Let’s dive in to a few points about the gut-wrenching loss to Georgia:
–Obviously the story of the game was the early turnovers. Three first half fumbles led to two Georgia touchdowns, and Kentucky never recovered from being down 28-3 after they were finished putting the ball on the ground. Unfortunately the stretch was painfully reminiscent of Kentucky’s recent first-half woes, only this time there was to be no big second-half rally to go along with it. You’re not going to win many SEC games by repeatedly turning the ball over in your own territory and giving up special teams touchdowns, a fact that was all too apparent tonight.
–The turnovers were particularly tough to stomach because the team’s offensive weapons had pretty good games. Mike Hartline was 27-of-43 for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns, with one pick that was more poorly timed than an awful throw, although it hurt badly either way. La’Rod King and Chris Matthews continued the strong play of the receiving corps, as both went for over 80 yards and King snagged two great touchdown catches before leaving with an injury. Randall Cobb had seven catches, although the lack of touches for Cobb, especially in key short-yardage situations, will no doubt be a talking point going forward. Raymond Sanders was also a bright spot, as he put up over 150 total yards with a receiving touchdown, although there’s still no question we need Derrick Locke back in a bad way.
–As impressive as some of the offensive playmakers were for the Cats, the defense was equally underwhelming. Although the O continually put the defense in terrible holes, it’s tough to try and paint a rosy picture when a guy ties the single-game rushing touchdown record for his school on your field. The defense isn’t entirely responsible for the 44 points, but they did little to slow down the Dogs regardless.
–Following along a little with that theme, the lines on both sides of the ball were less than impressive. The offensive unit managed a 2.3 yard-per-carry average and Mike Hartline was under pressure for the whole game, getting sacked four times. Conversely, UK’s defensive line got no pressure and no sacks of Aaron Murray and allowed 4.5 yards-per-carry themselves, losing the battle of the trenches by such a margin that there was almost no hope of overcoming it.
–In what comes along with any loss, there will be plenty of questions about many of the coaching decisions from the loss. Especially in some short-yardage situations, the playcalling left a little to be desired. After a miscommunication that led to a broken play, Joker’s decision to go for a 4th-and-1 inside UK’s own 40, down 14-3 in the first quarter was questionable in and of itself. The playcall of a Mike Hartline sneak was something more than questionable, given how automatic Randall Cobb usually is in those situations, and the reverse pass on a later 3rd and 2 also raised some eyebrows. That’s not to mention the consistency with which the Cats ended up in 3rd and long, and altogether the role that the playcalling played in the loss will be fodder for discussion in the week ahead.
–While the loss stings, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the season for the Cats as they can still make a step forward in terms of bowl prestige despite the 1-4 SEC start. However, next week’s game against Mississippi State takes on a whole new significance. If the Cats win and take care of Charleston Southern and Vandy before travelling to Knoxville, eight wins is in play and so is a non-Tennessee bowl trip. If they lose, the rest of the games become absolute must-wins and the season risks shifting from disappointing to depressing.
So turnovers and mental lapses undo the Cats, meaning it’s one step forward and two steps back after last week’s huge win over South Carolina. Visions of competing in the Eastern division race have danced away, replaced by an added pressure for the rest of the year to make this season the and step forward we’re all hoping for. Come back tomorrow as BTI takes you through your Sunday. Stay tuned.