After a disappointing Week 1 loss to in-state foe WKU, the #BBN held its breath to see if the old “improving from Week 1 to Week 2” adage could be applied to Stoops’ team. Last week the Cats came out with little emotion, and it showed from the first snap with WKU driving it right down the Cats throats. Would a young team be able to appropriately respond? The fire lit under this team’s butt was hot enough for five consecutive scoring drives to start the game. The first drive looked as flawless as Petrino’s last week, carrying over to a dominating 1st quarter. The defense held their end too, holding the option offense to ZERO Touchdowns on the day. However all good things come to an end- at least in this case- the UK offense slowed down for about a 15 minute stretch between the end of the first half and start of the second. Penalties and bonehead Special Teams plays showed their ugly face too often during the slowest 30 minutes in football. In the big picture, this game is exactly what UK needed heading into Murderer’s Row, but still leaves a lot of questions on the table as to what exactly we will see against U of Smell next week.
– The QBs are getting tricky. With Max Smith starting the game, the first drive went exactly how we suspected: a little more Air in the Air Raid, with Jalen entering the game in the Red Zone. It worked out, with Jalen ending the drive on a 10-yard TD run. After that, ish got weird. There wasn’t any real rhyme or reason with the substitution of the QBs occurring at the most random intervals. Whatever it was it certainly worked: the 675 yards of total offense was the 3rd most in school history. The Cats ran it much better on first down, allowing for plenty of big play shots down the field. Max Smith finished with 310 yards and 3 TDs on 15-23 passing; Jalen’s performance wasn’t that far off with 48 yards rushing and a TD, while completing 10-12 passes for 103 yards.
– The Newcomers TORE IT UP. When I say tore it up, I mean they were the best on the team, literally. JoJo Kemp was the team’s leading rusher with 78 yards on 12 carries and Javess Blue led the team in receiving with 6 receptions for 114 yards and a TD. Blue’s 88 yard TD wasn’t just the 4th longest pass in UK history; the critical TD came on a 2nd and what seemed like a zillion after back-to-back-to-back bonehead penalties by the Cats. Blue’s big play was just one of many by ‘The New Guys’. UK’s top 4 WRs were all newcomers- Timmons, Blue, Badet, and Montgomery combined for 18 of the team’s 25 catches, 286 yards and 2 touchdowns. Timmons’s versatility was a highlight of the 2nd half, lining up at RB next to Jalen Whitlow on the drive that re-energized the UK offense that had been sluggish for quite some time.
– The DLine shut up their critics. After a porous defense let Booby P do as he pleased in Nashville (that sounds dirty), the defensive line took a lot of heat after a mediocre debut. Any doubters minds were changed today. Za’Darius Smith had 6 tackles, 3 sacks and a QB hurry in the first half alone (sitting out the majority of the 2nd to let the young guys get in). He may have received Za-15-yard-penalty after celebrating too much on his first one, but every one inside Commonwealth Stadium agrees that it was worth it. Bud Dupree looked like he was playing a new position last Saturday, changing the ‘half second late’ story today by forcing a fumble, getting a sack and co-leading the team in tackles with 7. By stopping the run on first down, they had more opportunities to put Miami in tough passing situations, allowing them to ‘pin their ears back’ in obvious passing situations. Last week they had 28% of the team’s tackles, this week they reached 40%- a necessity for a defense that is primarily in the nickel package with Blake McClain essentially playing Strong LB.
– The defense played their assignments. Poor gap responsibility and position on the field hurt the Cats D last week, giving the WKU rushers way too much room to work. This week was a different story. Playing defense against an option offense is a defense’s greatest test of discipline: a player may want to crush the QB, but must hold off if their man is the RB. Today the big boys at LB stayed at home, holding Miami to only 122 yards of offense. TreVaughn Paschal proved to be a pleasant surprise after earning his first start this week, finishing with a team high 7 tackles, cementing his starting spot in the 4-3.
– Special Teams are in Trouble Without Demarco. What little hair Special Teams’ Coach Peveto has left is probably gone. Entering the game as the nation’s 2nd best punt returner, Demarco Robinson began the game with a nice kickoff return that ended with a sprained ankle. Marco never returned to the game, leaving Daryl Collins in as the new returner. It didn’t last long after he caught a return inside the ten. Rather than letting it sail over his head or fall down before the Miami Mob hit him, Collins was stripped, leading to Miami’s lone Touchdown of the game. Javess Blue replaced Collins immediately after, but his decision-making wasn’t that much better, letting 2 punts inside the ten throw the team out of sorts.
– Penalty problems are pathetic. Last week it was the false starts, this week it was that and SO MUCH MORE. 11 penalties for 117 yards is about as undisciplined as it gets. A couple of them were late hits/unsportsmanlike too, something they can’t afford in the coming weeks.
-A few important stats: The Cats were one of the worst 3rd down teams in SEC history last year; today it wasn’t that great either converting only 4-11. The positive stat of the game is that the only time the Cats haven’t scored in the Red Zone this season was when they ended the game inside Miami’s 20 by taking a knee.
– The attendance could’ve been much better. The official report from Commonwealth Stadium was 54,846, but if last year is any indication it was less than that. The crowd that showed up for the beautiful football Saturday was rowdy, with students showing up early to fill the lower arena. While I can understand some early morning excuses, Stoops and Co. deserved more fans than that. Next week’s crowd better not be over-flowing with Dirty Birds.