It’s hard to get much uglier than what we saw on Saturday from the Kentucky football program. The UK defense was on the field for 92 snaps as they couldn’t get off the field on third down while the offense only ran 36 plays in nine possessions with four three-and-outs on top of a lost fumble in the only play on their final drive. It was a disaster at Faurot Field and now a lot of questions loom large about the immediate and extended future of the offense.
In this week’s Monday Huddle, we’ll try to move forward as Kentucky welcomes the Georgia Bulldogs to town fresh off their big loss to Alabama. There isn’t much time to feel sorry for yourself in this SEC only schedule and the Wildcats once again must pick themselves up off the mat.
First Down: What does Stoops address?
There is no denying the fact that today’s scheduled press conference for Mark Stoops is the most highly anticipated one of the the offseason. Last time we heard from the head coach after the game on Saturday, he pointed out that Mizzou beat UK at their own game as Mizzou’s defense had the upper-hand against UK’s offense all night. With Joey Gatewood getting snaps in three series, it seems like a quarterback controversy has officially arrived. How will the head coach address this?
Will we see any change on the depth chart at the quarterback position? Will UK come out publicly and admit they are committed to playing two quarterbacks moving forward? Will the reasons why Chris Rodriguez Jr. is not getting more consistent touches be addressed? There’s a lot to unpack and it may be time for another mid-season philosophy change.
It is clear that things are not working on offense and the passing game looks totally broken. How do they go about fixing this? It seems pretty obvious that they have a pretty good run blocking offensive line and a stable of quality running backs. For a team that loves to go wildcat, you would think they would be more willing to ride with that.
There will be a lot for Stoops to address and this afternoon we’ll hopefully get some answers.
Second Down: Know the Foe
Kirby Smart is in his fifth season at Georgia and he has the Bulldogs firmly in the hunt to win their fourth consecutive SEC East title. The national runner-up in 2017 is still looking to make it back to the the College Football Playoff, but it seems like an inevitability at this point. Per the 247 Sports team composite, the Dawgs have the most talented roster in college football and that is no surprise with a couple No. 1 recruiting classes under their belts.
Despite numerous former top-100 recruits in the starting lineup, UGA is starting a former walk-on at quarterback. Stetson Bennett IV took over in the season opener against Arkansas and has been running the offense ever since. Bennett has been able to provide some big play pop to the offense while keeping the team ahead of the chains with a passing success rate over 50%. He isn’t taking sacks, but will throw the ball into traffic so interception opportunities could be on the table.
In the backfield, Zamir White paces the UGA rushing attack despite not much big play pop on a pedestrian 4.16 yards per carry average. However, three other backs will see the field and they are all plenty explosive. Bennett has loved to throw the ball to both running backs and tight ends as the two positions have combined for 24 receptions. However, this is an offense searching for legit outside weapons but blue-chippers Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson and George Pickens all look plenty capable.
There is little doubt in my mind that Smart has the best defense in college football. They have the best run defense in the sport and will try to bully you on the perimeter with their strong corners in press coverage. You have to be willing to take chances against this group and it will be nearly impossible to move the football unless you can get vertical and win tough one-on-one contested catches.
Oh, the special teams also look to be very strong as Jack Podlesny is very solid at placekicker while Jake Camarda might be the best punter in college football not named Max Duffy. It’s easy to envision Saturday’s contest turning into a field position battle with both punters getting a lot of work.
Third Down: Turnover Margin
Facing a team that has a superior talent advantage, it is imperative that you find ways to steal possessions. Both Georgia and Kentucky are very comfortable operating at a snail’s pace and with perhaps the best two defenses in the SEC facing off the under will be a popular wager made by many this weekend. However, the Dawgs have struggled with ball security.
Stetson Bennett IV has some gunslinger in him and he is very comfortable throwing the ball across the middle. He doesn’t appear to have the arm strength to really stretch defenses vertically so everything will be created where UK’s linebackers make their drops in zone coverage. Over 18% of his throws have ended in an interception or pass break-up so Brad White’s defense will have some chances to make some big plays.
