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Kentucky 5-0 but Mark Stoops has good news: “We can play a lot better.”

Kentucky’s defense forced five turnovers and had a lot to celebrate Saturday. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky’s offense had a brilliant first half and then the defense took over for the Wildcats.

Kentucky built a 24-3 halftime lead and settled for a 24-10 win — its fifth straight over South Carolina and also UK’s fifth straight this season. Kentucky has not been 5-0 since 2007 but the difference here is that UK is also 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

But maybe the best sign about how special this season could be is that Kentucky played far from a perfect game. The offense squandered scoring chances the second half and had 252 of its 328 total yards in the first half when Benny Snell, A.J. Rose and Terry Wilson all had scoring runs. Kentucky had 11 penalties for 115 yards, including a targeting call on linebacker Kash Daniel that got him ejected in the second half and also means he’ll miss the first half of the next game at Texas A&M.

“We expect to play better and there’s a lot of things we can do better and we will,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “I would like to see us finish a little better but I love the way my team started. We really play good on both sides in the first half.”

He should be especially happy with the the defense even thought South Carolina’s offense tried various gimmicks to try and confuse the UK defense.

“I was very happy with the way we got lined up but they did get us a little bit soft at times,” Stoops said. “They were trying to set up a trick play but we covered the eligibles (receivers) fine.”

“We felt focused and prepared for this game and it showed,” linebacker Josh Allen said.

South Carolina finished with 321 yards but the majority came in the second half, including 58 yards when UK cornerback Lonnie Johnson probably should have made the interception but it turned into a touchdown pass. However, UK came up with three interceptions and the defense set the tone immediately when linebacker Jordan Jones made a hit inside the 10-yard line and then recovered the fumble. Allen also forced a fumble, had four tackles for loss, made three sacks and had eight tackles. Darius West had nine tackles and an interception.

“We just hurt ourself in the second half,” Stoops said. “We got a little sloppy. Just things where we had a chance to put it away and didn’t.”

South Carolina loaded the line to stop Snell the second half and he finished with 28 carries for 99 yards — he once was over 100 yards but lost yardage on late carries. Future defenses likely will do the same to make Wilson show he can make plays through the air to beat them. Wilson was 13 of 20 passing for 132 yards and one interception — which came on a long pass on third down and 35.

“We got off the track a little bit in the second half. We started with a great drive in the second half that we didn’t finish,” Stoops said. “We had three great drives in the first half. We just didn’t finish it that way. We had some opportunities and we have to hit some (big plays).”

But a win is a win.

“We didn’t dance or celebrate,” Stoops said.

That’s because No. 17 UK expected to win even if the Las Vegas oddsmakers again had the Cats as an underdog playing at home against a team they had beat four straight years.

Still, Kentucky is 5-0.

“Here is the good news,” Stoops said. “We can play a lot better.”

10 comments

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  1. What a great feeling to be 5-0 as many of us were not sure if we would ever begin to think, let alone feel, that we were a legit and for real team. The first half was some of the best football these eyes have seen at UK but they weren’t able to sustain the 2nd half. What should have ended as a WOW instead ended with a PHEW (or however you spell it. The coaching staff and team must have felt that the game ended at halftime. IMHO this team continues to win in spite of and not because of Gran. The man still sux in my opinion. I didn’t like the way he started the game, ended first half or thought he was executing in the second half. The man shows absolutely NO creativity or deception at all. He is Pure Vanilla, and I wish he could be Extracted. How many times do we have to run Snell up the middle? We have all these assets and yet rarely see Conrad, Bowden, Bouvier or Richardson. What goes thru Gran’s mind, and I am surprised that Stoops isn’t exerting more control over the offense. Let’s hope they can regain their intensity and focus for A&M.

  2. USC made needed adjustments at halftime. It wasn’t UK’s fault that they loaded the box in a successful effort at stopping Benny. They also got a lot of push into the backfield on pass plays. They were the best team UK has played this year. Let’s give them a little credit for what happened on the field. You can’t pass the ball if your QB is under constant pressure. UK’s line certainly can hold it’s own but the team still has essentially an inexperienced QB for this level. He has skills. He will get better.

    I thought they could have ran some more screens to neutralize the line rush. The quick out pass has been figured out by defenses. It’s not nearly as easy to get bick yardage with that play as it was a few years ago. Football is always changing. New wrinkles are met with with new wrinkles to contain them. I saw the triple option become a staple of college football for years until everyone learned how to stop it. What UK needs is the next thing that works.

    I think there should be more designed runs for Wilson. He can be aan effective counter for Snell running the ball. And Benny needs to master the screen pass if he wants to be a pro. So does Wilson for that matter.

