It’s late, so we won’t go too hard. Besides, Boogie is getting the game ball anyway. Here are a few notes for you….
– So Morgan Newton might not be all the way there yet, huh? After months of hearing UK’s coaches and the media rave about how the junior signal-caller looked like a completely different player than we saw in the Compass Bowl in January, he looked pretty familiar. In fact, he looked a little worse. Newton struggled in nearly every area of the game. He held on to the ball too long, threw it into coverage, failed to avoid the rush and finished 7/18 for 97 yards with a touchdown and 3 interceptions. Hell, he even tripped over his own feet one time. Newton’s first game as the unquestioned quarterback could not have gone any worse, though he did provide a glimpse of what he can be for Kentucky when he put the game away in the fourth quarter witha 58-yard run and a 31-yard touchdown pass. He’s clearly Joker’s guy (if he wasn’t, Maxwell Smith would have played like Joker said he would), so he’ll have a chance to fix those mistakes. For Kentucky to have any sort of prayer for bowl eligibility he’ll have to do it quickly. If he plays like he did Thursday in Nashville, this thing will go south in a hurry.
– Ok, you can believe the hype – even if it’s just for one night. Winston Guy is a bad, bad man in Rick Minter’s new defense. Guy was the non-special teams star of the game against WKU, registering 10 tackles (2.5 for loss) and picking off two passes. More importantly, Guy was the opposite of what he seemed to be so often last season. Instead of being the player getting beat deep or getting dusted off by a running back, he was the defender forcing the back to change direction or pressuring the receivers in the flat. His final interception came on the game’s final play, which technically makes it a garbage pick, but he definitely earned a little paddin of the stats with his play. Great game for #21.
– Joker tried to warn us, but I don’t think anyone really believed it was going to be like this. The offense is bad. It’s bad bad. There was no running game. There was no passing game. The Cats went three-and-out eight times. They had four first downs. It was beyond bad. I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.
– Conversely, Rick Minter’s defense wasn’t too shabby. There was still a little bit of the “bend but try not to break” feel to it and Bobby Rainey did surprass 100 yards again (108), but the unit was actually pretty darn good. They intercepted four passes and held the Hilltoppers to only three points, which is impressive no matter who the opponent is. Minter’s blitz packages were effective and a number of guys got a good shot at WKU’s quarterback. I’m not sure it can carry the offense in every single game, but it looks to be at a point where the Cats can win more than a handful of games if the offense advances past gut-wrenching pathetic mess.
– Ummm…..anyone else think the offensive line might be slightly overrated? The unit that was supposed to be far and away UK’s best and maybe one of the best in the nation was pushed around by the Sunbelt team Thursday and had little besides Stuart Hines’ reception to be proud of. The Cats averaged only 2.3 yards per carry on the ground and Morgan Newton was regularly running for his life. If there was a reason to feel good about what UK’s inexperienced offense could do this season, it was the strong line giving them space to run and Newton time to make plays. They got neither against Western. Again, it’s something that needs to change ASAP.
– In what seems to be the case every season, the special teams were again special and punter Ryan Tydlacka put together a hell of a game. He booted seven punts for an average of 47.5 and said after the game that he was exhausted. Teams with a good offense can ride a strong defense and special teams to championship contention. Teams with bad offenses hope to ride them to bowl eligibility. That looks like what might be the case here. The special teams were again solid.
– The wide receivers, as an entire unit, were atrocious. Joker Phillips echoed that sentiment in the postgame press conference when he voiced his disappointment with a group that really isn’t all that young. Morgan Newton did more than enough to stall out the offense, but his wide receivers certainly did their part in failing to make plays and letting their balls drop like it was seventh grade all over again. Much like it was with Mike Hartline two seasons ago and Andre Woodson a few years before that, an inexperienced quarterback’s learning curve is considerably more steep when his wideouts can’t pull in a pass. The good news is that they seemed to be in sync in terms of timing. These guys just have to catch the ball. We’ll blame it on Tennessee and hope for a better showing next week.
– It’s still very, very early, but it looked for a bit like there might have been a changing of the guard at running back already. Freshman Josh Clemons relieved Raymond Sanders, scored Kentucky’s first touchdown, and then seemed to handle the majority of the carries before Sanders reappeared. They both finished with similar numbers (Clemons: 11 carries for 39 yards, Sanders: 13 for 35) but the freshman seemed to be the one most comfortable hitting the holes and running with a purpose. It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out. Kentucky might just go with shared duties in the backfield.
– The attendance for the game was officially announced at 25,499. That was changed to 25,510 late in the fourth quarter when UK’s offense showed up. Either way, it’s not exactly an impressive crowd to kick off the season. The good news? We get to do it again in two years!
– Injury news: Morgan Newton has an injured thumb on his left hand and Collins Ukwu, who left the game, has a bruised chest. Neither should be a big deal.
That’s really it. In fact, I’ve probably said to much. For now, forget how ugly it was and enjoy the victory. And patiently wait for a post from Buzz Baker – yes, Buzz Baker! – in a few hours. Goodnight.