What’s Next After Disappointing Mississippi State Game?
The Florida loss was painful. The Mississippi State loss was just plain discouraging.
The game started with some promise as UK’s offense moved the ball quickly into Bulldog territory, only to have the rug swept from under our feet with a horrendous pick six throw by Sawyer Smith. From that play forward, the tone was set on Saturday and UK never seemed to be at full strength again.
I am a self-diagnosed stat junkie, and even after a bad loss, I can’t resist continuing my misery with a statistical breakdown of what went wrong. In particular, the third down stats stood out as alarming to me:
UK was 1 for 12 on third down. It doesn’t matter what else happens. If you only convert one out of twelve third down attempts in an SEC football game, you are going to lose. The average 3rd down attempt was with 8.8 yards to go. Long third down attempts was even a problem against the MAC opponents at the start of the season, and it is something that UK must improve at in order to have a successful season. Sawyer Smith was 2 for 10 for 14 yards on third down in the game. With Keaton Upshaw, Ahmad Wagner, and Lynn Bowden as potential targets, that just doesn’t seem possible. On the flip side, Mississippi State was 6 for 10 on third down and averaged 11.8 yards per attempt.
As with most losses, unfavorable comparisons are abundant on the post-game stat sheet. In general though, I try to remain mostly positive and optimistic about my team (hopefully you forget the post I wrote a few weeks ago that guaranteed ten wins). Kentucky threw up a clunker against Tennessee last year that looked a whole lot worse than this, and if we’re being honest, the Missouri game last season was pretty comparable to this performance, just with a better outcome.
Let’s not assume the wheels are falling off. Outside of Terry Wilson, we’ve still got the same explosive playmakers we started the season with. We’ve seen this coaching staff turn around a slump before, so there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen this time. The situation the Cats are in is not ideal, but a win in South Carolina is very possible and we’ll likely be favored to win 5 of the remaining 7 games after that one. This is still very likely a 7 or 8 win team in Lexington, and the football season has a lot of excitement ahead. To reach 7 or 8 wins, a few things need to happen, and I believe they will.
*Our secondary has to continue improving. Brandin Echols is on his way to playing on Sundays, Yusuf Corker seems comfortable on the field, but the other guys are struggling. They’re just adding experience with every game and I expect constant improvement through the second half of the season.
*We must minimize penalties. The rogue targeting calls, Logan Stenberg’s routine penalties, and ineligible receiver down field add up every week and absolutely kill us. Granted, UK plays with SEC officials on the field, but a lot of the penalties we have had are preventable.
*Sawyer Smith needs some fine-tuning. His arm is excellent, and his feet aren’t bad at all. However, Sawyer continues to make some poor decisions under duress and is reluctant to throw the ball away as oppose to taking a bad sack or slinging the ball into a dangerous spot on the field. Against Mississippi State, I noticed more than once that he seems to have a low level of awareness when the pocket is breaking down around him and trouble is coming from the blindside. If his instinct doesn’t improve, it’ll lead to more turnovers that UK doesn’t need.
*Improve kicking game. This seems unnecessary to even discuss. UK just needs to fix it. I have seen Chance Poore kick 55 yarders in warmups all season, so it’s a mental thing at this point.
*Be aggressive. This really falls on our coaching staff. Rarely will I ever be critical of Stoops and company, but I think all UK fans would agree that we’d rather lose a game that we played aggressively in until the final horn instead of losing games where we set up in prevent defense at the start of the 4th quarter. Remember back to the bowl game against Northwestern when instead of kicking an extra point to tie, Stoops went for two to win it on the spot. UK didn’t get it, lost, and very few UK fans hold that against him. Football is a lot more fun when your team has a “punch first” mentality.
Keep enjoying this era UK fans, we’ve seen a lot worse and we’re going to see a lot better!