There’s not much to do on a bye week other than sit around and watch other teams play all day or look back on the first half of the season.
This time around, however, I found myself thinking about how this bye week feels different.
As a fan, you selfishly never want a bye week. I wish they could play all 52 Saturdays of the year, if possible. Last year, the BBN was desperate and thankful for a bye week. This year, though, it seems like everyone is chomping at the bit to watch the good guys step between the white lines.
Last year, Mark Stoops and Kentucky went into the bye week with the same record they have now. 5-1. Kentucky only had one point separating them from a 6-0 start, eerily similar to the 2018 start. But what’s the difference from last year’s 5-1 start to this one?
Last season, Kentucky stumbled into the bye week. After narrow victories against Eastern Michigan, Missouri, EKU, and Southern Mississippi, it felt like the Cats had a shaky foundation. Kentucky looked gassed, with seemingly every game coming down to the last possession; the Cats were desperate for a bye week.
With a back half that consisted of Louisville, Georgia, and Mississippi State, there wasn’t much confidence the Cats would reach a 10-win season.
This season, however, Kentucky has the same record but has looked much more dominant. The Cats have fought through the toughest part of their schedule and beat every team by more than 10. Their one loss? An overtime defeat at TexasA&M, one of the toughest places to play in college football. The fans don’t have the traditional letdown of another close loss to Florida, Kentucky has run all over dominant defenses, and if Snell gets the ball more in College Station, I believe Kentucky beats them too.
The fans and players are anxious to see these guys on the field again. Guys like Benny Snell, Jordan Jones, Kash Daniel, and Josh Allen are frantically waiting to come out setting the world on fire. We can sense it.
Here’s how last season’s bye week compares to this season’s.
Comparing the offense
Through six games last season, Benny Snell was solid, but he was nowhere near the running back he was capable of being. The Benny Snell we’ve seen this year is leaps and bounds better, and that shows in the rushing yard discrepancy.
2017 -138.1 yards per game
2018- 227.8 yards per game
Nearly a 100-yard-per-game difference from this year to last year. Sure, that stat gets a little pad with A.J. Rose’s explosiveness being put to use this season and the addition of Terry Wilson. But no one can question that Kentucky’s rushing attack is thriving through six games. Last year it kind of struggled. Not only is that a testament to Benny Snell’s improvement, but a testament to how well the offensive line has played through the first half of the season.
To further legitimize Kentucky’s running attack, they have played two teams that experts have raved over having top rushing defenses in Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Last season, Kentucky played their tougher defenses on the back half. This time around, Georgia looks like the only team that can legitimately shut down the Wildcats rushing attack in the remaining six games.
2017-211.1 yards per game (QBR 147.5)
2018-145.5 yards per game (QBR 43.3)
It’s no secret that Terry Wilson was going to have a hard time comparing to Stephen Johnson in his first year in blue and white. We typically looked at Stephen Johnson as the game manager who did what it took to win games, but through six games the yards per game difference is pretty significant. That’s not even mentioning the QBR.
With that said, I don’t think Terry Wilson has played necessarily bad through six games. He’s managed the game well, and just like Stephen Johnson, he’s done what it takes to win the game, a la Florida. While last week wasn’t the best performance for Wilson, I think he’s done an excellent job of not doing too much through six games. Gran knows this is a run-first team and that’s what the offense has been true to. I have no complaints with Terry Wilson to this point.
Comparing the Defense
We knew this Kentucky defense was going to be good, but I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted this defense was going to be THIS good. When you factor in the departure of Denzil Ware, Jordan Jones’ shoulder injury, and Josh Paschal’s illness, the Wildcat defense hasn’t only lived up to expectations, they’ve exceeded them.
2017-97.2 yards per game
2018-120.2 yards per game
This is a stat I wouldn’t look much into when it comes to comparing last years defense to this one. Last season’s rush defense was top five in the country in yards per game heading into the bye week. This year’s Kentucky defense may give up more rushing yards, but they’ve had the bend but don’t break mentality. You can run as much as you want to, but this defense refuses to let you score, only giving up 14.6 points per game. That’s third best in all of FBS.
There’s also another reason Kentucky has allowed more rushing yards per game this season…
2017-288.7 yards per game
2018-185.5 yards per game
It’s because no team can pass on them.
Kentucky’s Secondary is allowing 100 yards less per game this season compared to last. Yes, you read that right. Granted, last season Kentucky faced off against two quarterbacks on NFL rosters in Tim Boyle and Brogan Roback. Then, of course, they faced off against Drew Lock, who they will see in two weeks.
But Kentucky has gone up against familiar faces in Jake Bentley, Feleipe Franks, and Nick Fitzgerald. Let’s not forget how dominant Nicky Fitz looked against this defense last year. This year, not so much.
Going forward, Kentucky’s most significant tests on defense will come from Missouri and Georgia. Missouri is a team who is 0-3 in the SEC, and a quarterback who Kentucky was able to manage last season. Georiga’s offense got exposed against LSU yesterday, so Kentucky’s defense should look just as strong the rest of the way.
Last year, I had a post that set an outlook for the next six games, talking about what Kentucky would have to do to corral every team’s best player. This year, outside of Georgia, I’m asking myself what would other teams have to do to beat the Cats?
There is no doubt this team is better than the 2017 team. This year, Kentucky’s 5-1 record feels legitimate and they’re now in control of their own destiny.