I’ve spent a lot of time around Freddie Maggard lately. I kind soul, he’s never one to get flustered. Not only was he flustered at halftime, he was flat out angry.
Kentucky’s first half was abysmal. The offense had a 60-yard run from Boom Williams to setup a score to tie the game at 7-7, but that was only an apparition. Boom only carried it one more time until the second half. Towles wasn’t terrible, but made an unforgivable red zone mistake. The defense looked like they hadn’t prepared for an uptempo offense over the last 10 days, making haphazard substitutions with players getting in place seconds before the snap, allowing a bad Auburn offense to move the ball effortlessly.
With 2:00 minutes to go, we thought the half would at least end with the Cats down 10, with the a chance to close the gap and get the ball back to start the second half. Instead, the offense fell to pieces and gave the ball back to Auburn. Auburn got a field goal on that final drive, giving them the 3-points needed to get the win.
As bad as the first half was, the Cats had their moments in the second. Kentucky immediately moved the ball effectively, taking the ball 75 yards in 3:11 for a fantastic Boom Williams’ touchdown. The defense forced a 3-and-out, and the Wildcats were back in business. But then, they began missing opportunities.
Kentucky could have used the early momentum to take a one or two-score lead, instead they dropped passes, committed crucial penalties, keeping them behind until the very end. The defense made the stop they had the make, opening the door for Juice Johnson to make another gutsy catch. They made the questionable move to run the ball, before going deep to Jeff Badet. He fought for the ball with the defensive back, right around where Stevie Got Loose. Just like Stevie, the ball got loose and he couldn’t hang on. On the final play, Towles was sacked when Auburn brought the house against Kentucky’s 5-wide receiver look.
The last drive had good moments, and some head-scratchers, just like the entire game.
Missed Juice on an End Zone Interception
The offense had the game looking like it was going to turn into a shoot-out. After Auburn scored quickly for the second time, Kentucky came charging back thanks to a couple of amazing catches by Juice Johnson. His one-handed catch will rival the best of the best from this season. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to a score. Pat had two guys running slants into the end zone. Instead of going to the hot hand, he forced it to his go-to guy Dorian Baker.
I’m always ready to defend Pat, but even he cannot defend this decision.
It was the first time the Cats failed to convert in the Red Zone all season, leaving vital points off the scoreboard.
Missed Touchdown to Take the Lead
The lead was there for Kentucky to take halfway through the 3rd quarter. Feeling froggy, the Cats went quick on the snap, narrowly getting the first down on a 4th and short. The next conversion came on a 3rd and long scramble from Patrick Towles. It wasn’t pretty, but they were getting the job done. C.J. Conrad made a play that caused Commonwealth to go WILD, carrying three Tigers four yards or more on his back to turn an average play into a first down. After another good play, there was a flag for illegal substitution. Conrad made another nice play, but on 3rd down, Dorian Baker couldn’t make the same tough catch he made to beat EKU. Instead of blowing the roof off the stadium by taking the lead, they only hung in there, the story of this game.
A Missed PI in the End Zone
There are some bad calls, and then there are some bad calls that cost you points. Just like the previous drive I spoke of, it started ugly before gaining promise. Backed into their own end zone on 3rd and 22, Patrick Towles dropped a dime to Juice for a gain of 39. The drive catalyst had Kentucky moving smoothly into the red zone.
On what could have been a score, the ref decided otherwise. I hate blaming refs, but it took four points off the board. Mark Stoops let the refs know he was displeased.
Special Teams gave them Free Yards
Auburn rarely started a drive inside their own 30-yard line. Austin MacGinnis’ injury limited him to field goal duty, leaving kickoffs to Miles Butler. Auburn’s returners were never uncomfortable, totaling 155 yards on returns. Landon Foster is another perplexing story. I don’t know what has happened, but he only averaged 35 yards a kick. To be fair, he saved the best for last, coincidentally leading to a defensive stop.
Juice Johnson was Incredible
Everybody had ups and downs, except for Juice. The man made big play after big play after big play in between the safeties. After big hits across the middle of the field took him out of the EKU game, he did not hesitate to take a lick from the safety for his first reception. From then on, he didn’t slow down. Juice had a career-high 9 catches for 160 yards, the most receiving yards by a Wildcat since Chris Matthews pulled in 177 in 2010.
And yes, he somehow caught this.
Kentucky football has become the same story, just a different day. They make highlights, then head scratchers. One-handed catches are great, but only having 8-men on the field for the game’s final punt return are embarrassing enough to balances out the awesomeness.
What we’re left with: 2:12 with the ball on the UK 15. 3 points to overtime, 7 for the win. There was a great play or two, but it wasn’t a great drive. Kentucky lacks completeness.
One day, the gun Kentucky is using to shoot themselves in the foot will finally run out of ammo.