    This team still looks very good. They played a tough and physical team tonight and they won by a good margin Mistakes hurt them but mistakes are correctable. They need to get away from the chippy stuff. That kind of thing is poison. It can work but it can backfire too. It worked too well against MSU. It didn’t work well at all against USC. It can hurt you instead of the other team if you don’t have a really good plan. I’ve seen teams do it for long periods. I played on a JV football team that had one guy who wanted to start a fight every game as soon as the game started. We all encouraged him and told him we would back him up. And sure enough he started a fight every time. But instead of backing him up we drove for a touchdown while the other team was thinking about fighting. It worked for weeks until the officials caught on to what we were doing and warned us it had to stop. Being chippy can work but only if you have a good plan.

  3. This was a very physical game. USC stopped the Kentucky offense in it’s tracks the second half and, and only great play by the UK defense in the saved the day. Other teams will load up now too stop Snell. UK has to find a more potent vertical passing game down the stretch, and more offensive balance when their running attack is stopped, and the score is close.

    I do agree USC was the best team UK has faced thus far, however, Florida is starting to click now also. I don’t count them out of the East race yet. UK is 5-0, they are a very physical, hard nosed football team. It is good to see.

    It will be interesting to find out UK’s ranking this week, I think they will climb higher. I also want to see who the experts favor this next Saturday in College Station.

    1. No doubt UK will see the same kind of defense USC played in the second half with everyone in the box trying to stop Benny and to pressure Wilson. The Cats need another option to work in a hurry. Wilson is so quick I’d really like to see UK take advantage of that. But with the all up front defense we saw the improvement really needs to come from screen passes IMO. Counters can be effective to a point but if you have 8 guys in the box it’s going to be hard to run and it’s going to be hard to slow down a pass rush. UK needs to make the passing game work either with screens or slant patterns. Those are the traditional ways to beat a team that loads up in the box. Maybe UK will find that new wrinkle that changes the game. Throwing the ball to Conrad should be a priority too. With short passes being all they can get off because of so many players rushing the QB it should make a slant or a button hook to Conrad almost automatic if Wilson can get the ball off at all.

  4. UK not only can play better, they have played better, and the will play better again this season than they played last night.

    This was UK’s 3rd strongest performance of the 5 games this season. Mississippi State was the strongest to date and CMU the weakest to date. This team is getting stronger week by week, and I expect it to continue to gain strength.

    This morning, UK stands as the 3rd strongest team in the SEC behind Alabama and Georgia, and slightly ahead of LSU. UK continues to close the gap on Georgia, and stands as of this morning about 5 points shy of Georgia on a neutral field. That puts a game at Kroger field within about 2 to 3 points, very winnable.

    I have UK by 9 over TAMU next week, and this team will play for the SEC East championship when Georgia comes to town.

    Yes, Coach Stoops is right, this team can play better than it did last night, and I believe it will.

  5. USC did make their gap adjustments at the half, and we were unable to adjust to those adjustments. Wilson was great with his legs but had some horrible throws downfield and was taking too long releasing the ball. That will probably continue to be his main short coming so why not use Hoak more. It already leaked out last night that King will probably be transferring out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hoak doesn’t do the same thing. Gran’s stubborness and limited play book continues to be our major problem. The old UK returned and played the complete second half, and I hope we can get that corrected. If we had only done 50% in second half what we did in the first, we would have risen higher in the pools, might have impressed a few more recruits that this isn’t the same old UK and maybe even allowed Muschamp to say “this is the best team we have played all year” Maybe someone will wake Gran up this week.

  6. I thought S. Carolina play more physical with us than Miss.St did, that being said there was a lot of talking by the cats on the field that doesn’t win games. To me I think we’re getting a little cocky that needs to be cleaned up before it gets out of control. I been following the cats since early 70’s this team is the most physical team we’ve had that i can recall. I love what this team is doing there fun bunch to watch. Go Cats!

  7. SC did push us around a lot up front but this front is the best I have seen in awhile. However that may not be saying that much because we have been weak there since Stoops got here, and I don’t think they were quite as strong last night as they have been. I am also very pleased that we are covering passes a lot better than the last few years also. If we can just get Gran to come out of his funk. He is getting an increasing reputation for three-and-out.

    1. USC was playing with a lot of pride on the line. UK has a young, very athletic QB, that is growing game by game. I think he gets better at passing the football with more SEC experience. UK continues to win on the back of a potent running game and a great Oline. If that continues there will be no complaints from me. I do agree that Gran had better find ways too throw the football more effectively as teams lineup to stop the run like USC did in the second half Sat night. If not UK will lose. He has to figure that out quick, starting this Sat at A&M, at the Mark Stoops vs Jumbo Fisher show in College Station.

  8. Through 5 games, UK has average 3.8 punts per game. UK’s opponents have averaged 5.6 punts per game this season. Not sure what this business of a reputation for three and out is about.

    This offense has produced at a very high efficiency this season, at an efficiency that is only topped so far this season in the SEC by Georgia and Alabama.

    Don’t know what quality of play would satisfy some.

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