It may be difficult to believe, but somehow, the football season is already a quarter of the way complete for Mark Stoops and his Wildcats. His first three games as Kentucky head coach certainly haven’t gone the way most fans had hoped, but most would agree that visible progress has been made in the three weeks the Cats have taken the field. However, skeptics could not only argue that Kentucky’s record is identical to what is was at the same point last season, but they could also state our scoring margin is worse as well, albeit barely (80-69 this season as compared to 92-78 last season). While overall record and raw scoring margin state that Kentucky is worse off than a season before, the eye test doesn’t necessarily agree with this sentiment. To prove this, I sifted through this season’s key performance statistics and compared them to last season’s at the same point.
As you can see from the above table, there are some pretty distinct differences from this year’s offense in comparison to last season’s. Other than the obvious transition in scheme from a pro-style set to the Air Raid, we can see that the differences are already evident. The first key difference comes in the rushing game. Last season, Kentucky barely averaged over 100 yards on the ground through three games. This season, Kentucky has averaged over 200 per game, not bad for a pass happy system (Yes, I’m aware of the rush happy play calling). Not only have the Cats seen a drastic increase in total rushing yardage, but rushing efficiency is up as well, from 4.7 yards per carry to 6.3. Total passing yardage is down from this point last season, but this can likely be explained because Kentucky was playing catch-up in two of its three games last year and needed to pass frequently. Something strange to report is the difference in completion percentage (60.0 in 2013 and 67.5 in 2012). However, this can likely also be explained by opposing teams playing soft coverage late in games when Kentucky was trailing. While there have been easy drops in 2013 and other hiccups associated with an offensive transition, Kentucky fans should feel comfortable going forward.
Surprisingly, most of the defensive numbers haven’t changed drastically. Total rush yards and total passing yards have remained relatively constant as have rushing and passing yards per attempt. However, two statistics have changed drastically; opponent completion percentage and points per drive. The importance of the decrease in completion percentage doesn’t need to be explained as just about everyone understands its significance. However, some may not get the significance of points per drive. It’s an efficiency metric I created and it correlates highly with defensive/overall success. Something I expected early in the season – and for the entire season for that matter – was an increase in points allowed per game. Not only did this have to do with quality of our defense, but the amount of drives our offense would force our defense to play. Surprisingly, not only are total points allowed per game down, but Kentucky’s overall scoring efficiency has decreased as well. This is certainly a good sign moving forward.
Overall, I like what I see from the Cats even though the record has remained constant from one season ago. Keep in mind that the first three games of the season last year were undoubtedly the Cats’ best. The fourth game of the season and beyond is where the team completely imploded. If Stoops and his squad can manage to get through the upcoming toughest portion of the schedule without a great amount of injuries than it’s hard to imagine this season ending up like last season given the recent improvements we’ve been seeing. The final result may not be as pretty as we’d like it to be, but I do imagine our eyes will confirm the leap in performance in time.