Well, that didnt go so well now did it? I have just returned from Papa John’s Stadium (my first trip to the place and is quite the facility) where, along with the Turkey Hunter, I watched Louisville take it to the Wildcats 59-28. It was an embarrassing defeat for the Cats on a number of levels, not the least of which is that this was a game all associated with the program had promised would showcase the supposed strides that had been made in the last few months. While no one associated with the team guaranteed, or even mentioned, victory, all assumed that a better Kentucky team would be on the field. Well was it? I for one, think the evidence says no. But there is a lot to get to, so here are my Top 10 thoughts.
(1) The way this game began was just about as bad a performance as I have seen from UK football in many years. For a quarter and a half, Louisville looked like a Division I powerhouse who was running roughshod on the Division 1-AA team they had brought in for a guaranteed win. There was total domination on both sides of the ball. Kentucky was one or two steps slower on every play. The Cats were dominated on both the offensive and defensive lines. And the coaches showed that some things never change as the first few possessions were the most uninspired offensive play calling since the Curry era, with the “quarterback sneak” used on four of five plays in one stretch. It bears remembering that the Cats were down 31-0 MIDWAY through the second quarter. Embarassing for the one time the Cats will see ESPN this year.
(2) Going into the game, it was clear that at the skill positions, UK would be at a disadvantage. Brian Brohm, Michael Bush and Mario Urritia represent one of the best offensive skill sets in the nation and Kentucky would have to overcome that deficit. However one no one should have expected was the utter domination on both lines by the Cards. During the offseason, the Cards lost a lot on both lines and with Kentucky’s newfound depth, it was reasonable to think that the Cats would make strides in this area and that the defensive line could even put some pressure on Brohm. This simply never happened. Brian Brohm had as much time as he needed to throw the ball and was able to pick apart the rest of the defense. Over the last few years, the ringing effect of probation has been line play, and this game showed that even with the new numbers, things have not really improved.
(3) The atmosphere inside and outside Cardinal Stadium was absolutely electric. The Louisville fans were confident that this would be a walkover, and they were correct. For Kentucky to have any chance to stay in this game, there had to be a solid start. And we already know that did not happen. The Louisville fanbase is not nearly as large as UK’s and it is debateable whether it is as passionate. But it is clear that they are ready for this football season and that they believed they were in for a long victory march…..well, until….
(4) Michael Bush’s injury. There is nothing worse than seeing a top college player have a severe injury. I still get queesy thinking about the injury to Willis McGahee a few years ago and Bush’s had the same feel. While on the ground, the stadium was dead silent and when the news came within minutes that his leg was broken, the stadium never really recovered. Bush is a great kid and it is truly disappointing that this has prematurely ended his season.
(5) As the Turkey Hunter pointed out, Cardinals Stadium is much more crunk than Commonwealth. While we are often serenaded to Tracy Byrd singing “We’re from Kentucky and We Like it that Way”, Papa John’s gives us all the latest hits like “Sexy Back” which had the Turkey Hunter dancing in the aisles. And the Cards do a “Shake Your Groove Thang” Camera that pans the stadium that picks up some very good shots. Points to the Cards for this.
(6) For about the millionth time in the Rich Brooks’ era I was baffled by his coaching decisions, specifically when Kentucky was showing signs of life for a possible comeback. With Kentucky down 31-14, coming off some momentum before halftime and showing actual signs of life with movement down the field, Brooks decides to punt on 4th and 2 instead of going for it. This decision reminded me of ESPN NFL writer Gregg Easterbrook, who actually works for a think tank and is an intellectual, but writes “Tuesday Morning Quarterback.” Easterbrook says that coaches often make decisions that are “safe” that in the grand scheme of things are not meant to win the game, but rather to keep them from looking bad. Going for it at this point would have been a risk. But Kentucky had shown NO ABILITY to stop Louisville and they had a chance at this point to cut the lead to 10 and actually get back in the game, putting pressure on the favorites, and in the process, showing his team that he has faith in them. Instead he doesnt go for it, and the rest is history. Poor call.
(7) There was some good in the game. The Wide Receivers looked better, with Keenan Burton’s good plays, Dicky Lyons pulling out his inner Mark Wahlberg to show some skill and Freshman Michael Strickland showing potential. When Woodson was in trouble, they often did not come and help enough, but in general the receiving corps (long a problem the last few years) looked like the one group to step it up.
(8) You folks better get aboard the Micah Johnson train. The kid was a player throughout the game, making big tackles and stepping up while on the field. Along with Wesley Woodyard, these guys held the defense down in the second quarter and beyond to keep the game from being completely out of control. Folks, Micah is the future of this team and he looks like the best all around defensive player in quite some time.
(9) Besides the above guys, the defense was pathetic. Louisville could have scored whenever, however they wanted. Even with Bush going down, they still ran roughshod on the Cats and once they committed to the running game (55 plays), Kentucky had no shot.
(10) The most disconcerting part of the game to me….surprisingly it was the lack of any offensive consistency. Yes we scored points, but they were virtually all of of big plays. Whether it was the delayed screen pass to Burton, the bomb to Lyons or the Burton kickoff return, the big plays were the scores. Only the second score of the game came from a drive and it contained two pass interference calls. Look I like to be positive, but the notion (as some have said) that the offense looked fine and dandy is simply not true. 22 yards of total rushing. Thats not much folks.
Either way, the game was fun. The stands were packed with REALLY drunk people (thanks to the night start) and there were a number of near fights all around, including one where a woman in her 60s through beer on a man of a similar age. Hey, if the game is difficult, then there is always people watching!
More coverage tomorrow during the day. Enjoy the holiday!