Kentucky did not play their best football tonight. And as if missed tackles and costly sacks weren’t bad enough, Kentucky continued to draw the yellow flags at some of the most inopportune times. Although the Cats had just four penalties for 45 yards (compared to Georgia’s six penalties for 64 yards), the timing of the flags as well as the nature of the calls themselves (silly things like false starts and unsportsmanlike conduct) were enough to limit Kentucky’s momentum.
A combination of little mistakes stacked up against Kentucky, and it was enough to leave Benny Snell more than a little unsatisfied. Snell, who became the first player in UK history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons tonight, couldn’t hold back from commenting on the lack of discipline.
“We’re about to go to the red zone and score and then we jump offsides. Or we have stupid penalties and have players being kicked out of the game.We hurt ourselves – we’re so strong and then we hurt ourselves,” Snell said after the loss. “If we just come out with the edge, if we come out punching and our technique is sound all-around, nobody will be able to stop us. That’s what I’ve got to keep preaching to the team; that’s what I’ve got to keep getting across in practice. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
The mistakes did seem to happen at incredibly inconvenient times – just as the momentum started to swing in Kentucky’s direction, when the Cats were close to the end zone or even after UK had already made a costly mistake.
First, Terry Wilson’s pass to CJ Conrad was fumbled and Georgia took over possession. Then, as if to rub salt in the wound, Logan Stenberg was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, pushing Georgia to their 48-yard line. Luckily, that drive ended in a Bulldog fumble to be recovered by Josh Allen, but the Cats weren’t always so lucky.
At third-and-four from the Georgia 6-yard line, Kentucky’s Luke Fortner was called for a false start, sending the Cats back to the 11-yard line. Those five yards were enough to make a difference – Wilson was sacked on the next play and the Cats were not able to recover. Chance Poore was able to successfully kick a 34-yarder, but the Wildcats had to settle for three points instead of six.
After halftime, Georgia came out with a few long drives. Desperate to stop the Bulldogs, Darius West went after star running back D’Andre Swift, but the Wildcat was called for tackling with the crown of his helmet and was therefore tossed for targeting – plus the Bulldogs got to advance 15 more yards. That call also means West will not be allowed to play in the first half against Tennessee next week.
Kentucky Safety Darius West ejected for Targeting pic.twitter.com/q7DPAtBOuf
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 3, 2018
Then, the Cats finally got something going on offense. Benny Snell plowed through Georgia’s defense for a 9-yard touchdown, making the score 28-10. But after the play, Bunchy Stallings was ejected for initiating contact with a referee. It’s a situation that’s all too familiar for Kentucky – you know what I’m referring to here. Was this call just as questionable?
How Stallings got ejected. Made contact with an official. pic.twitter.com/caWlR2AwDr
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) November 3, 2018
“I really don’t think it’s wise for me to comment on that,” Stoops said of Stallings’ ejection. “But you know, I’ll put it this way: I know Bunchy’s heart and I don’t think he was trying to be disrespectful… but if he put his hand and tried to grab [the referee] for whatever reason, you can’t do that.”
Luckily, Stallings will not have to sit out next game.
Tonight’s loss was a frustrating game for a variety of reasons, but Snell says the little mistakes could make for solid learning opportunities.
“We played against a great team; that’s a good Georgia team, of course. But we’ve got to stop hurting ourselves. I feel like the game is always in our hands, but then we hurt ourselves. Then after we’re already hurt, the other team is already scoring and now we’ve got to make up for it. We’re good at making up for our errors… but we’ve just got to come out with that edge.”
Mike Edwards, who led the team with 11 tackles, said the lapses in judgement can only be fixed by the players’ mentalities. But Snell sees it as a more complicated issue.
“There’s a lot we’ve got to learn across the board, but it starts out with the O-line, me and Terry, then the defense,” Snell said. “We can’t have guys getting kicked out of the games; when we’re close to the red zone, we can’t have guys jumping off-sides. It’s hurting us. If we’re able to put all of that against the other team… nobody can stop us.”