It’s tough to even come up with a post following a loss as disappointing as the one we just witnessed last night, but let’s take a shot at it, shall we? It’s obvious there was a glaring difference between the first and second half last night, but let’s dive into just a few reasons as to what sparked the disaster of the decade.
Mark Stoops emphasized this point from the very first scrimmage of training camp, the team really struggles in the tackling department. When we heard it for the first time, we figured it was the inexperienced linebackers missing a few here and there, but the rust would get knocked off eventually and the team would be able to make, oh I don’t know, fundamental tackles.
Yeah, well, they didn’t.
This has been a problem since both Mark Stoops and DJ Eliot made their way on campus, and it honestly has not improved the way a “rebuilding” SEC team should. Someone must be held accountable for it. Stoops came in out of Florida State as a guy known as one of the best defensive minds in football, and DJ Eliot was the linebackers coach on that same dominant Seminole defense. The first year or two, yeah, the talent didn’t match up, and some of the mistakes were excusable. Now, however, you have a defense loaded up with four-star talent, your system has been implemented and you’ve (apparently) worked all the kinks out, what’s the hold up?
*As a side note, the secondary did a tremendous job making tackles. They made some tough open field tackles, smacking guys right when the ball hit their hands, and played cleanup duty when the Golden Eagles’ dynamic running back duo hit the outside corner. These guys held up on their end of things.
Second half play-calling
The play-calling in the first half was some of the most impressive stuff I’ve seen at Kentucky in who knows how long. The perfect mix of run and pass, with throws ranging from deep balls, mid-range, dump passes, and screens. The Southern Miss defense was on their toes, had no clue what to expect, and Drew Barker carved them up like a pumpkin. 11-19, 278 yards, and four touchdown throws. 387 total offensive yards in the first half. It was unbelievable. Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw were all they were cracked up to be.
And then the second half happened.
It was like Shannon Dawson had switched sidelines at half time. Back to back runs up the middle, five yard throws on 3rd and long, the hole nine yards. A Cincinnati fan tweeted to me during the second half that Gran did the same thing in his years as the Bearcats OC, take an impressive lead at half, play extremely conservative in the 2nd half and hope the clock runs out before the other team catches back up. Hopefully Stoops puts an end to that problem heading into Gainesville next week, because UK will need about as much offensive gas as they can manage if they want to put an end to that streak. Right now, however, it doesn’t look pretty.
The student section
We seem to be calling them out every single year, but guys, it’s time to step up to the plate and cheer from kickoff to the final buzzer. There was a great turnout, students lined up out the door, wanting to participate in the year’s first “Caturday.” Awesome, way to go. But then at halftime, nearly half of the student section emptied out. Kentucky was up 35-17 at halftime, a comfortable lead, but it wasn’t a trouncing. Students made their way to the exit, completely forgetting what happened in the Louisville game last season and countless other times in the Stoops era. The team feeds off of the crowd’s energy, and there wasn’t a whole lot to feed off of in the second half. It was pitiful.
The students are stationed right next to the recruits that will (hopefully) be suiting up in blue and white here in the coming years, and it was designed for the student section to help bring in these guys. Be part of the reason they want to come to Kentucky, not a “con” on their pros vs. con list. Stay around, cheer whether the team is up by 40 or down by 40, no matter how hard it is. Most importantly, just stay the entire game.
We gave you guys just a few of the second half statistics last night, but let’s go over this for the morning crowd.
UK finished with just two first downs in the second half. Two.
Southern Miss scored 31 unanswered points between the late bomb in the first half up until late in the fourth quarter. 31. Unanswered. Points.
UK had only 13 yards of offense in the 3rd quarter on 8 plays, -20 rushing yards.
UK has been outscored 58-0 in the second half in the last two games against UofL and Southern Miss.
Southern Miss ran 95 offensive plays compared to UK’s 50.
These are just inexcusable statistics that just can’t go unnoticed.
I thought in the first half, the defensive line made a fantastic push on Nick Mullens and gave him the pressure necessary to limit his success. Three sacks, several QB hits, forced scrambles, etc. Josh Allen, Jordan Jones, and Denzil Ware were brilliant in the pass rush. It was impressive.
In the second half, the defense obviously got tired, and an already-bad tackling team somehow managed to get worse. Three-and-outs seemed to pile up on the offense, and the defense just couldn’t keep up. The tackling was laughable, but when you think about how often they were on the field, going against a fired up Southern Miss offense in the second half, it sadly makes sense.
We all knew the defense would struggle, specifically with the linebackers and defensive line, but the explosive offense was supposed to carry a good bit of the weight to help balance that out. Going forward, the offense has to come out with guns firing in the second half, not just to keep/extend the lead, but to keep the defense off the field as long as possible to conserve the gas in their tanks.
It’s going to be a long week of practice for Stoops and company, but hopefully they manage to figure it out and head into Gainesville with a bit of confidence most people lost following last night’s performance.