As expected, Kentucky lost to No. 5 Georgia this afternoon, moving to 2-4 on the season. Despite a heavy dose of Chris Rodriguez and the defense holding the Bulldogs to only 14 points, the offense once again gave us plenty to gripe about. Thank goodness for a bye week.
Let’s start with the things that were okay and progress to the things that weren’t.
It was great to see Chris Oats in attendance
I’m getting this one out of the way early because it brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Chris Oats, who was primed to be a star this season but suffered a serious medical emergency early this summer, was in attendance today and featured on the video boards in the first half. Josh Paschal wore the No. 22 in his honor, while Drake Jackson wore the No. 65 to honor offensive line coach John Schlarman, who missed his second straight game as he continues to battle stage four cancer. As frustrating as today was, both of these things are great reminders of the adversity this team has faced and that there are more important things in life than football.
Perspective aside, let’s talk about the football.
Chris Rodriguez got the ball more
The common cry in the Big Blue Nation coming into this game was, “Get Chris Rodriguez the ball.” Against Missouri, Rodriguez only had nine carries for 48 yards. Today, he doubled that, carrying the ball 20 times for 108 yards against the nation’s No. 4 rush defense. That is good, and if he has to share the starting running back position on the next depth chart with AJ Rose, Eddie Gran’s glasses must be perpetually fogged up.
Joey Gatewood was…okay?
No one should have come into this game expecting Joey Gatewood to light it up. Not only was it his first start — against one of the nation’s best defenses — Kentucky’s receivers have yet to inspire any confidence in the passing game this season. In his first start, Gatewood finished 15-25 for 91 yards passing and 23 yards rushing on 16 attempts. He was sacked four times, and fumbled it once, halting a promising Kentucky drive early in the second half.
The coaches claim that Gatewood has a stronger arm than Terry Wilson, but he never really got to show it. Kentucky threw it 25 times but only had two completions for ten or more yards — an 11-yard catch from Allen Dailey and a 10-yard catch by Keaton Upshaw — and three passing first downs. For the fourth time this season, Kentucky finished with less than 300 yards of total offense; not surprisingly, the Cats have lost each of those games.
Today proved that quarterback isn’t Kentucky’s problem on offense; it runs deeper than that.
The defense made the necessary adjustments; the offense did not
Early on, it looked like this Kentucky-Georgia game was going to follow the script of so many others. The Cats couldn’t stop the Bulldogs’ rushing attack, Georgia marching down the field easily for a touchdown on its first possession; however, as the game went on, the defense stood tall and created opportunities on which the offense just couldn’t capitalize.
For instance, after Matt Ruffolo kicked a 34-yard field goal to give Kentucky its only points of the day, Georgia marched right back down the field and into the red zone. Big Phi Hoskins picked off Stetson Bennett to prevent the touchdown and give the Cats a shot at scoring before half.
Big Snacc with a big play. @phil_hoskins INT.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 31, 2020
…that didn’t happen. Kentucky went three-and-out on offense, leaving Georgia with enough time to take it back down the field and move into scoring position again. This time, Jamin Davis played hero, blocking a 53-yard field goal attempt to leave it 7-3 at half.
In the second half, the defense continued to do its part, outside of allowing a 22-yard touchdown run by Zamir White on Georgia’s first possession. Bossman Fat even came through with a pick, intercepting Bennett to give the offense another shot to narrow the gap.
BOSS'D. @bossmanfat1 with his third INT of the season.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 31, 2020
…that didn’t happen. The offense was able to get the ball to midfield, but that was it. Kentucky forced a punt on Georgia’s next possession, giving the offense the ball with nine minutes left.
This is where it really gets frustrating.
Why so slow at the end?
If you just happened to turn on the game in the fourth quarter to see that Kentucky had the ball with nine minutes left down 10 to the No. 5 team in the country, you’d feel somewhat optimistic, right? With a decent offense and clock management, that’s plenty of time to make something happen. That’s why the next drive was so frustrating. Even though they needed to score, get a stop, and score again, the Cats took their sweet time, inching down the field via short runs and dink-and-dunk passes. In the span of almost five minutes, Kentucky moved a whopping 33 yards before punting it back to Georgia. From there, it was pretty much over — although those last four minutes certainly seemed to stretch to eternity.
Expecting the offense to completely turn itself around in one week is a tall task, especially against an elite defense; however, is it too much to ask for some sort of creativity, or at least a sense of urgency when the game is still in reach? For as much praise as Eddie Gran got last year for switching the offense to work around Lynn Bowden, this season makes it clear how important Lynn Bowden was to that equation. We’re halfway through the season and Kentucky still doesn’t seem to have an identity on offense. Making Chris Rodriguez the starting running back is a good start, but the rest needs a lot of work.
Again, thank goodness for the bye week.