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Kentucky football had a reality check against Georgia, for good and bad

Kentucky’s dreams of playing in Atlanta for the SEC Championship were crushed on Saturday night, as the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 34-17 with the entire college football world watching.

It finished as a 17-point deficit, and despite a late push by the Wildcats, Georgia was in control from start to finish. The Bulldogs dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football by mauling the Wildcat defenders and creating holes on offense, while the defense made Kentucky’s running backs incredibly uncomfortable. UK’s bread is buttered in the trenches, but Georgia flipped that script on them in a hurry.

With a sold-out Kroger Field crowd, CBS putting the game in primetime, and SEC Nation in town, the opportunity was there for the Kentucky football program to break down that barrier as a major contender in college football. They just couldn’t convert.

It was a reality check for Kentucky for both good and bad.

The biggest takeaway is that while the Wildcats may have separated from the middle of the pack in the SEC as a program (a massive achievement in itself), they just aren’t quite there yet from a talent perspective to push Alabama, Georgia, and LSU for a serious shot at the SEC title. The talent and size gap between the Cats and Dawgs was obvious on both sides of the ball.

But that’s not a bad thing.

What Mark Stoops has been able to do in six years is absolutely remarkable. Mitch Barnhart put his faith and trust in the Kentucky head coach by giving him time to build this program, and he has done just that. When he was first hired, fans begged for bowl eligibility on a consistent basis with eight wins sprinkled in every once in a while. They accepted the “basketball school” narrative, but hoped the football team could at least capture their attention in the weeks leading up to opening tip.

Even with the most recent loss, however, Kentucky is now in contention to win out and finish the season 10-2, likely earning a spot in the Fiesta or Peach Bowl and a finish in the top-ten of the College Football Playoff rankings. If they lose on the road against Tennessee, but take care of business against Middle Tennessee State and Louisville, they’ll have to “settle” for the Citrus Bowl. Seriously.

The big picture for Stoops, the football staff, and the players is to eventually win the SEC East, contend for the conference title, and earn a spot in the Playoffs. They even have a CFP bracket taped up in the training facilities, something that has been mocked by opposing fans for two years now. Stoops has put this team in position to be in the conversation in each of those three categories, which is unheard of. The standards and expectations of both those within the organization and those on the outside have risen.

Kentucky’s loss on Saturday was a reality check that they may not be quite ready to make that next leap into elite status, but to say this isn’t a great football team with potential to sustain similar success year each year would just be a lie. They’re knocking on the door of something special not only this year, but in the future, as well.

From a pure game perspective, we also learned a lot about the rest of this season and the team going forward.

One of the biggest and most necessary reality checks may have been with Eddie Gran and how he should run this offense in the immediate and distant future.

Quarterback Terry Wilson had his second-consecutive impressive outing through the air, finishing with 226 yards and a touchdown on 23-29 passing, out-throwing an SEC quarterback by over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks. More specifically, he had a remarkable second half, throwing for 160 yards and a touchdown on 14-18 passing in just four drives.

But the success didn’t happen until the offense opened up a bit in crunch time. The JUCO transfer had less time to work in a faster setting, allowing him to make quick judgments and adjust on the fly rather than overthinking the situation and making mistakes. Following up from Wilson’s production in the two-minute offense against Missouri, it’s clear the Kentucky quarterback thrives in an up-tempo offense with space to work with.

But it’s obvious Eddie Gran is in a tough predicament, which has led to frustration in the fanbase.

When you have a generational talent at running back like Benny Snell, your offense becomes a bit one-dimensional out of necessity. Kentucky has won games by slowing the pace down, milking the clock, and wearing out opponents from a physicality standpoint. You have to play to Snell’s style of play because his talent warrants that. He has been a safety net, where he has been able to make magic out of nothing more often than not. That being said, he’s been unable to be himself over the last two weeks, failing to break the 100-yard rushing mark against Missouri and Georgia. He also hasn’t had the highlight-worthy plays, managing a rush longer than 20 yards in just one out of Kentucky’s last five games.

