Have to be honest, normally I start to re-watch UK games on Sunday evening. Given UK’s lackluster 53-minute effort, procrastination and dread-triumphed routine, Monday afternoon was spent with pad and pen in hand and remote control at the ready to relive a nerve-wracking Saturday evening. The following are observations broken down by quarters:
— First series started the same as against Missouri. Easy completion to a running back followed by another confidence boosting pitch and catch to Garrett Johnson.
— 3rd play of the game, Jeff Badet was stripped of the football. Result was Kentucky’s first 2015 fumble.
— In the first quarter, UK defense effectively played within the system. This would not be the case for the next 37 and half minutes.
— A dangerous trend began on the second drive. EKU presented UK offensive line all kinds of problems as it pressured, hurried, and sacked Patrick Towles. The Colonels did so by winning line of scrimmage one on one matchups with its elite DE Noah Spence, a disruptive linebacker corps, and interior DL that provided inside disruptive penetration.
— Chris Westry missed a pick-6 opportunity.
— Eastern Kentucky’s first of five quarterback sacks, DE Noah Spence moved inside to beat Zach West as a blitzing LB Chris Kelly combined to bring down Towles. EKU blitz packages weren’t creative but highly productive. Concerning.
— UK’s first scoring drive was highlighted by Patrick Towles hitting Blake Bone on 2nd and 9 scramble drill completion. Bone found the void in the Colonel’s secondary. Perfectly executed by Bone, excellent throw by Towles. UK eventually scored on a quarterback sneak.
— Kentucky defense answered on 3rd and 5 when Josh Forrest forced a Benny Coney fumble, Farrington Huguennin recovered.
— Interception number one ensued. On 2nd and 1, on a play action pass, Patrick Towles was influenced by DE Noah Spence. Towles then underthrew Dorian Baker on a vertical route during which CB Stanley Absannon outdueled Baker in the 50/50 ball. Football happens. Saturday’s Baker-Absannon matchup won’t be their last. Both are Sunday players.
— The above play was a critical turning point in the game. Up 7-0, following a turnover on 2nd and 1, the Cats didn’t take advantage of momentum or situation.
— EKU offense became reliant upon a successful inside zone run play in which it repeatedly ran for positive yardage. An undersized OL got under UK DL to provide enough push for EKU RBs to break the line of scrimmage.
— Ryan Flannigan missed on a sack, EKU took advantage and started its scoring drive. Kentucky’s defense missed tackles, was penalized for illegal substitution, as the Colonels eventually scored on a 3rd and 6 fade route. 6’6″ receiver Borders versus 6’4″ CB Westry were locked up 1-on-1. Borders won. Football happens but fundamental breakdowns and substation penalties indicated a lack or regard. UK 7 EKU 6.
— Kentucky’s next two offensive drives resulted in a sack and interception. EKU’s QB sack was simple in nature: DE Noah Spence beat Cole Mosier on an edge speed rush. Towles’ second pick of the night was a QB judgment error. EKU’s cover 2 safety broke on a vertical route intended for Dorian Baker. A veteran QB should recognize the coverage and either go elsewhere or drive the ball to Baker.
Fortunately for Kentucky, halftime. UK 7 EKU 6.
— Third quarter opened with a Stanley Absannon 47 yard kickoff return. Heck of a football player.
— The return gave EKU a short field. 2nd quarter defensive incompetence led to Dean Hood going for it on 4th and 6. Onions. Josh Forrest missed Coney in the backfield for a sack, then Coney proceeded to make Jason Hatcher as well as Jabari Johnson miss to gain 7 yards and a first down. This play summarized UK’s defensive effort.
— Kentucky followed with another illegal substitution penalty for 12 men on the field, EKU eventually scored on a Coney zone read option run. 13-7 Colonels. Atrocious sequence of events.
— Cats answered with a scoring drive after converting a 4th and 2 on a Patrick Towles bootleg run. The touchdown came from a perfectly executed play action 36-yard pass to Jeff Badet on a post route. Then, and typical for the evening, reserve kicker Miles Butler missed the PAT. UK 13 EKU 13.
— UK benefitted from an offensive pass interference call to force EKU to punt. The Cats quickly punted the football back to the Colonels following another 3rd down QB sack. At this point in the game, EKU was dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage at an alarming rate.
