By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Here is a quote that seems to sum up this past Saturday night’s football games in the SEC.
“When you make the mistakes that we made on the road you’re not gonna win that many football games.”
If you thought that was a quote from Mark Stoops after his team’s 20-14 overtime loss to Texas A&M in College Station you would be right — almost. It was actually Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talking about his No. 8 Auburn team losing to Mississippi State on the road in Starkville 23-9. Also just in case you missed it No. 5 LSU lost to No. 22 Florida at The Swamp in Gainesville. On the road.
I’m sure you see the trend here. Three SEC teams — two of them unranked — played at home on Saturday and took down their highly ranked opponents due to mistakes and lots of them. Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, the Wildcats were one of those highly ranked opponents.
On a night when the Kentucky offense couldn’t seem to do anything right the defense stepped up and played like a team that is 5-0 and ranked No.13 in the country. On the flip side it looked like the offense — along with the coaches on the offensive side of the ball — were unprepared for meeting what appeared to be a mirror image of their own Wildcat defense.
All night long the A&M defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, put pressure on UK quarterback Terry Wilson on every passing opportunity and limited Benny Snell, the best running back in the SEC, to 60 yards on 13 carries.
While the Wildcat offense looked like a chainsaw minus the chain — a lot of noise but no results — the A&M offensive line opened up enough holes for running back Trayveon Williams to rack up 138 yards on 24 carries. It was enough to help the Aggies overcome a stellar effort by a Kentucky defense that was required to play too many snaps due to an inefficient Kentucky offense and their inability to convert on third down.
Terry Wilson and Company could only manage two third down conversions out of thirteen. Those are not winning numbers in the SEC and definitely not on the road. Poor special teams play — a shanked punt at a critical juncture, poor punt coverage and a missed 43-yard field goal in overtime — also came back in the end to cost the Cats what would have been a signature victory on the road in one of the toughest venues to play in in the SEC — College Station.
Even with the mistakes by the Kentucky offense and special teams the defense still played well enough to win the game. With the Wildcat offense appearing to have completely stalled in quicksand in the fourth quarter the defense stepped up and rescued the team. Darius West picked up an A&M fumble and scooted down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14 all. After tying the game the Kentucky offense received the ball back one more time with a little over two minutes left in regulation only to squander that opportunity just as they had done the other four possessions in the second half — all five possessions in the second half ended in a punt.
The overtime period that ensued was no different than the rest of the game. The UK offense received the ball first and proceeded to march backwards after some poor execution by Terry Wilson and poor play calling by Eddie Gran, the offensive coordinator. After quarterback Terry Wilson took a sack on a third down and two play call that had many of the UK faithful scratching their heads kicker Miles Butler was called on to attempt a 43-yard field. Once again poor execution struck as Butler drove the ball right down the middle but hit the crossbar and the ball bounced back onto the field.
After the Cats offense came up empty once again it was only a matter of time — and Aggie execution — before Trayveon Williams took a handoff and hit an open hole into the end zone to score the winning touchdown.
Remember back to that quote by Malzahn. A football team won’t win many games on the road in the SEC if they make critical mistakes. Just like the ones UK did Saturday night against the Aggies. UK proved it. Auburn proved it and LSU proved it.
The only positive side of the loss for UK to a very good Texas A&M team on the road is that it’s not the end of the season. The loss was not due to Kentucky not having enough talent or depth or desire. It’s about not having good enough preparation and execution and fortunately those errors can be fixed.
Now that the media frenzy is over and the Wildcats have fallen back to earth at 5-1 they have a golden opportunity during this upcoming bye week to rest up a little, review some film and get back out on to the practice field to correct mistakes and prepare for the second half of what could still be an historic football season.
But to do that offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is going to have to find a way to kick start this UK offense, special teams coach Dean Hood will need to clean up the kicking game and defensive coordinator Matt House will have to get his guys to continue to work hard and execute at a championship level.
All that can be done and the Wildcats can still be a legitimate threat in the SEC East. But only if they continue to realize that talk is cheap if the results don’t follow and preparation on Sunday through Friday wins football games. Anything less than that will only produce more of what we saw on Saturday night in College Station. And no one wants to see that again.