The offense hasn’t scored more than 20 points in the last four games. With so much talent and (likely) only four more games in Snell’s Kentucky career, do you go away from the slow grind that we’re used to? Or do you start building toward the future with Wilson by spreading the offense out a bit and speeding things up to make the sophomore quarterback more comfortable?

Kentucky’s loss to Georgia may force Gran’s hand to go with the latter. Wilson has developed legitimate chemistry with Lynn Bowden, and there’s a great chance they become one of the best one-two punches in the SEC in the next year or two. AJ Rose has looked fantastic in limited opportunities, especially when catching passes out of the backfield. Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, Allen Dailey, and Akeem Hayes have all been praised by the coaching staff as major pieces of the offense moving forward. And with the defense accounting more for the passing game, it opens up the opportunity for Snell to find big numbers in the run game on fewer carries.

We have found a recipe that works for Wilson, and it’d certainly make sense to utilize it going forward.

On defense, we learned that while they are still one of the best in the nation, they’re likely not one of the top-three units like we originally thought. Against a team layered with five-star talent and All-American candidates, the defense missed countless open tackles, left receivers open on costly downs, and missed opportunities to come up with stops. Most of all, they were outworked.

Josh Allen wasn’t able to make any highlight-reel tackles for loss or forced fumbles, though he did manage to recover two fumbles. He had a solid game overall, but it wasn’t the dominant presence we’re used to, and it set the tone for the entire defense. The unit finished with just four tackles for loss and zero sacks, unable to make Jake Fromm uncomfortable in the pocket. Chris Westry and Darius West also struggled in coverage and in the tackling department, opening up some holes for Fromm in the passing game.

That being said, other defensive players were able to shine. Derrick Baity proved yet again he’s one of the best corners in the nation and will be a high draft pick next spring. Mike Edwards, despite one costly missed tackle and missed coverage assignment, also had a solid game. Davonte Robinson also continued growing, finishing with nine total tackles, one TFL, and one QB hurry.

The Wildcats certainly deserve praise for such an outstanding year, but the gap between units was there. We saw some shining stars, but inconsistencies elsewhere. Against an elite unit like the Georgia Bulldogs, you have to be consistent across the board, and it showed in the form of Kentucky’s largest allowed point total of the season.

It may not have looked great on the scoreboard, but as a whole, more good came from Kentucky’s loss to Georgia than it may appear both this season and in the future.


Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

32 Comments for Kentucky football had a reality check against Georgia, for good and bad

  1. UKFootballYall
    8:22 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    The “talent gap” is more evident with the coaching than with the players. We have progressed to a point where our player talent has surpassed the coaching talent. We may not match up 100% player-to-player with UGA but we are close enough that with better coaching we might’ve won yesterday.

    • ScoggDog
      8:27 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Blah … I’d love to reply – but until the official KSR Football Expert chimes in … I just hate to waste everyone’s time.

      Coincidence that they’re both named Nick ? I think not.

    • cats646
      8:29 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Eddie Gran sucks.

    • Cat68
      9:28 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Yep – first series, 3rd and 6 — let’s run wildcat! Punt! That is a complete ‘no confidence’ call by Gran. Momentum killing, head scratching call right off the bat.

    • eyemangene
      9:51 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Can someone produce a grade or production for Josh Allen against Georgia? Has anyone reviewed game tapes, Has anyone talked to the experts/coaches to see what happened. I think I saw where he had three tackles. Was he double-teamed? Did Georgia run away from him? Of did Georgia’s offensive player dominate him? Was he hurt? What are the talking heads saying about his performance? Did he have a “bad” game? Thanks.

    • cats646
      10:38 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      I’m no expert but they did run away from him an awful lot. And when they did go to his side he was double teamed. And in pass coverage they just held him because refs won’t call a hold of its against Josh Allen.

  2. BigolBlue
    8:26 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    How dare you guys keep making these truthful posts about the uk game. That game never happened in my mind. We are still the best team ever.

  3. CoachCat
    8:30 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    Keep on writing about the Georgia game. We’re not ready to move on yet

  4. dcforuk
    8:49 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    10-2 is very possible still! I was alive in 1977 but too young to remember. Matchups in NCAA basketball tournament are critical. Georgia proved a tough matchup. Credit to Swift. He is one heckuva back. You are lying if you would not have taken 10-2 before the season!

