It’s safe to say that the season is getting away from Kentucky in 2020 as the one of the most talented rosters in program history is now 2-4 with road trips to both Alabama and Florida looming. UK is proving to be a very quality defensive unit with a strong offensive line, but play-calling and lack of skill talent production have been the warts that UK just cannot rid this season.
The Wildcats had a great chance at the upset victory while hosting Georgia in Kroger Field, but the offense could just not create explosive plays while Georgia was consistently able to make the Wildcats drive 75-plus yards on every possession. As always, there are a few plays that determine the game and that is what we are going to show here. However, it’s hard to avoid the elephant room and that’s the current state of the offense. UK is struggling to find an identity and the passing game looks painfully awful.
1.) Missed Red Zone Opportunity
On their third possession of the game, UK put together a beautiful 19-play drive that bled over 10 minutes off the clock and it was led by some strong Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushes combined with some timely completions by Joey Gatewood. Facing a second down in the red zone, Kentucky called a timeout before a very important snap with under four minutes remaining in the half.
Georgia’s pass rush was a bear for Kentucky to deal with all day and they brought six here. Gatewood makes the right read to step up in the pocket, but his eyes get caught on the rush. In-line tight end Justin Rigg leaks out after giving the Sam backer a chip on the edge rush to assist right tackle Darian Kinnard. He has a likely touchdown and UK would go into the half tied with the top-five team. Instead they would have to settle for a field goal in what would be their only red zone possession of the game.
We are nitpicking here asking a young quarterback in his first start to make this throw, but these are the plays a quarterback has to make when facing a Kirby Smart defense. You have to make something out of nothing and Gatewood is just not ready to do that yet.
After some iffy game management to end the first half, Kentucky went into locker room trailing by a score of 7-3 and had a great chance to go win the football game in the second half. They just needed to get a stop on UGA’s first possession and redshirt sophomore Zamir White went nuts.
The former top-10 recruit put together some very nice runs while Stetson Bennett IV dropped a dime to tight end Darnell Washington to create another Georgia scoring opportunity. However, Kentucky was able to force a fourth down just outside of the red zone and the Dawgs decided to go for it.
UGA runs a split zone concept out of a jumbo package and it is beautifully blocked by the offensive line. UK’s front gets washed to the right and the tight end gets a kick-out block on UK’s Sam linebacker leading to a very nice running lane. However, UK uses safety Tyrell Ajian as an extra force player in a run fit on this play. His eyes to go the quarterback and White zips right past him.
Kentucky’s scoring opportunity defense has been elite this season, but they missed a big opportunity to get another huge stop. The result was the final score of the game and all the cushion UGA would need facing a Kentucky offense that had no chance to stretch the field vertically.
3.) Untimely Turnover
After that UGA touchdown run, Kentucky’s offense had a nice response in their best drive of the second half. The Wildcats marched 35 yards in six plays and were inside the UGA 40 with another scoring opportunity in the hope of making this a one-possession game. A 23-yard sprint by Chris Rodriguez Jr. got the drive rolling while a big third down completion from Joey Gatewood to Allen Dailey Jr. had UK in a great spot.
UK was all set to have a third-and-medium in total four-down territory. Things were going well and a score here likely would have had the teams enter the fourth quarterback in a one possession game with UGA likely needing to go to the air much more than they would want to. Instead, UK’s only giveaway in the game came at a very bad time as the offense would never really threaten Georgia again.
As expected, this one became a battle of field position with both teams having to consistently move the ball a long ways against two of the best defenses in the SEC. Both starting running backs provided great efficiency while Georgia was able to create explosives with their pass game and UK wasn’t. Timely takeaways allowed UK to hang around, but they were never a real threat to win this game.
The fact of the matter is that UK has one of the worst passing offenses in college football. Everything is like pulling teeth while personnel and lack of creativity in creating open throws is severely inhibiting this offense. The Wildcats have now posted less than five yards per play in every game when not playing the SEC’s worst defense. It’s hard to win like that and something has to change.
It is not fair to effectively evaluate Joey Gatewood after this one, but it does feel like UK found an offensive identity. Chris Rodriguez Jr. put together a very strong game against college football’s best run defense and he should be able to have a lot of success against UK’s remaining opponents. Kentucky likely needs more wildcat looks and will need their young quarterback to continue to grow. However, until this pass game starts playing better its hard to be too optimistic regarding this offense.
November is setting up to be a very important month for the immediate future of Kentucky football.