After two blowout losses, it’s been a little harder to get back on the Kentucky football horse this week. Last night, Drew Franklin gave you his reasons why Kentucky will beat Georgia in Athens on Saturday, and I commend his effort; if I didn’t have to drive back to Nashville and get on with life, I’d still be sitting in the Commonwealth Stadium press box, shaking my head at the Cats’ piss poor performance.
Right now, I’m not as much concerned with whether or not Kentucky will beat Georgia than I am seeing Kentucky pull itself together and look like a respectable football team. Here are few things that need to happen for that to happen.
Fewer missed tackles
One of the most frustrating things about watching Kentucky play in the past few games has been the number of missed tackles. It’s like we’ve been transported back in time two years. I realize there have been injuries on defense, mismatches, etc., but poor tackling is a fundamental issue. On his first touchdown run, Joshua Dobbs eluded so many Kentucky defenders he might as well have been covered with butter:
To what do you attribute missed tackles? Poor fundamentals, poor effort, or mismatches? I’m no football expert, so I asked Freddie Maggard, who said Mississippi State and Tennessee were two of the best offensive teams in the SEC, and as such, have better talent; however, whatever talent gap there is between Kentucky and other programs can be narrowed with intensity and drive. There seems to be a lack of both those things across the board lately.
Patrick Towles getting more than three seconds to throw the ball
Complain about Patrick Towles all you want, but no quarterback, not even Drew Barker, can succeed without a decent offensive line. Tennessee and Mississippi State manhandled Kentucky’s offensive line, giving Patrick very little time to do much of anything. Fortunately, Patrick’s pretty good at scrambling, but after watching the tape, on average, he only had about three or four seconds to get rid of the ball before the opponent was in his face. Coming into this season, there was confidence Kentucky’s offensive line would be much improved; coming into game nine, they’ve given up an SEC-worst 22 sacks.
Again, there’s not much you can do about the talent on the line until a new recruiting class comes in, and UK’s offensive line face another athletic SEC defensive line in Georgia. Hopefully, Jordan Swindle, Nick Haynes, Jon Toth, Ramsey Meyers, and Kyle Meadows can hold it together so the offense can get off the ground.
Patrick’s been especially inaccurate the past two games, completing 55% of his passes vs. Mississippi State and only 48% against Tennessee. A good part of that can be blamed on his offensive line not giving him enough time; however, even on some of throws he’s had time to make he’s been off. Through eight games, Patrick’s thrown ten interceptions, more than he did all of last season. Looking back, I’d say maybe half of those were his fault, the most recent being a hurried screen pass vs. Tennessee that would have been a pick six had Patrick not pushed the guy out of bounds.
Again, hard to make good decisions when you have very little time.
Receivers hanging on to the ball
Of course, it hasn’t helped matters much that whenever Patrick does get the ball to his receivers, they have bad habit of dropping them. Even the most consistent receiver in the corps, Garrett Johnson, dropped a few against Tennessee.
More CJ Conrad
The freshman tight end scored his first touchdown as a Wildcat against Missouri, and ever since, the UK fan base has been like Christopher Walken begging Will Ferrell for more cowbell, except, you know, Conrad. Conrad has 13 catches for 139 yards this season, good enough for fifth on the team in receiving, but he’s quickly become one of the most reliable targets. Yet, he only got the ball thrown his way once against Tennessee? Shannon Dawson, this offense has gotta have more Conrad!
A sign of life on special teams
Last week’s game was not one to remember from a special teams standpoint. Tennessee scored on both kickoff and punt returns, both cringe-worthy moments that underscored Kentucky’s issues with tackling. On the other side, Kentucky hasn’t showed much pizzazz in its return game. Remember when we predicted Sihiem King would run one back? Me too. It was a long time ago and we’re still waiting.
Thankfully, Austin MacGinnis is back and getting balls through the end zone. Landon Foster’s still inconsistent, but had some good punts against the Vols. Unfortunately, right now, special teams seems to be working against the Cats instead of for them.
Saturday’s game is looking more and more like the Battle of the Dysfunctional, with both Georgia and Kentucky coming into the game with baggage, more the former than the latter. I don’t really care about any of that. If Kentucky ends up winning because Georgia’s turned into a dumpster fire, that’s great, but I’m tired of hoping for other teams to screw up enough for us to win.
More than anything, I want Kentucky to show some competitive fire on Saturday. Georgia hasn’t scored a touchdown in ten quarters, but say they get their act together (as teams so often do against the Cats) and go up by a few scores. For the love of the new Commonwealth Stadium and $45 million practice facility, do not panic, Kentucky. There’s still a lot to fight for this season. Don’t become the shruggy little emoticon and throw in the towel; if you do, it makes it that much easier for fans to do the same.