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UK football: Back to work now

Kentucky struggled to open holes for Benny Snell Saturday. (Vicky Graff Photo)

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. 

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  1. Good article, but I’m not worried about Auburn or LSU Keith, just UK. Gran’s offense stunk at A&M. Had UK picked up a few more first downs and converted on a few more 3rd downs, that could have made the difference in going to 6-0. Gran has to find a way to pass the football effectively going forward as teams will game plan to stop the UK running game. Going forward now, it gets much tougher. Vandy will come in here thinking they have a chance now. And they do if the UK offense can’t produce any semblance of a passing threat with Wilson under center.

  2. You are absolutely right, LP.
    I was ridiculed on here early in the season for pointing out that this kind of game was likely to happen with the way UK was playing. Running backs are worthless if you can’t open holes and you can’t open holes if you can’t at least be a threat to throw the ball.
    I’m telling you, UK will struggle in every game left on the schedule if they don’t find a passing game that the defense at least has to pay attention to. Many times, even UK’s receivers quit trying to get open, they were just looking to block once they left the line.
    Why in the world Hoak never even got a chance is beyond me. Even Alabama changed qb’s in the National Championship game because they couldn’t run the ball. You never know unless you try.
    To me, Gran proved, without a doubt, he has no confidence in Hoak or Clark, yet he says he can win in the SEC with either one of them. Well, put up or shut up. It will not surprise me one bit, if both of these players leave UK for spring semester. He may even lose some good WRs. Who wants to play wr and just block all the time?

  3. We have got some unbelievable talented individuals on our offense, but they seem to be in a witness protection program. Gran is the cancer on this team and in the clubhouse. He did earn Emmy consideration for a couple of post game comments i.e., 1. I should have gone to Snell more and 2. We over thought some things.

    1. His offense actually got exposed by Carolina in the second half of that game., and only the UK defense saved that from being a loss. Texas A&M was a repeat of how to stop UK’s offense. I never have been a big fan of Eddie Gran. The experts all say he is a good OC. Maybe so, but I just don’t see it. I do hope he proves me wrong as this season unfolds.

      1. For starters, if I was Gran I would start Hoak against Vandy, with Stoops’ blessing. They can always insert Wilson. Do it just to see if there is a pickup in the ability to go down the field with a forward pass and complete some to loosen up the opponent’s defense. Start completing their fair share of forward passes on first and third down, and Snell will get his 100 plus every game.

  4. You guys gotta give credit were its due, Texas AM defense play there hearts out against our offense of line. Quit pointing fingers at Wilson or whom ever I’m not sure if our second string qb would had any success against that defense. Texas AM is darn good football team I like that coach they just hire Jimbo Fisher if I’m correct.

  5. I did, I gave the UK defense credit Cats79, I also said the A&M defense was very good, best UK has faced frankly. So good we all watched as UK struggled to do anything on offense. UK’s offense had a grand total of 8 first downs, to A&M’s 21. UK was 2 -13 in third down efficiency. In other words, they couldn’t move the chains. Of the UK receivers, Baker had 1 reception for 2 yards, Ali had 1 reception for 5 yards, Conrad the TE had 3 receptions for 25 yards , and Bowden scored on a flip and score on a jet sweep for 54 yards, that counted as a forward pass. UK did have one great pass play called back on a holding penalty. So, the UK offense produced a whooping 178 yards of total offense. On TOP, A&M had the football 35 min. to UK’s 25 min. No wonder they lost. The defense was on the field far to long. UK coaches better get their offense in gear quick. With all that, UK still should have won the game IMO.

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