Meanwhile, this is a team that has also lost some fumbles and is losing the ball nearly twice per game. On the other side, they are also very good at forcing takeaways and can quickly change the game. Kentucky has very little chance to win this game unless they win the turnover margin. If UK is able to have some strong ball security, the data tells us that the defense will have a very great chance to produce a takeaway or two from UGA. Do that and you have a shot.
Fourth Down: Where are we at with the passing game?
Let’s face it, the Kentucky football program has a major issue with the passing game. The Wildcats currently sit at 13th or last in the SEC in every passing category and nothing has really looked good consistently during the Stoops tenure. There have been a handful of times where we’ve seen UK rise up in a single game and really chuck the football around, but it hasn’t happened often. It’s been dreadful so far this season.
The numbers for Terry Wilson are not good despite the fact that he is completing 61.6% of his throws. The senior’s passing success rate sits at just 39.39%, big plays are nowhere to be found and UK cannot drive the ball vertically. The veteran quarterback has a touchdown rate of just 4.08% in his career, but it is not all his fault.
UK is currently on their third wide receiver coach in four seasons and recruiting the position has been a major issue. Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Nebraska’s Wan’Dale Robinson and Wisconsin’s Danny Davis were all guys UK recruited hard but could just not land on campus. The result of these lost recruitments was a lot of last minute additions to recruiting classes and all of this is showing up on the field.
Outside of senior Josh Ali, the Wildcats have no one who start or be in the rotation for any SEC team outside of Vanderbilt and the lack of speed at the position turns into zero separation which makes the quarterback and play-caller’s job so much more difficult. However, eventually you have to be able to make something happen.
Last year we saw an incredible amount of creativity and innovation with the running game and it made UK into one of the most enjoyable offenses in football to watch by the end of the season. We haven’t seen anything close to that in the passing game and it is currently holding the team back. Kentucky can’t be competitive with Georgia unless they figure out how to be more effective in the passing game. Same goes for when they play both Alabama and Florida on the road in November. They need to find some answers soon.
It’s probably time to see Mike Drennen II and the three other high three-star recruits UK brought to campus in their 2020 recruiting haul. It may be time to let both Terry Wilson and Joey Gatewood get reps consistently in games and perhaps using them on the field at the same time. Kentucky has to figure something out.
It’s either that or go back to what you did last year and that is putting Gatewood at quarterback and essentially running a glorified wildcat offense where you will only look to pass the ball 8-10 times per game. UK has to make adjustments and they need to make them fast.
Unfortunately, KSR’s trip to see Bardstown and Elizabethtown go at it was postponed from Friday night to Saturday due to weather, but our Troy Howell still made the trip to give you all of the game coverage.
— Bradley McKee (@Bradley_B_Roll) October 25, 2020
E-town picked up a very big win in blowout fashion against one of the state’s best offenses. This week, KSR will be off to Bell County for another exciting matchup.
Kroger KSR Game of the Week this week goes a bit off the beaten path
Sayre vs Pineville
Undefeated Spartans head to Bell County to the land of Chain Rock.
KSR Radio will be there Friday pic.twitter.com/0URo7vOLBm
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 25, 2020
Stay tuned to the site for our prep rankings that will drop later today.
The Week Ahead at KSR
It’ll be another week jam-packed of football content with the Georgia Bulldogs set to roll into Lexington this weekend. Make sure you are subscribed to all four of our podcasts: 11 Personnel, Free Money, The Depth Chart Podcast and The KSR Football Podcast. Each will be dropping at a different point some time this week.
Nick Roush will be here all week to provide practice reports, I’ll be dropping the Scouting Report for UGA on Thursday and Freddie Maggard will be providing his keys to the game along with much, much more. Stay tuned as Kentucky attempts to get its first win over UGA since 2009. This is a team that needs to bounce back and play well to give it some positive momentum entering the bye week.