Before and after every game this year, Tom Leach will join us here to give us his thoughts on the games. Here is his breakdown of what happened in Nashville
Each Sunday this fall, we’ll use this space to the break down the highs and lows for the Cats and looking back on Saturday night’s disappointing start to the season, I found myself thinking back to 2003. In the opener that year, a big and much more physical Louisville team whipped Kentucky. And that UK team had Jared Lorenzen at quarterback and wasn’t having to rely on nearly as many rookies or inexperienced players.
Western Kentucky won the battles in the trenches, most glaringly against the Cats’ D-line. The stat sheet really doesn’t reflect the degree of that difference, which is noteworthy because it means the UK offense finally made some of the “home run” plays that had been missing for way too long.
Kentucky’s young wideouts will become better blockers on the perimeter, guys like Ryan Timmons and Jo Jo Kemp will make more explosive plays like the ones we got glimpses of in this game (and other young WR’s will join in, too) and I’m hopeful a quarterback will take ownership of that position. When those things happen, Kentucky may be able to put enough points up to have a chance to get some wins. And anyone who looked at the big picture and didn’t recognize that this team would have to rely on its offense didn’t understand what they were seeing. The way UK’s defensive line was pushed around for much of this night was really the only surprise on that side of the ball, given the expectations for that veteran group.
It’s been a nice several months of a honeymoon between Mark Stoops and the UK fans. Now, the marriage had its first “fight” with the team’s showing in the opener. That’s normal in the heat of the moment but rest assured there will be “ups” to go with these kinds of down moments. Back in ’03, when Brooks took over, the UK program had not hit bottom yet, because of the scholarship cuts that would lead to even less talent on the field the next season. Now, the talent curve is already turning dramatically upward for UK (and you’ll see some of those players emerge as this season unfolds)–but it will just take time to fully reap the benefits of that recruiting.
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The way WKU’s O-line was winning the battle in the trenches, it was going to be hard for the Cats to prevail and so there was no one single play on which the outcome swung. Still, a failed third-and-short on UK’s second drive of the second half was a momentum-turner.
Kentucky had the ball on Western’s side of the 50 with a chance to take the lead for the first time with a touchdown. But when the ‘Toppers two linebackers came blitzing up the middle, they hit Jonathan George at virtually the same time Jalen Whitlow handed him the ball and the play at no chance to succeed.
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KEY CAT STATS
— WKU’s defense produced 10 tackles-for-loss to UK’s three.
— Getting at least four yards on first-and-10 plays is crucial to keep an offense in rhythm. Western did that 18 times Saturday night to UK’s eight–and in the first half, it was 12 to three.
— Those numbers fed into one of the biggest’s differences on the stat sheet–the Hilltoppers ran 75 plays to the Cats’ 60.
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“WILDCAT PAW” HELMET STICKERS
There’s not much to reward from this performance but a couple of guys merit recognition:
— Demarco Robinson, for a sensational tightrope-walking catch for Kentucky’s last touchdown and two big punt returns. It’s been way too long since UK got some of those hidden yards in punt and kick returns.
— true freshman Blake McClain, for making some noteworthy plays on a night where there weren’t many of those for the UK defense. He forced a fumble, made a big hit late to force an incompletion and had to step into a much bigger role than he had expected to play after the injury to Kory Brown and he finished with seven tackles.
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