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Kentucky Football

Positives & Negatives From Kentucky's 21-0 Loss to Georgia

October 20, 2019
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Kentucky had to travel down to Athens to play a Georgia team that went from being ranked third nationally down to No. 10 after losing at home to South Carolina last week. Kentucky had some ups and downs in Athens, however, they managed to bring a lot of fight. One thing that is for sure, a constant downpour of rain on Sanford Stadium did not favor Kentucky against the SEC’s best rushing offense and rushing defense. With that said, Kentucky was in a ball game for three quarters and showed plenty of things on film to build off of.

Now, Kentucky has just five games left in 2019, and all but one are played in Lexington. The final stretch of this 2019 season is easier than the first half of the season. After the upcoming matchup this weekend against Missouri, Kentucky will enter another bye week before the final four games of the season. Sitting at 3-4, the Wildcats showed they have the capability to stop the remaining offenses the face, but the offense has to improve and the health of Sawyer Smith could help change that.

Kentucky definitely made some good plays in Athens and the defense was very impressive. However, there were some alarming aspects as well. Let’s go over the negative side of it first.

Negatives

  • Air Attack 
  • Costly Mistakes / ‘Not there yet’ Plays
  • Defending Outside Runs
  • Third Down Offense

Kentucky did not complete a pass for the first three quarters. Clearly, the conditions played a big factor, but the Wildcats could not put it together. Some incompletions were on Bowden as just missed throws, but there were some really tough drops, two that come to mind are Ahmad Wagner down the sideline on a go route and Chris Rodriguez in the end zone. Those are plays that you watch and say Kentucky just is not there yet to get those big wins, this is a young football with multiple injuries.

Those costly mistakes can be the deciding factor in a football game, but it makes it near impossible to get upset on the road against a top ten football team. Bowden’s turnover set up the first touchdown drive of the game, and that really swung the momentum in Georgia’s favor. However, Kentucky had some creative designs and found some success on the number one run defense in the SEC entering the game. When you lack a consistent threat throwing the football downfield, you become one dimensional and easier to defend, which we saw from Georgia’s defense as the game went along.

Those mistakes also account for penalties. Multiple times we saw bad penalties from veteran players like Logan Stenberg and Landon Young, the Wildcats had three more penalties than the Bulldogs, and in critical situations that dictated the end of the game. After finding some success against inside runs early, I think Quinton Bohanna and Marquan McCall gave the interior offensive line of the Bulldogs some trouble, but they opened up on the outside run plays. Kentucky’s outside backers have a hard time setting the edge against an elite Georgia team and to allow zero points for a half and a majority of the third quarter is impressive, but the Bulldogs offensive line is the biggest in the nation and it showed late in the football game.

Kentucky has continued to struggle on third down offensively. This is the most important down in football and they converted just 3-of-13 attempts on third down. Eddie Gran’s offense ranks in the bottom half of the conference in that category, and that has been the difference. Those stalled outdrives on third and long plays can really change momentum; I thought two particular third-down calls were terrible designs on deep pass patterns, and those calls led to the Wildcats 0-for-2 effort on fourth down.

Kentucky has a lot to clean up on both sides of the football, but you did see some potential throughout the game, especially in the first half. 

Positives

  • An Incredible First Half
  • Ground Game w/ Bowden QB1
  • The Middle of the Defense
  • Secondary
  • Moving Forward

Kentucky played an unbelievable first half, and that was not a fluke by weather conditions, they legitimately battled a top ten football team for halftime deadlocked at zero. Georgia had just six first downs and was 1-for-7 on third down on 8-for-11 passing for 28 yards, they had some success on the ground with 95 yards, rushing for five yards per carry. Kentucky was getting stops on inside runs in the first half and putting Georgia in predictable passing downs, they allowed those short routes in the flats and had fantastic form tackling across the board. Early on you think of the Jamari Brown tackle on Georga Pickens right before the first down and the unreal Boogie Watson tackle for loss on the wideout bubble screen. 

Kentucky had great energy on the defensive side of the football in the first half. Georgia did not run a play on Kentucky’s side of the 50-yard line until around six minutes left in the third quarter off of a Bowden fumble. Kentucky did a great job playing the field position game and great tackling on the outside. However, that turnover and first field position across the 50 for the Bulldogs was the turning point in the game. 

Deandre Square has not allowed a broken tackle all season, his consistency has been critical. The secondary has played very well and improved every week. Georgia’s largest gain through the air was a 22-yard pass on a crossing route to Pickens, who was covered by Kash Daniel. We saw Kentucky’s defense have great success in this football game with Christ Oats in the middle and Jordan Wright as well, that length and speed really help against teams like Georgia.

That difference was shown, but the difference is the middle of the defense with Quinton Bohanna and Marquan McCall, as well as Calvin Taylor. Those three guys impacted the game often and Bohanna was really the tone-setter for the early defensive success. Kentucky lost the time of possession battle as Georgia had the football for about six or seven more minutes, and as well as that one turnover proved to be the difference for Kentucky, you have to minimize mistakes to get a road upset at this level, and Georgia had the football for longer as they lead the SEC in that statistic.

Those long drives started to have an effect on Kentucky late in the game on those outside runs, but this defense made plays at every level. This defense has not allowed over 30 points in a game this season, and this Georgia team was one of three SEC teams to average over 500 yards per game, and they were held to a season-low 270 yards against Kentucky. Weather conditions were not the cause of this, if anything, a rainy football game I would think would benefit the conference-leading run offense and run defense. Georgia had just five more first downs and was held to just 4-for-14 on third and fourth downs, which is an outstanding 28% for a Wildcat team that allows the highest completion percentage on third down in the conference coming into this game with 44%.

This Kentucky team found a lot of success on defense and in the run game. Bowden on the ground has a dangerous ability and is tough for defenses. That is the best defense and offense Kentucky will see for the rest of the season, and Bowden should be implemented in the offense because he had 99 yards on 17 carries, which is an average of 5.8 per attempt against the number one run defense in the SEC that allows under three yards per carry on the year. Rose had success as well with nine carries and 37 yards, Rodriguez contributed for some hard yards, but we saw an increase in his snaps due to Kavosiey Smoke’s injury.

Kentucky has four dangerous threats on the ground and could continue to create problems for the upcoming defenses on the ground. I think you still have those in the gameplan even when Sawyer Smith returns as a quarterback, it is a unique change of pace that can throw a defense off. Smith’s return is much needed because Kentucky has thrown just 95 yards in the two games in his absence. I think the offense will be interesting to see against Missouri but should be effective and at full strength after the second bye week of the season. 

Kentucky has the 20th ranked pass defense in the nation and is tied with Ohio State and Kansas State with the fewest touchdown passes allowed with just three, the Wildcats also see more passes per game than those teams. This secondary has been very impressive and the defense showed some success as well. Kentucky managed to hold Georgia to season-low passing yards and total yards. The safety play has improved with four guys in the rotation, and three different corners that have turned into a young, athletic position group with depth for the Wildcats.

Brad White’s young defense continues to grow every week, and they will not see many more dynamic offenses than what they just faced. Eddie Gran’s offense has to improve their ability through the air and get Bowden back to his original position, as his threat as a wideout could be balanced with his running threat in the same game. Kentucky will have to build off of the positives and continue to improve the negatives moving forward, and that will have to happen quickly as they host a Mizzou team coming off of a tough loss to Vanderbilt. We will see how they respond at home after a shutout on the road. 

 
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