Thanks to a solid day defensively and a near perfect day on special teams, Kentucky made enough plays on offense to defeat upset minded Southern Miss 24-17 in Hattiesburg.
This fearless prognosticator felt like the Cats would win by 14 and probably would have if not for a fumble inside the Cats 10 in the first half. But oh well, I’m just happy with the road win in a tough environment.
Let’s take a look at all three facets of the Kentucky performance and grade them, shall we?
The Cats offense sputtered for the most part all day. The run game didn’t produce the big plays of a year ago, but there wasn’t the speed aspect to it like last year with Boom Williams. And other than a couple of big passes to tight end CJ Conrad, there wasn’t any big plays made from the receiving corps. QB Stephen Johnson was steady all day but not spectacular, RB Benny Snell ran hard as usual, but the offensive line really struggled up front with the Golden Eagles. They must get back to their 2016 form if the Cats are to do any type of damage like last year.
The Cats D saved the day. They were for the most part consistent tackling and containing USM star back Ito Smith. However, the secondary struggled to make plays when they needed to. UK’s front seven did a terrific job getting pressure up front and making key plays when UK had to have it. A lot of bright spots.
Special Teams: A
Gosh, how much difference a year makes. The Cats special teams were awesome. Punter Matthew Panton pinned the Golden Eagles deep in their territory all day. Austin Macginnis was his usual steady self. And the Cats tackled and made plays. Great job.
Overall, the Cats looked like a team in Week 1; good in spots, struggling in others. The offense will improve, I think. The key is the offensive line improving across the board. The defense is well ahead of where it was last year at this time. Special team play is better than it ever has been. Teams can win with great defense and awesome special teams, but to make the next step the Cats have to put all three together.
But I’d rather be 1-0 than 0-1. Just saying.
The Cats return to action Saturday at the Big Supermarket (i.e. Kroger Field) against in-state opponent Eastern Kentucky. EKU will come to play, but Kentucky has too much firepower in this one. This writer is going Cats by 25.
Shane Shackleford is a retired coach and teacher who resides in Speedwell, TN. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, follow him online on Facebook @ShaneShackleford, or on Twitter @shack_daddy_1.