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Wounded UK QB leads to “dominating performance” by South Carolina and lot of questions for Cats

Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith got sacked three times and hit a lot more in Saturday night’s loss. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Give South Carolina coach Will Muschamp credit for having no trouble summing up his team’s 24-7 win over Kentucky.

He simply called it a “dominating performance” by his team and that probably was an understatement. The Gamecocks brought a 1-3 record into the game and many felt a loss might result in Muschamp getting fired. However, South Carolina drove 75 yards to score on the game’s opening drive and never let up.

Kentucky started Sawyer Smith at quarterback for the third straight game and he was clearly far less than 100 percent from the start. He hurt his wrist against Florida after in his first start and then dinged his shoulder in his second start against Mississippi State. He was sacked three times and harassed all night. He finished 11 of 32 passing for only 90 yards before coach Mark Stoops mercifully took him out on UK’s final series receiver turned quarterback Lynn Bowden led UK on its only scoring drive.

“He was clearly not there,” UK Radio Network’s Tom Leach said about Smith after the game. “Accuracy was not there and several times him and his receivers were not on the same page.

“South Carolina came in believing UK had a wounded quarterback and was going to suffocate the run and short pass and Kentucky couldn’t counter punch. They desperately need to regroup and find something offensively they can be good at.”

Say amen UK fans. Kentucky had 212 total yards but 84 came on that final drive that was basically meaningless. South Carolina had 387 yards. Kentucky was 2-for-15 on third-down conversions.

Kentucky is now 0-3 since starting quarterback Terry Wilson went down in game two with a season-ending knee injury. The last nine quarters UK has been outscored 71-20, including the 19-0 blitz by Florida in the fourth quarter that started this downward slide.

Kentucky fans are frustrated — and the coaches better be, too. Coach Mark Stoops chastised UK fans after the loss at Mississippi State for seeming to panic. He’s got to know that’s going to ratchet up a 1,000 percent this week as fans have a lot of questions.

— Why leave Smith in the game so long when he obviously was hurting?

Stoops wouldn’t deny that Smith was not himself.

“I appreciate him and what he is trying to do. He has two injuries. He is giving us everything he has,” Stoops said. “He did not have the zip on the ball tonight. We were trying to do everything we could and probably could have gone to the option with Lynn sooner. It wasn’t all Sawyer.”

No it wasn’t all Sawyer Smith’s fault but how many injuries does it take for Stoops to pull him out? What he was giving his game just wasn’t enough because he was not physically able to do any better?

Stoops said he considered going to Bowden sooner and would work even more with him now. He also said the coaches had confidence in backup quarterback Walker Wood even though he did not play.

“I don’t want people to think we have don’t have faith and confidence in Walker. He is doing the best he can,” Stoops said.

Not sure about you, but that’s not a ringing endorsement of Wood for me

— What happened to the UK tackling? For the second straight week, the Cats allowed an opponent to have two 100-yard rushers. And this was a South Carolina team that had struggled to run the ball this season.

“It was awful,” former UK defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon, who worked on the UK Radio Network for this game, said about UK’s tackling. “To see two runners go for 100 yards is disappointing. But the way they did it. They were running through players. Just taking a guess I imagine 120 of those yards had to be after contact. Missouri held these guys to a combined 24 yards (rushing).”

— How did UK come out looking so lackadaisical to start a game for the second straight week?
Stoops said last week’s practice emphasized getting off to a better start. That certainly didn’t happen.

“They were more desperate than us,” UK linebacker Boogie Watson, who had two sacks, said. “Second week in a row a team was more desperate than us. We got to figure out why.”

But get what else he said on the postgame radio show.

“I hate to say it but as a defense we always let that first blow motivate us and it kind of wakes us up as a defense. That (opening scoring drive) woke us up and kind of got us going,” Watson said.
God bless him for his honesty but why does it take giving up a touchdown drive for a defense to wake up?

And how did Kentucky not once, but twice, only have nine men on the field on defense in the final three minutes of the first half? That’s inexcusable for both the coaching staff and players. Again, makes me wonder where the team’s focus was for this game.

