As much as it sucks to lose, especially to Louisville, no one can really say that it was unexpected. There was a reason UofL was a 2 touchdown favorite heading into the game and after the Kentucky defense kept the ‘Cats in the game throughout the 1st half, UofL’s high-powered offense made their halftime adjustments and wore down the ‘Cats D in the 2nd half. UK’s offense may have sputtered after their 675 yard performance in Week 2, but not everything about the game was bad news. Mark Stoops wants the players to improve and “embrace the process” of getting better, so let’s do the same and point out some things the boys in blue got right today.
THE NEWBIES KEEP GETTING BETTER
One positive that Kentucky fans can still hang their hat on throughout what looks to be a tough season is that help is on the way, and some has already arrived. Mark Stoops’ first class has the Kentucky head ball coach has certainly lived up to its expectation as UK’s highest ranked class ever through the first 3 games, and slowly but surely the youngins are all climbing up the depth chart. Freshman RB JoJo Kemp had another explosive game on the ground, rushing only 5 times but accumulating 80 yards, including a 47-yard rush late in the game to set up a Kentucky scoring drive. Despite limited carries Kemp has been arguably the most exciting and productive RB in UK’s stable over the last 2 weeks. WR/RB Ryan Timmons also had another solid game, catching 3 balls for a team-leading 72 yards although he wasn’t as involved in the offense as much as he probably could’ve been. Freshman DE Jason Hatcher was a disruptive presence against his hometown team as Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot rotated him in early and often at DE and also as an OLB in their big 3-4 sets, and he proved his worth coming up with some key tackles in the 1st half to stunt Louisville drives. WR Javess Blue also caught 6 balls for 58 yards, although he did have a few key drops as well and Freshman Alex Montgomery caught a TD pass in the 4th quarter for his only stats of the game. In total, the newcomers accounted for 279 of UK’s 376 total yards, good for 74% of the offensive production.
THE DEFENSE IS FINDING THEIR GROOVE
Although the stats show that UofL amassed almost 500 yards today, the defense was one of the bright spots in the game for the Wildcats. In the first half, Kentucky looked the part of an SEC defense for the first time in a while, shutting the door on UofL’s running game and disrupting the pocket around Teddy Bridgewater, who looked as flustered as I have ever seen him in the first half. With the exception of the Devante Parker TD at the end of the half, Kentucky’s defensive backs played outstanding coverage on UofL’s great receiving corps. and gave the D-Line time to pressure the QB which led to some throwaways and a few near-interceptions. Za’Darius Smith continued to be a bright spot as he became the first Wildcat since Jeremy Jarmon in 2007 to record a sack in 3 consecutive games. All in all, the group as a whole was 100% better than what we saw in Nashville 2 weeks ago and seemed to execute the gameplan Coach Stoops and Eliot rolled out for them very well, even if the offense wasn’t exactly helping them out by giving them some time off the field. UK doesn’t yet have the depth at all positions to sustain that effort for 60 minutes against an elite team but based on what I saw today, I will not question the coaching staffs ability to vastly improve that side of the ball during their time in Lexington.
Despite the dropped passes and turnovers throughout the game, Kentucky made some strides forward today. It’s been said before that this will not be a quick fix for the program but we as fans must “embrace the process” as much as the coaching staff and players do and continue to support to team as they try to climb out of the cellar of the SEC. Looking back on it now, you can see the improvement from Game 1 to Game 3, and that’s just about all you can ask for.