Going into the season expectations were very high for the Kentucky football program as the team appeared to have its best on paper roster in quite some time. The Wildcats believed they could make some noise in the SEC-only schedule riding what should be a strong defense and an experienced quarterback playing behind one of the sport’s best offensive lines. Getting beat by 60 points in November was not on the blueprint.
Fresh off the worst loss of the Mark Stoops era, UK now sits at 3-5 in SEC play which was their exact record last season and is a better mark than what we saw in each of the first three years under Stoops. However, it is clear that this team has taken a significant step backwards and their SP+ ranking of 68th is set to be their worst finish since 2016 and their offensive rank of 90th would be the worst of the Stoops era. There’s not a lot of good right now and it appears UK could be without Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Jamin Davis for another week. It seems like the program is in the danger zone.
However, the season rolls on and the week where Kentucky should be playing Louisville has the Wildcats heading to The Swamp to play another Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback. The Wildcats are once again a very big underdog and will need to put together their best effort of the season if they hope to have a chance. Can this program circle the wagons?
First Down: Stoops Talks
For the first time since after the game, we’ll hear Mark Stoops talk at both his Monday afternoon press conference and radio show later in the evening. It will be the first time the head coach will take questions since seeing the tape of the game and we’ll see if he has any more comments on it. There can’t be much good after allowing seven touchdowns while your offense scored zero.
There should be plenty of questions about the status of the players that missed last week’s game and most notably Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Jamin Davis. For Kentucky to have any shot at Florida this weekend, they will need both of these guys back in the lineup but if they failed their test on Friday it’s likely that they will have to miss another game.
Expect some more quarterback questions and just what went wrong for UK’s defense who simply cannot buy a red zone stop in the last eight quarters. There will be a lot to unpack and it all starts today.
Second Down: Know the Foe
Dan Mullen is in his third season in Gainesville and the former Mississippi State head coach has the program performing at near peak powers. The Gators are 27-6 since the former offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer took over and the Gators are 17-6 in SEC play. Florida is well on their way to a third consecutive top-10 finish under Mullen and this year they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the SEC East title race. Oh, they also once again have a Heisman contender at quarterback.
Kyle Trask waited his time and now the redshirt senior is lighting up every offense he has seen. The pocket passer from Texas leads all of college football in touchdown passes, is top-10 in yards per attempt, completion percentage and quarterback rating. He has been lights out and appears to be getting better with every outing.
Kyle Pitts is the best tight end in college football and is a walking mismatch for every defense Florida goes up against. He’s expected to make his return along with nine other players who have at least 100 yards receiving. Trask distributes the ball to plenty of players and stopping this passing game will be very, very hard. They aren’t as explosive as Alabama, but it appears that they have more answers as you never know where the ball is going to end up.
Running the ball has been an issue for the Gators as they have used three tailbacks, but each is averaging less than five yards per carry. They essentially get no explosive plays on the ground, but it hasn’t really mattered for an offense that is very pass heavy. Defensively, Todd Grantham is back and his unit has been the weakness of the team. The Gators rank 10th in the SEC in yards per play allowed and give up a ton of explosive plays. They sit at just 34th in defensive SP+ and if they can’t win a national title this year the defense will be the major reason why.
Kentucky has their hand’s full playing one of the best offenses in college football for the second week in a row and if they aren’t able to score points this thing will get ugly quick.
Third Down: Finishing Drives
One of the biggest takeaways from the beatdown at Alabama was just how UK did not give themselves a chance. After creating three scoring opportunities in their first four possessions, the Wildcats had just three points on the board and what should have been a close game at halftime turned into a blowout in the blink of an eye. Kentucky ranks 12th in the SEC when it comes to red zone touchdown rate and they are putting up just 3.73 points per scoring opportunity. This is really bad and is the biggest issue this offense is facing.
After giving up a ton of scores against Auburn and Ole Miss to start the season, we saw UK’s defense turn into one of the most stingy backed up defenses in college football during the middle of the season as they got a ton of extended red zone stops against Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia allowing just 2.05 points per scoring opportunity. However, that has gone off the tracks in the last eight quarters with Vanderbilt and Alabama scoring 12 touchdowns in 13 scoring chances. Not getting these stops has made the defense look much worse than it is and now the Wildcats are allowing a very pedestrian 4.36 points per scoring opportunity.
As the game of football is changing and more offenses are able to march up and down the field, it is vital that you are able to get timely stops backed up and finish drives when scoring opportunities arise. The offense’s inability to finish quality possessions with touchdowns and the defense’s Jekyll & Hyde factor in this metric has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season.
For UK to have any shot against Florida, this has to change while to beat South Carolina you probably want to go ahead and be more efficient here as well.
Fourth Down: Eddie Gran Watch
We just need to go ahead and address the elephant in the room at the moment. Kentucky’s offense is in a very bad spot and the unit has had multiple unacceptable performances this season. From the total ineptitude against Mississippi State, to the nightmare performance at Missouri, leading to scoring zero touchdown in eight quarters against both Alabama and Georgia, there is not much good going on. Kentucky is well on their way to their worst offensive finish of the Mark Stoops era and Gran deserves a heavy amount of blame for that.
The Wildcats have had major quarterback issues, recruiting misses have led to one of the worst wide receiver position rooms in the Power Five and the stubbornness in not making Chris Rodriguez Jr. a major focal point of the offense has to leave everyone scratching their head. It’s important to recognize that everything is off this season and Kentucky lost the heart and soul of their program in the passing of John Schlarman, but this isn’t where things should be.
Multiple times in five seasons we’ve seen Gran’s offenses lay total clunkers and it has costed Kentucky some victories. Most recently, it provided the most embarrassing loss this program has seen since the Joker Phillips days and it’s pretty obvious that things need to change. However, are things in order to make a change?
Stoops is at a crossroads and is going to have to make a hard decision once this season ends one way or another. It’s pretty obvious that something has to change and that would require at least one main staff change. Would now just be the right time to go ahead and overhaul the offensive staff? It certainly does seem like it.
Kentucky must figure out in a hurry what kind of offensive football program it wants to be and get everyone moving in that direction. Stoops has made it clear that he wants to get the passing game up and running and the recent recruiting results have proven that those statements aren’t just empty calories. However, what is going on with the current staff isn’t working and something has to be done.
The last eight quarters could change a lot, but there is no denying that we are set to enter a major offseason for the Kentucky football program.
The first round of the state playoffs are in the books as we continue the march to the state championship. This past week, KSR was on hand to see Pikeville defeat Sayre in a hard fought game.
This week's Kroger KSR Game of the Week was @PikevilleHSFB vs @sayrespartans. It was all Pikeville in this one. Here's a recap of what you missed. @McnameeIsaac @blakebirchfiel1 @zac10ckhart @Lowe7B pic.twitter.com/yLLENqio5F
— Bradley McKee (@Bradley_B_Roll) November 21, 2020
Our own Troy Howell was there to provide the recap as it is win or go home for the rest of the high school football season. Stay tuned to KSR for all of the coverage as we move forward towards a state championship.
The Week Ahead at KSR
It’ll be another jam-packed week of football content with Kentucky preparing to make the road trip to Gainesville. 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 Florida later this week and Freddie Maggard will be providing his keys to the game along with much, much more. Stay tuned as Kentucky looks to go back-to-back in The Swamp. Only two more Saturdays left until the 2020 season is a wrap.