Optimism was very high for the Kentucky football program heading into the 2020 season and it’s quite possible their first game against Auburn was the program’s most hyped up opener in forever. In the first half, the Wildcats passed the eye test as they went blow-for-blow against a talented Auburn roster and looked like they had a great chance to seize control of the contest in the always important middle eight. That’s when the inopportune mistakes occurred.
After every game this season we are going to take you inside the film room and show you the plays that changed the game. Despite having over 140 snaps in nearly every football game, most always it’s a couple plays that tell the tale. At Jordan-Hare Stadium, they occurred within situational football.
1.) Missed Touchdown
Kentucky’s defense got their first three-and-out of the day with under five minutes to play in the second quarter and it was going to give the offense a shot at a four-minute drive to end the half before getting the ball back to start the third quarter. There was a chance to really swing the game and it looked UK was ready to take advantage.
Terry Wilson picked up a big third down conversion on a strike to Allen Dailey Jr. for 39 yards to get UK into the red zone. Some wildcat runs from Chris Rodriguez Jr. had UK knocking on the door with under a minute left. What happened on first-and-goal at the two caught everyone by surprise.
As the tape shows, Rodriguez’s knee never hits the ground and forward possession isn’t stopped as he plows into the endzone. However, for some unknown reason, the officials marked him short at the one. After review, the play stood as they claimed his forward progress stopped. Which is funny because to my knowledge that is not reviewable. UK was stripped of six points, but they still had two plays from the one. You gotta punch it in.
On the next down, it was a perfect scenario for a play-action shot. If nothing is there you can throw it away and live to fight another day. Instead, UK goes with a QB sneak and Terry Wilson is stoned. On third down, they call the pass and Wilson throws an inexcusable red zone interception. Luckily to a targeting call, the pick-six was negated.
However, UK went three-and-out in their first possession of the third quarter and the chance to seize the lead and momentum was lost on that first down run by Rodriguez. It’s a totally different game with a touchdown.
2.) 50/50 Opportunity
After trading stops to begin the third quarter, Auburn put together a really nice drive on their second possession. The Tigers covered 76 yards in nine plays aided by a personal foul penalty on UK’s Kelvin Joseph. Auburn quickly found themselves in the red zone, but faced a key 3rd-and-goal from the Kentucky 11 while still holding just a one-point lead.
As you see at the bottom of the screen, left tackle Alec Jackson clearly gets beat by Jordan Wright around the corner in what is going to be a QB pressure that effects the throw in some way. A clear holding call is missed, but Kentucky still had an opportunity to get a key red zone stop and force a field goal.
On the scramble drill, Brandin Echols loses track of Seth Williams, but safety Tyrell Ajian appears to be in perfect position. Nix throws a jump ball and the hop is mistimed by Ajian. Auburn comes up with a big play to go up eight. Kentucky goes down and scores on their next possession, but this gave the home team some much needed cushion heading into the final quarter.
Get the stop and you have a chance to put some game pressure on Auburn. UK was never truly able to do that in the second half.
3.) Untimely Turnover
Following Kentucky’s second score of the day, the defense got the ball back quickly after just four Auburn plays and the Wildcats would take over at their own 30. After a five-yard run from Kavosiey Smoke to set up 3rd-and-4, UK called a timeout to set up a very key play in the ballgame. What happened next was a worst case scenario.
On the draw, Wilson goes to the inside spin to avoid the defender and puts the ball on the turf. At this point in the ballgame (down two, under 13 minutes left) a punt from your All-American is still a win. Instead, another game-changing play that would lead directly to an Auburn touchdown.
The very next possession would see UK turn it over on downs following a failed fake punt and Auburn would go on a 14-0 run in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden what should have been a game that came down to the wire was turned into a blowout in less than four minutes of game time.
If you look at the box score, this game should have been much, much closer. The Wildcats ran 21 more plays and Auburn had a slim yards per play advantage (5.7-4.9). Both teams had five plays of 20-plus yards and multiple red zone possessions. However, it was Auburn that finished with a 75% touchdown rate on those trips while Kentucky was at 33.3%. Bad situational football from an experienced team turned this into a blowout.