Kentucky traveled to Neyland Stadium with a glimmer of SEC East hope but a rash of injuries, poor tackling, more dropped passes, inconsistent QB play, and offensive Red Zone misfortunes doomed the Wildcats back to .500.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop proclaimed that nobody could run the football on the Orange Swarm earlier this season. Wrong; see Texas A&M (353), Alabama (409), and Kentucky (435).
The Wildcats ran over, through, past, and around the Orange Swarm but failed to score touchdowns in the Red Zone.
What happened? The game can be summarized in the opening paragraph but if we must dive deeper here goes:
-UK ran for an astonishing 435 yards.
-Jon Toth and his line-mates may be a collection of disrespected no-names but its playing physical, efficiently, and with sincere purpose. Respect.
-Boom Williams: 16 carries, 127 yards, 1 TD
-Benny Snell: 15 carries, 79 yards
-JoJo Kemp: 8 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD
-Siheim King: 6 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD
-Stephen Johnson: 12 carries, 72 yards
Struggles in the Red Zone
-6 trips; 2 TD’s, 4 FG’s, 1 fumble. Ballgame.
-The question remains; why? Answer is three-fold. The first lies within Jimmies and Joes or personnel. Red Zone offense is an art form and on many occasions is won by the team with the most dynamic playmakers. UK’s dynamic playmakers happen to be at RB; not at QB or WR. UK is limited by positions that can influence.
-The second reason is that as the field shrinks, so does the wildcat formation’s variations. Wrinkles must be installed.
-3rd answer falls on the Kentucky’s inability to close the deal or score during explosion plays. The Wildcats fall victim to its own sustained drive success.
–True freshman sensation Benny Snell fumbled in the Red Zone just as Kentucky was about to shorten the margin. With all that Snell has done in 2016; one fumble shouldn’t diminish his value and plethora of contributions. Benny will be fine.
Drops/Inconsistent Passing Game
-QB Stephen Johnson has limitations. But consider this; other college football teams that have played with its backup quarterback for a long period of time have fared much worse than Kentucky. While inconsistent, Johnson has given his team a chance to win and has won 5 football games in 2016.
-Johnson missed a wide-open Dorian Baker in the end zone following a play action fake. He also missed on a reverse pass to Benny Snell and on another to TE CJ Conrad.
-Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone both had piercing drops. Bone later made amends with a pretty sideline catch.
-A lack of passing game rhythm due to inaccurate passes and dropped passes have and could continue to haunt Kentucky.
Jordan Jones Injury
-Jones was leading the SEC with 58 solo tackles prior to Saturday. He was also the league’s 3rd leading tackler with 81, 5th in TFL; 10. Jones’ absence due to back spasms was definitely felt as UT repetitively ran the football directly at the interior of the Kentucky defense. Jordan Jones proved to be irreplaceable.
Josh Allen Injury
-The former 2 star from New Jersey is one QB sack shy of equaling Bud Dupree’s senior season total. His 6.5 QB sacks have occurred in 10 football games.
-Sophomore OLB’s Josh Allen and Denzil Ware combined for 15 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 QB sacks. The duo has equaled Bud Dupree/Za’Darious Smith’s 2014 season QB sack total. Ware and Allen have a very bright future in Lexington and beyond.
–Missed tackles will get you beat. UK missed enough tackles against Tennessee to lose twice.
-Tennessee rushed for 376 yards.
-Alvin Kamara: 10 carries, 128 yards, 2 TD’s, 12.8 yards per.
-QB Joshua Dobbs: 13 carries, 138 yards, 2 TD’s, 10.6 yards per.
-John Kelly: 14 carries, 90 yards, 6.4 yards per.
Secondary Woes; Derrick Baity and Chris Westry Injuries
-Zone coverage deficiencies resurfaced as Josh Dobbs connected to a wide open receiver in the end zone for a touchdown.
–Wildcats missed assignments and lost one-on-one battles with UT receivers.
-CB’s Chris Westry and Derrick Baity were both injured. Baity returned to produce an interception just before halftime.
-A pregame key to the game was to, “Make Em Earn It”. That didn’t happen as Tennessee only had to convert 1/5 on 3rd down which is an indication of a high number of long yardage plays.
-UK did not make routine plays that resulted in UT explosion plays.
-Tennessee explosive play touchdowns: Alvin Kamara 29, 17 yard runs, Dobbs 42 yard run and 24 yard TD pass, and Josh Malone 51 yard TD catch.
-The Volunteers ran just 59 plays as it totaled 599 yards. That’s 10.1 yards per play. That’s too much.
-Kentucky’s punting can only be described as an adventure.
-Paintsville’s Kash Daniel is the team’s special team’s MVP through 10 games.
What does all this mean?
-Tennessee won the football game with 30 minutes still left on the pregame clock two years ago in Neyland Stadium. The 2014 Wildcats quit or failed to show up for a scheduled fight with its one-time rivals.
-The youthful and depth chart depleted Cats fought till the last buzzer on Saturday. While injuries and missed tackles may have at times caused the BBN to think otherwise; I don’t feel as if Mark Stoops’ team ever threw in the towel.
-Kentucky is now 5-5 with Austin Peay next on the schedule. By all accounts the Wildcats should beat the Governors to become bowl eligible for the 1st time since 2010. But one can’t help but to feel the sting of recent unpleasant losses to Georgia and Tennessee. Both games appeared to be there for the taking, but the Football Wildcats didn’t pounce on a multitude of opportunities.
-Tennessee stumbled and bumbled into the game but then strutted off the field after beating the Wildcats 49-36.
-Kentucky didn’t lack effort. It did suffer from a lack of focus as could be seen in dropped passes, inaccurate passes to open receivers, blown coverages, and missed tackles.
-2016 was supposed to be the Year of the Volunteer as Butch Jones has recruited for this season with intent for a UT return to SEC and national prominence. Even after limited by injuries, it was obvious on Saturday that Tennessee was the more talented team. After suffering from its own injuries; the lack of defensive quality depth became an obvious liability.
-QB Joshua Dobbs continued to be a Cat killer. While having a substandard season, the senior dominated Kentucky to the tone of 330 yards and 5 TD’s.
-Very few of the most battle tested BBN expected to go bowling after starting the season 0-2 with humiliating losses to Southern Miss and Florida. You can throw in losing its starting quarterback to the discouraging factors. It may not feel like it after watching a disheartening performance in Knoxville, but Mark Stoops’ team has overachieved.