SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Defense Nearly Gets Failing Grade for UK's Heartbreaking Shootout Against Ol
I love western movies, and I assume most people do. My favorite part is, of course, the big shootout scene. The law and the outlaws let the lead fly, and more often than not the good guys come out with the win against the bad guys.
Shootouts in college football, though, have the possibility of the bad guys (in this case, the opponents) firing the last shot and defeating the good guys (your team.)
If you’re a Kentucky fan, the Ole Miss Rebels (4-5, 2-4 SEC) fired the last shot and took down the homestanding Wildcats 37-34 Saturday in Kroger Field. The Rebels went 71 yards in 14 plays in the 4th quarter to win the game, the final blow being a seven-yard TD pass with five seconds left that dropped Kentucky (6-3, 3-3 SEC) out of contention for the SEC East Division championship. A tough loss for UK indeed.
But in any good western, there are specific events that lead up to the great shootout scene. This game was no exception.
Let’s grade the Wildcats performance Saturday evening.
It’s hard to argue with the Wildcat offense. In the first half, Kentucky strung together 43 plays for 266 yards and 20 points. The Cats had a decent balance of run and pass and Wildcat playmakers were doing just that, making plays. Heck, the Cats' first drive of the third quarter was a five-play, 80-yard masterpiece, giving the Cats a 27-17 lead. Then, just like western towns, Kentucky went dry. Bone dry. The next four possessions were 12 plays for 14 yards and four punts. UK was able to bounce back in the 4th quarter and put together a great 95-yard drive in 12 plays to give the Cats a 34-30 lead with 2:14 to play. If you’re a Wildcat fan, you feel pretty good, right? Well, the shootout wasn’t over with…
The Cats defense simply wasn’t good again. The Cats gave up 473 yards, 382 by way of the passing game. The Rebels were held to 91 yards rushing, which is a good thing for the Cats considering the way they have been ran against the last few games. But the 382 simply isn’t good enough. The secondary, who many felt was a strength of the entire team coming into this season, is getting torched. No other way to put it. The back end of the defense are giving up either chunk yardage plays over the top in man coverage or 8-10 yards a catch in soft zone coverage. That’s a bad combination to overcome.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Once again, Kentucky’s special teams were rock solid. Kicker Austin MacGinnis made both of his field goals and four extra points. Punter Matt Panton punted four times for a 43-yard average. Freshman sensation Lynn Bowden Jr. had 108 yards worth of kick returns. You have no idea what a luxury it is knowing the Cats have this good of a special teams game. On the other hand, you probably do.
Overall, it’s the same old story in many ways. It seems like when UK’s offense really gets rolling at all, the defense is giving up exactly what the Cats have scored. Considering the razor close edge these Cats have played with so far to reach six victories, you have to think something has to give. Thirty-four points in a college football game should be enough to win. But something has to give with the Cats' pass defense. Three hundred eight two yards of passing simply isn’t good enough. It’s simply too hard to play that close with every team the Cats play.
Up next is Vanderbilt in Nashville in a huge game for the Cats and Commodores. Vandy comes in off a 31-17 win over Western Kentucky, giving the ‘Dores four wins on the season. They will be hungry for that fifth win Saturday and will show up ready to fight for it. The question is will the Cats show up in the Vandy corral ready to fight? I think they will. Look for another shootout in Nashville.
Shane Shackleford is a retired teacher and coach residing in Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact Shane via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook at Shane Shackleford, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.