At halftime I was already thinking of how to write about Kentucky’s improved offense. After all, 21 points in the first quarter has only been done eight times in school history. Their improved play was worth celebrating…until it all went up in flames in the second half.
Looking ahead to Florida, we don’t know which team we will see, the high-flying offense from the first half or the disappointing second half team. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but before the second half team rears its ugly face in The Swamp, here’s what you can hope for from the first half team.
A Lost Case of the Drops
There were plenty of things to complain about, but a common target should be left off the list. UK’s wide receivers received hype throughout the years albeit without producing consistently. In Lamar Thomas’ first game as the wide receivers coach we finally saw consistency.
Garrett Johnson made tough catches in traffic (143 yards, the most in the SEC, and 2 TDs). Jeff Badet used his speed to earn yards after catch (72 yards and 1 TD). In his first game in a Wildcat uniform, Tavin Richardson dazzled down the sideline and in the back of the end zone (74 yards), filling in for the injured Dorian Baker.
Ironically, the only memorable drop was the first play of the game to the sure-handed tight end, C.J. Conrad. Conrad only put one catch the box score, but the season is still young.
Leading into the game, we said Drew Barker needed to be good, not great. Darin Hinshaw emphasized the need to make routine plays by getting it out of his hands quickly and into the hands of playmakers. The only poor throw he made was the second half interception when he tried to play hero ball and under-threw a homerun shot.
I digress. Barker did everything he needed to in the first half, completing 11 of 19 passes for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns. He currently leads SEC quarterbacks in passing yards. Most importantly, he ended every possession with a kick, one of Eddie Gran’s favorite sayings. When that didn’t happen in the second half, the offense got stuck in a rut.
The Kentucky defense played aggressively in the first half. Exotic blitzes put the pressure on Nick Mullens in the pocket, forcing errant throws that Kentucky’s secondary did not leave untouched. JD Harmon’s two interceptions were jaw-droppers. The Cats picked off the elite pocket passer three times, and forced two fumbles that unfortunately were recovered by Southern Miss.
We’ve seen how the defense handles the run. In order to be successful they cannot let turnover opportunities go to waste.
With 2:38 left to go in the half, Drew Barker got the ball near midfield. Barker led a methodical two-minute drive. They didn’t waste plays or time. When the offense arrived near the end zone, Barker didn’t tighten up in the short field and the Cats scored with 56 seconds on the clock.
The only thing they did wrong was leave too much time on the clock, giving Southern Miss an opportunity to take some momentum into the locker room. It was more than enough for Southern Miss to turn the second half into a disaster.