This week will be packed with theory dealing with focus and motivation questions as well as other intangible discussions with intent to describe UK’s recent football struggles. Here’s a quick look at some numbers that provide perspective:
Tackles for Loss (TFL)
- UK SEC Ranking: Kentucky ranks 14th and last in the conference by only creating 37 TFLs. Momentum is a loosely-used term. However, TFLs are momentum killers or boosters. The Cats have been on the wrong side of this number for the entire season.
- Allowed: The Cats’ offense has surrendered 58 tackles for loss, good for 11th in the league.
Meaning: Offensively the Cats are getting whipped up front along with lack of a disruptive front seven. TFLs are drive killers and field position indicators.
- UK SEC Ranking: Cats have sacked opposing quarterbacks 13 times, good/bad enough for 13th in the conference. I understand the “well, we lost Bud and Z” rhetoric. With Smith and Dupree, UK finished 9th in the league with 27 total sacks.
- Allowed: 23 quarterback sacks is 11th in the SEC and has factored in drive-killing plays as well as leading to losing the field position battle.
Meaning: Defensive front seven aren’t pressuring opposing quarterbacks while Patrick Towles has all too often faced immediate defensive influence. Again, line of scrimmage under the magnifying glass. This can also be attributed to pass catcher’s drops and quarterback indecisiveness. Sacks are drive killers and field position indicators. Wash and repeat from above.
- UK SEC Ranking: Cats average 135 rush yards per game, 13th in the SEC.
- Allowed: Defensively, UK is giving up 195 yards on the ground per game, 12th in the conference.
Meaning: Line of scrimmage again and circumstance influence both rankings. UK isn’t creating space/run lanes as opponents are dictating outcome by dominating at the point of attack. Lack of 1st down effectiveness combined with tackles for loss consistently puts the Cats behind the chains. Thus, declining likelihood of 3rd down conversions. What follows 3rd down failures? Inconsistent punting. As you can see, Kentucky’s slide is circular, touching all three phases in its spiral.
- UK SEC Ranking: 12th, 364 yards per game.
- Allowed: Defensively, the Cats are 11th with opponents averaging 411.9 yards per game
Meaning: Not getting it done on either side of the football, yet the discrepancy is only 47 yards. That number is not glaring, but a telling description of a downward offensive while opposing offenses have steadily trended upward.
What does all this mean?
Offensively: Inconsistent quarterback play, dropped passes and ineffective offensive line play have limited play calling options. UK has been predictable due to personnel, circumstance, and execution deficiencies. Instead of having the luxury to open up the playbook, pages have been folded due to the influence of sacks and tackles for loss.
Defensively: UK is not talented enough to read and read. Its only chance is to force the issue with exotic blitz packages and coverage. Problem is, by allowing close to 200 yards on the ground, opponents have dictated tempo instead of feeling pressured. Also, when a defense is forced to blitz, it opens up youthful liabilities in the secondary.
The sum of all three phases have contributed to Kentucky’s woes. Unproductive special teams play has negatively affected field position. First down ineffectiveness is limiting drives and point production. Lack of defensive pressure against both the pass and run has enabled the score to get out of hand in a hurry.
What can improve? 2015 personnel is what it is. There is no free agency in college football. Kentucky is not in the position to overwhelm by skill. It must dominate the intangibles. Kentucky must out-hustle, hit, care, and effort their opponents.
How can Kentucky turn it around?
Coming off a difficult stretch in schedule, UK’s final three games are deemed somewhat winnable. Go to Nashville, beat Vanderbilt and the narrative slightly alters with Charlotte making its initial voyage to Lexington on the following Saturday. However, given recent performance, the Cats are underdogs against Vanderbilt and most likely will also be in the Governor’s Cup.
Is there an instant fix? Yes, just win. A football season is to be judged from a twelve-week body of work. Ebbs and flows happen.