“We didn’t play our best. There are no excuses,” Stoops said. “I like our team. I have no doubt we will hit the reset button, stick together and fight our way out of this.”

Maybe he’s right. However, fighting out of this is not going to be easy because to win in the SEC you have to generate offense and the last nine quarters Kentucky just has not done that.

12 comments

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  1. Welcome back UK football…back to the future. 2019 bowling probably not going to happen. Why would any parent want to send their son to play under this coaching staff? We really deserved the shutout. I am surprised that Stoops can motivate himself to get out of bed in the morning because he can’t motivate anyone else. He looks totally emotionless and lost out there during the game except for a few grimaces on calls he thinks were wrong. Game plan….we apparently had none…what a shock. Gran has got to be “hands down” the most incompetent OC in the SEC. Total team collapse with exception of Max Duffy. At least Wood warmed up enough to put on his helmet….speaking of helmets…they were our only bright spot of the game. How could we all have been so misled by the preseason ratings and expectations of this team?

  2. Playing Sawyer as long as he did was a huge mistake and brings into question Stoops’ judgment and his ability to adapt during the game. Gran has to take a big chunk of the blame here too. Arkansas is a must win game now and its safe to assume that Sawyer will not be available…or should not be available. What happened to our run defense???? The whole team seams to be falling apart and Stoops is going to have to find a way get them back on track. Conventional game planning is out the window until Sawyer is healthy, but we have not shown the ability to adapt and get creative. We had better get good at that quick or this is going to be a long season.

  3. Still do not understand the play calls. Need 3 yards for a first down, and throw it deep after not passing at all, when run was going well. Kept running up the middle when game was winnable early. Need 9 yards for a first down, and throw it 6 yards. I just am not a fan of Gran’s play calling this year or last year. Benny bailed him out so many times last year. It would help if we could tackle, and not give them extra yards after contact and missed tackles. We were out coached in every phrase. Very disappointed with this showing!!!!!

  4. Again I really think losing Terry Wilson and the loss to Florida took lot of air out of this team. Stoops needs to do some shake up on the offensive side and do some better play calling. The QB situation is prettys obvious I would put next man up.

    1. There must not be any next man up…….now wait….I forgot..they did tell Wood to put on his helmet, Wonder if Hinshaw feels any guilt cashing his checks. I did take in the post game show and comments and when you look at and listen to Stoops/Gran do you really see anyone that is capable of leading and motivating these men? This teams looks and plays like these two. There is no emotion or energy there. Did this team ever show the mindset of a team that was prepared to fight and win at kickoff? Stoops says they need to reset and get back to the basics, The O can’t block and open the holes, the receivers can’t get any separation, and the D can’t cover passes, put sustained pressure on the QB until game is already decided, and they can’t tackle. Where is the coaching?, where is the game plan? where is the execution? and where are the co-captains of the cheer leading squad (Pup and Hornet). Watch them try and spin this! This team as is currently constituted and sans any divine intervention will be good for 5 wins max.

      1. Why Mike, you sound so pleased and happy. Man you can beat on your chest and tell us how right you were. Right Mike?

        1. But of course….you were the one that was delusional…apology accepted.

          1. UK lost their starting QB too, Insert Terry Wilson, and things might be different today. Then they get the backup hurt too. That don’t happen often, if ever, but this is UK football we are talking about. But of course you were always critical of TW too, every chance you got. The season is not over. I knew when Hoak transferred it spelled trouble. I say we wait until after the Louisville game to write this team off. They can still go 9-3. That is the way I look at it.

  5. This team is rudderless without a viable, healthy QB. Look at the game by game ANE Values, and it is clear that even after Terry Wilson went down against Florida, Smith was still healthy and viable, but when Smith was injured against MSU, and still playing injured against USC UK does not have an offensive leader. The offense is shutting down.