— Last drive of the 3rd quarter into the beginning of the 4th saw more of the same. EKU pressured Patrick Towles that led to hurries, scrambles and eventually a sack. Noah Spence proved to be unblockable. That was expected from the former Buckeye and All-Big 10 player, but for Eastern linebackers and defensive linemen to achieve line of scrimmage superiority were unexpected happenings. EFFORT advantage EKU.
— Kentucky backup punter Bryan Kirshe booted a 21-yard line drive punt to Stanley Absanon that led to a 34-yard return deep into UK territory. Theme from Sunday post, “it could have been worse, but barely.”
— Eastern Kentucky went back to the inside zone run which consistently gashed the middle of the Wildcat defense. Majority of Colonel 1st down runs led to 2nd and 5 or less situations. A powerful 6-yard TD run by Dy’Shawn Mobley appropriately finished the drive. EKU 20 UK 13.
— Most troubling defensive note was how Eastern continued to run the inside zone play with very little UK resistance. In multiple drives, OC Dane Damron called the same play up to five times with every attempt achieving positive yards. Wildcat interior defensive line did not adapt to tempo or scheme. Linebackers missed tackles. Only CJ Johnson answered the bell for the majority of the game.
— UK’s special teams answered EKU punt return explosion play with an illegal block in the back that reversed the Cats to half the distance to the goal line. On 3rd and 1, JoJo Kemp attempted an inside run where he was met in the backfield by five EKU defensive players. Forced to bounce outside, loss of 2 occurred. Punt. Troubling.
— Colonels followed by another efficient scoring drive that featured a heavy dose of more between the tackles runs and play action passing. WR Devin Borders beat Cody Quinn on a slant, touchdown visitors. Unimaginably, and painful to watch, EKU 27-13.
5th QUARTER, the Final 7:39 of Regulation
— Finally, with 7:39 remaining in the game down 14, Kentucky forced its will by flexing its superior talent. More importantly, with its backs against the wall, the Cats finally played with a sense of urgency.
— Following a critical 3rd down Blake Bone reception, JoJo Kemp scored led by a Dorian Baker knock-down block. UK had life. EKU 27 UK 20.
— Following suit, the Wildcat defense finally controlled the line of scrimmage and forced Eastern to punt. With 3:49 left in regulation, the crowd that stayed in Commonwealth Stadium came to life.
— Ryan Timmons’ 19-yard punt return moved the football into Colonel territory.
— Blake Bone caught his 7th pass of the night, the 5th that resulted in first down. On 4th and 3, Patrick Towles hit Dorian Baker on a fade route in the corner of the end zone. Another 50/50 ball against Stanley Absannon. This time, Baker won. A pressure-packed PAT tied the game at 27.
— Patrick Towles methodically led UK to a touchdown with two Dorian Baker outside screens or hitch route completions. Baker out-fought, -willed, and -athleted Colonel defenders. On 1st and goal and following a key block from Ryan Timmons, Baker scored the eventual game winner.
— Defense smelled the win. However, a questionable pass interference call on Cody Quinn gave EKU second life. On 1st down, former Wildcat Dy’Shawn Mobley made his first critical mistake of the game by bouncing an inside run to the corner and then surrendered additional lost yards. Result was a 2nd and 22. On the next down, the clutch JD Harmon broke up a pass. A crossing route completion to Arien Beasley followed on 3rd down which left EKU with 4th-10.
— Memories of WKU’s win flashed in front of our eyes, as Eastern attempted a throwback to the QB. CJ Johnson tackled Beasley in the backfield. Game over. UK 34 EKU 27.
What does all this mean?
UK’s inconsistency and lack of intensity as well as zero sense of urgency were all evident. For 53 minutes, EKU was the hunter, and Kentucky was its prey. Every team in America has a let-down game. UK’s version nearly cost them a home loss against a 1AA opponent.
UK will be better from this struggle. It will play with edge against Auburn. However, my first night in the radio booth did not go to script. I threw pens and ditched the comfy seat to stand for the final 7:36/overtime. Probably broke a bunch of press box etiquette rules. Don’t care.
UK won. And ugly win, but still 4-1 is better than 3-2.