    • JASUN74
      10:58 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Yes sir If you would have told me we get to win 10 games this year but no guarantee who we lose to, I would said hell yeah before u finished. Lol. Just feels so good to have a great football team. And your right about Swift, he is a really good player and their line played the hardest and best game they had all year. Well out of the four games I watched them play anyway. They had to play hard to beat us and they were the better team on Saturday evening.

    • runningunnin.454
      8:03 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

      I remember ’77; we were on probation; but it was sweet. 10-1, 6-0 in SEC, and we kicked Georgia’s butt 33-0 with Jimmy Carter and Prince Charles in the stands at Athens.

  5. lexcatfan2367
    8:49 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    Uga was in the championship game in January. Did we REALLY, in our hearts, expect to win? I’m not asking if we hoped to win, but did we sincerely expect to win that game? My answer is no. I’m not trying to be facetious in any way.

    • cats646
      9:18 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      I actually did. Mainly because I didn’t believe Georgia was that great. But sadly, I was wrong. They are damn good.

    • JASUN74
      10:46 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      I 100% thought we were going to win the game. I believe right now if you would’ve had Georgia in Vanderbilt Uniforms that we win that game. We didn’t miss tackles because we don’t know how , we missed because of how big the game was and just was kinda nervous or like a first game jitters or something and just let it get out of hand before we could get straight. We have been in the big one now and even though we lost, they know now the feeling of the moment and the pain of defeat and will want to see how the other side feels. Just my opinion, but it’s on from now on!!!!! Go cats. This loss hurt the players bad and some of us fans were really disappointed and hurt but having a little time to think and looking at what we’re becoming right before our eyes is amazing and it’s not stopping, it’s growing, it’s evolving, if u will, into a big time program that we have wanted all our lives and as it’s happening we need to go all in. I 100% honest to god did believe we would win by three points or so and a great game. Just wasn’t ready for it and they do have more of the stars on their names coming out of high school but man stoops can sure get a player caught up quickly can’t he. Lol. Thanks everyone for this year. I’ve had a ball reading all the fights and the laughs and good conversations all year and it’s been my favorite as a fan. We have to evolve as fan and learn the same as the players because winning and losing, winning two games in a year till now has been a huge change! Go cats and beat the dog poo out of duke Tuesday. Lol

  6. dcforuk
    8:50 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    Or 9-3 for that matter though 9-3 would be a little deflating after 7-1 start.

    • JASUN74
      11:04 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Still, if asked at the first of the year, you better believe it. That’s one amazing hell of year for big boy SEC league football. Lol. Yeah now after watching and being so invested and knowing how good this team is they should win out. Just hoping for everyone stays healthy and plays the best they can every game. I

  7. Wade
    9:05 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    Proud of these boys but something is being held back a little. Coaches, skill, relying on d ,whatever it is we need to play ore disciplined and stop being so predictable. We were only supposed to win5-7 this yr as I remember. Pretty damn awesome. We haven’t been blow out, we’re competing at the top, and we have a while to go but we’re creeping up on people and I like it. Next game! Finish strong and let’s step on Tennessee’s neck in there house!

    • cats646
      9:20 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      Preach it!!

    • JASUN74
      11:27 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

      I think if our offense was just even a little bit better I truly believe we would be undefeated And number two in the country. A lot of teams without half our talent scores thirty something a game. If we scored that many with this defense we would be scarey. Alabama would still win the SEC but talk about the recruits and just the atmosphere and buzz. I’m tickled to death though and am so proud of every one that a part of this team. If the man thats paying for the offense is happy then It wouldn’t do me a bit of good to complain and I’m not I’m just dreaming about why they could be if even a touchdown per game better. I feel gready as can be but we’re on our way to the promise land soon. Gran or whoever else it may be is going to lucky to be coaching all these big top ten recruiting classes every year. Man I’m excited about our now but the next couple few years has me almost scared to believe cause I think I’ve gone to heaven. Lol.

