury to insult) Trevard Lindley was carted off of the sideline and into the netherworlds of Commonwealth Stadium.  Lindley taped his ankle in the third quarter and it was taped, but he wasn’t able to play on it.  He tried to watch from the sidelines but the ankle stiffened up and they carted him off the field.  X-rays were negative, but we’ll keep you posted.

 – Again, in what seems to be the “Why won’t Gillispie run a zone?” question of the football team, the offensive playbook again comes under fire.  Early in the game, the Wildcat formation appeared and it looked like Kentukcy would finally find a way to use their most dynamic players in the same package.  But, it was chucked aside just as quickly as it proved to be successful and everyone is again left to wonder why.  The Kentucky football personnel is tailor-made for this offense and Randall Cobb thrives in it.  The coaching staff says they want him to be “one of the most dynamic players in the historyof the SEC”, then you would hope that they would want to get the ball in his hands more. 

As far as the playcalling with Mike Hartline goes, if you’ve ever read any of my football stuff, you know how incredibly frustrating it is to me to not see Mike Hartline take big chances downfield more often.  The only way a guy like Mike Hartline is going to get the respect of opposing coaches or put fear in defenders is to prove his mettle as a passer.  While screens and quick slants might help move the ball, the benefit of throwing a downfield deep ball opens up everything on the offense – even if it’s not completed.  You have to make them at least wonder if the ball is going there and I’m pretty sure a group of running backs wouldn’t complain about making the defenders pause for a second instead of attacking the hole and blasting them.  And, besides, the Cats threw three deep balls in the second half.  The one to Randall Cobb went 45 yards for a touchdown and the ones to Gene McCaskill and Chris Matthews were both caught, although out of bounds.  Point is, the receivers can catch them.  Hartline can throw them.  The make the short passes easier to complete and give the running game more space.  Why not?

 – One offensive bright spot was the play of Derrick Locke, who is becoming another go-to option in addition to Randall Cobb.  Against what might be the best defense in the nation, Lock ran for 76 yards, caught 63 and had 66 more off of kick returns.  Locke seems to be completely over his injury and has clearly stepped to the front of the running back stable.  While he’s not a guy that will grind it out between the tackles, he has the speed to compete with any defense in the country and his vision is far and away better than every other back on the team.  His play was very encouraging today. 

 – With under 4 minutes left and winning 38-20, Nick Saban ran a fake field goal.  Andre Ware said it was to “run out the clock”, but Richardson ran out of bounds on the next play and they took a shot at the end zone on 4th down.  Saban was showing the world that Urban Meyer will not outdo him in running up scores.  And he was NOT trying to run out the clock.

Overall, let’s not overreact and write off the team over this loss.  There are no doubt plenty of things for the team to work on heading into the remainder of this SEC Suicide Gauntlet, but let’s be honest.  The team in white is one that has a legitimate shot at being a national champion.  And, unlike last week when UK came out and played scared and caved when Florida got after them early, Kentucky showed some backbone today.  You could see some growth and you could see that there was serious fight from the blue squad.  That should be commended.  But, having said that, there are some serious things to work on in the next couple weeks.  The next stretch of games will determine if and where this team goes bowling.  It’s gut check time at the Nutter Center.

Passing

Mike Hartline –  17/31  168 yards   1 TD 3 INT
Randall Cobb – 0/1

Rushing

Derrick Locke – 20 carries for 75 yards
Alfonso Smith – 5 carries for 28 yards and 1 TD
Randall Cobb – 4 carries for 21 yards
Moncell Allen – 3 carries for 7 yards
John Conner – 1 carry for 3 yards
Mike Hartline – 4 carries for -1 yards

Receiving

Derrick Locke – 6 catches for 63 yards
Randall Cobb – 3 catches for 57 yards and 1 TD
Kyrus Lanxter – 3 catches for 26 yards
Moncell Allen – 3 catches for 12 yards
Chris Matthews – 2 catches for 8 yards
John Conner – 1 catch for 2 yards

Article written by Thomas Beisner