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UK Football: Working The Puzzle

Stephen Johnson (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

How many of you are pleased with the 2-0 start by the University of Kentucky Football team? Most hands are raised. Now, how many of you are pleased with the way the Wildcats have looked in winning those games? Not many hands. If you are in that second group and you didn’t raise your hand let’s look at the reasons why.

In a season that has been promoted as a “breakthrough” year for UK – with some analysts picking UK as a team to potentially challenge for leadership in the SEC East – the Wildcats haven’t yet passed the eye test. There have been high points in each game. Long kickoff returns, punts downed inside the five yard line, key takeaways at critical times in the game along with excellent pass completions to CJ Conrad – the tight end – and a couple of long pass plays to wide receiver Blake Bone. All of those are positives and have looked good. Other positives are the defensive line stepping up to help shutdown the opponent’s run game by holding each team to less than 60 yards rushing per game.

That in itself is something to get excited about after watching last year’s defensive line get consistently gashed by most opponents. UK’s linebacker play has been very good but the defensive backs have been inconsistent in their coverage and have given up too many big plays. Even with the inconsistencies on both offense and defense UK’s turnover margin is plus four which helps explain why the team has won both games while not playing consistently good football.

So what does that tell us after two games against non-conference foes that are probably better than the logo on their helmets would indicate? It seems to say this team has a lot of very good pieces that don’t seem to fit together well yet to make a complete puzzle.

Pieces like Stephen Johnson at quarterback and Benny Snell at running back don’t seem to be meshing yet with the “mix and match” group of offensive lineman that have played each week. Other important pieces of the puzzle on offense – the wide receivers- haven’t really established a “go-to” guy although several receivers have made nice individual plays.

It’s the same on defense. Critical puzzle pieces like Denzil Ware and Josh Allen have been as good as advertised and fit nicely into the puzzle but the defensive backs seem to still be looking for consistency. Once they find it they should fit nicely into the scheme. Linebackers have been solid on defense and as they continue to grow together they should be a strength of this team. That would be another important piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

Unfortunately – like working a jigsaw puzzle – it takes time to find all the correct pieces and it doesn’t look like much while it is in process. Most people that work jigsaw puzzles put the easiest pieces – the outside edges – together first. That provides a good foundation for completing the puzzle. The same process seems to be occurring with the Kentucky Football Team. Easy pieces like Stephen Johnson and Benny Snell along with Denzil Ware and Josh Allen are providing a good “outside edge”. Now the rest of the pieces need to fall into place as they develop and gain a little more experience.

Like most jigsaw puzzles this team has a lot of pieces that don’t look like much just sitting out by themselves. But once they come together they could form a beautiful picture. Maybe a picture of a football team that achieves what most UK fans are expecting – a bowl game and an opportunity to compete for the SEC Eastern Division title. Neither of which would be very likely if this team had started 0-2 like last season.


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  1. If Gran and Schlarman get their acts together and get their heads out of their hind quarters, we could have a good shot to win this game.

  2. Johnson at QB seems to find a way to get it done but I still have a worry with stiffer competition. But clearly this is his team. Secondary seems to be lacking in fundamentals. They are either playing scared or they don’t have it in them to challenge the receivers. Very worrying considering what we are facing in the SEC. School is still out on this team.

  3. Mike, Give the coaches a chance this year. UK is 2-0

  4. What this team has needed was one more year of eligibility for John Toth. In the Eastern game, bad snaps stopped at least two drives, and threw off the timing of several other plays. This will probably get fixed as the season goes on. One question that I have, where is Drake Jackson?

  5. Larry…..Let’s be honest here. You have to play more soft ball than I do .I am still not totally sold on Stoops being a long term HC in the SEC Gran and Schlarman have not improved their agendas or production since last year. Gran’s play calling has been atrocious and there is no reason for Schlarman’s troops being this discombulated after all the experience the 8 lor 9 lineman got last year.

  6. If UK can win this one, they will turn some heads. They will have to play much better than they have in the first two.

  7. Mike, They lost two players, including Toth, to graduation in the line. Another one, Mosier, is hurt and out for year. Three more — Young, Stallings and Haynes — have various injuries. That’s six of the top eight from last year either gone or not 100 percent. It just takes time. Remember, at this time last year a lot of folks — probably including you — were calling for Stoops, Gran, Schlarman to all be fired and they got it going
    Give them some time is all I am saying

  8. This program under Stoops is steadily, and measurably improving. It has improved in each of the prior 4 seasons from the previous season, and while the offense is having some hiccups at the start, the defensive improvement has been very significant over a year ago. In addition, the special teams are improved from a year ago.

    I believe this game, like nearly every SEC game this season, will be decided by less than a touch down either way. Therefore, turnovers and drive killing penalties are likely to play into the final outcome.

    As for the opening two opponents, Southern Miss is a quality program and team, and EKU has a long, rich football heritage. The EKU roster is full of major conference talent that moved from their initial school for a variety of reasons, and playing against a major conference opponent like EKU did against UK last week is a chance for these players to make a huge point about their football ability.

    We will all learn what this team is about during the next two Saturday evenings. Split these games, and it is game on. Win the both, and it is top 20 time. Lose them both, and the dreams and hopes of a special season are probably going to end.

    At that point, the coaches will be fair game for supporters and critics alike. Until then, I believe it best to bide time.

  9. Agree that the next 2 games will probably define the season.

  10. I hate it when people are crying wolf over two games. There’s still 10 games to be play to get better and they will. That’s why the games are play to make progress as the season goes along. Just set back and enjoy the ride while we got it. Stop all the crying and critical comments. Go Cats!!!

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