    The decline in ANE over the last 2 games is due to offensive woes not defensive woes. Here are the raw and adjusted efficiencies game by game. Against MSU, UK got ½ of a game from Smith before his injury, and the drop in offensive efficiency was not as dramatic as last night when UK played the entire game without a viable QB. On the defensive side of the ball, the performance has been very steady, and serviceable, and last night’s defensive performance overall was the best of the season.

    The problem is entirely on the offensive side, and it is nearly all wrapped up in having no healthy, viable QB.

    Lynn Bowden may be the only option available for QB right now, but his passing skill is not close to SEC level, so the offense would have to suddenly find a powerful running game, which has been dependent upon a passing game sufficient to keep the defenses honest. Maybe Stoops and Gran can get this redshirt freshman to a level that he can help, but I think if they believed in this kid at all, he would have played last night.

    Looking for anything positive, this team has a bye week before it plays Arkansas. 100% focus must be on finding out if this team has a healthy viable QB for the last 7 games.

    The loss of Wilson hurt this team’s offense immensely, but the injuries to Smith has been fatal to this offense.

    My forecast now stands at 7-5, but look at what is happening. The UL game is now very much in play whereas 2 weeks ago, that was a solid projected W, and if the slippage trend we have been watching continues, it is not hard to imagine Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt coming into play.

    8 or more wins are now off the table, and a scenario with only 3 wins is at least debatable.

    1. My post should have included the following information but I forgot to add the links.

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  6. I apologize for posting in the thread after I had already done so on this topic, but my mind is in overload over what I think we all watched last night. I cannot shake it and I am trying to reconcile what I saw relative to Sawyer Smith presence in that game.

    I have read sustained criticism in recent years about this coaching staff’s failure to adequately prepare the backup QB in advance of a need materializing, and corollary to that criticism is the observation that this staff seems to have trouble keeping the QBs they do recruit because so many have transferred. Many of the critics connect these two situations with the argument that QB X and Y never had a chance to play and decided to leave.

    As I have posted many times, I defer to the judgment of the coaching staff on personnel decisions, and I still believe the coaches know their players better than anyone, and those same coaches are paid to win which should mean their decision making is based on a need to win.

    I believe the current QB situation seems to be completely consistent with these criticisms about preparing the QBs on the team to really be “next man up” when the call comes, and based on recent years, the call comes to the back up QB for most teams in most seasons. I don’t recall now, but wasn’t the QB for either Toledo or EMU a backup for an injured QB? I know we saw Florida lose its QB lending rise to the “next man up” and he was prepared. Mississippi State’s QB was the “next man up” and he was prepared. South Carolina’s QB last night is the “next man up” this season, and he was prepared. That would make 3 or 4 of UK’s first 5 opponents played part or all of our game with a QB that was not their QB1 at the beginning of the season (Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and I think either Toledo or Eastern Michigan).

    Our current QB is our “next man up” and frankly, he rose to the occasion and was prepared when he got the call, but then he got injured, and UK must dig to find another “next man up” in the same season, and it is now abundantly clear that our “next man up” at this time IS NOT PREPARED. That is the only explanation for playing Sawyer Smith last night when he could not possibly deliver the football to any receiver at any position on the field in a reliable and repeatable manner. When Sawyer Smith, with his current injuries, is the better option than the “next man up” I must sadly conclude that UK may not have another “next man up” at the QB position.

    That is not fair to Sawyer Smith, the other players on the team, or the BBN.

  7. Don’t you love how Stoops and Gran always “have confidence” in the backup QBs until it comes time to actually let them play. They said this for 3 years with Hoak sitting on the bench. No wonder Hoak left; he knew the QB would have to be carried off the field before he got to see it. And even then, I don’t think Hinshaw ever had him prepared.
    Clark saw the writing on the wall and the way Hoak was treated, so he hit the road as soon as he could.
    I would never want to be a backup QB under Gran and Hinshaw because that is all you will ever be. When it comes your time, they will go out and recruit a Junior College player to put ahead of you; instead of preparing you to take the reins.
    You don’t learn football talking about it and watching video. You learn with on the field experience. The talking a video are to help you correct what you did wrong.

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