    • Wade
      9:24 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

      We have the d line now but no wr speed but Wandale akeem and hughes will change that with more rose at rb who can catch but passes need to stop being so high and in front of receivers on the #s!

  8. mashburnfan1
    9:27 pm November 4, 2018 Permalink

    Gran needs fired, there is much more this offense could do if the right plays were called. Jury still out on Wilson and the WR group. They just don’t get open and that late stuff was UGA in prevent. Also to Jordan Jones, Cmon on man, you looked like a fool. Down in the endzone jumping up and down and celebrating when we held UGA to field goals on their last 2 drives. Hey Jordan for your info they drove all the way down the field, took 6:55 off the clock on 1st drive and 5:30 on 2nd drive. They did not need more points, they did run almost a full quarter off the clock. Yeah the D made a stop, finally, but do it on a 3 and out and jump around. nyone who know football knows you looked stupid with those celebrations. Who the hell celebrates holding a team to a FG after a 7 minute drive when they are already up 28-10. Not trying to bash. I really appreciate the season the D has had, been fun to watch but yesterday was disgusting. {not just the play but those actions}

    • Cmart0907
      8:12 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

      I wouldn’t necessarily say fired. But changes to his offensive playbook needs to adjusting. Offense is extremely predictable and simple. Stuff the box and make terry throw it is what this defense is doing. And he can’t make the throws. Gran needs to figure something out.

    • Redman1423
      1:01 pm November 5, 2018 Permalink

      I’m sorry man but if this is all you pull away from the game is a player celebrating that the defense stopped them so the offense might have a chance is a bad thing? People like you have no right to comment on football related topics considering your outright lack of competitive knowledge. I’m sure you thought that benny snell saying he was the best running back in the league was foolish too

  9. StuckinLville
    7:18 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

    People forget Georgia has the third most efficient offense in the country. Doesnt mean our defense isnt still one of the best. People need to get over the game. We are 7-2 with a chance to go 10-2 and a big bowl game. Just be happy and be happy we didn’t get killed. It was new territory for our guys. Give it a rest. Besides, i think some of our guys like Benny Snell needed a reality check and to come back down to earth. Now maybe they will be hungry and take care if business Saturday.

  10. meeksfor3
    8:53 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

    Not that it would have made a big enough difference to win the game but I would like to have seen Daniel & Jones healthy to see how we stacked up.

  11. SGD
    8:56 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

    We have not run the ball well in over a month. Benny may be powerful but is too slow. Wilson racked up good looking stats the last 2 weeks because of prevent defenses. He still won’t pass until the receivers make their cuts, which is too late, and doesn’t know when to throw it away. The TD pass to Rose was a bad pass that should have picked off. You have to look beyond the numbers.

    • Bluecreeker
      9:16 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

      Uh, an offense that relies on nothing more than Benny Snell is simple to defend. T A&M showed the entire SEC that very clearly.

      The game plan of keeping things close until the 4th Q then opening up the offense might work against lessor comp, but not against Georgia…and no, as a rational adult human I never thought UK would beat UGA this year. UGA was in the NC game just a few months ago, UK is light years ahead of where they were 6 years ago, but not quit world beaters just yet.

      What I liked about the loss to UGA however, was later in the game Gran actually started throwing OVER the rush…hmmmmm?

      I would utilize the 1st round TE we have on the field much, much more. They load the box for Benny, I throw over it. Benny Snell has the hugest target on his back, our opponents know “stop Benny and you stop UK” and that my friends is on Mr. Gran. Mr. Snell can only do so much.

      Benny Snell slow?

      C’mon Man?

  12. Wade
    9:25 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

    Swift is real good

  13. Sentient Third Eye
    9:33 am November 5, 2018 Permalink

    Georgia was clearly the better team, but UK did themselves no favors by being overhyped before the game. They weren’t the same team, especially early on. By the time they really started playing, they were already down by 21. Too much media praise and too much distraction before the game.

  14. secrick
    1:27 pm November 7, 2018 Permalink

    I think last night’s game is what they call a good old ASS kicking.

    • secrick
      1:29 pm November 7, 2018 Permalink

      Sorry guys, been drinking.