SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Cats Ride Dominant Defense to Victory Over South Carolina
There’s an old sport saying that goes something like this: “Offense sells tickets, defense win championships.”
After last Saturday night’s 24-10 throttling of South Carolina, I think it’s safe to assume the Cats have bought into this classic mindset.
The Wildcats rode an historic performance from All-American candidate Josh Allen and a 21-0 second quarter barrage to propel Kentucky to 5-0 on the season and 3-0 in SEC play. UK forced the Cocks into four turnovers and limited USC signal caller Jake Bentley’s ability to make big plays for his club for most of the night.
Without further ado, let’s examine the most recent Wildcat performance, shall we?
OFFENSE: (B) The Wildcat offense was a tale of two halves. In the first, the Cats were simply scintillating. The run game led by Benny Snell Jr. (99 yards), AJ Rose (44 yards), and Terry Wilson (59 yards) and the Wildcat offensive line imposed their will upon the SC defense, averaging nearly seven yards per carry in the half. Wilson also was effective in the passing game, especially in the play action sets that were set up by UK’s rushing dominance. Other than an interception late in the second half, Wilson was very good throwing the ball. The sophomore signal caller went 13-20 for 132 yards for the contest. Seven Wildcat receivers caught passes, led by Lynn Bowden Jr. with four.
In the second half, however, Kentucky offense became stagnant and somewhat disjointed due to penalties and getting involved with South Carolina’s efforts to try and match UK’s physicality. UK didn’t quit by any means, but for the Cats to maintain this newly achieved level of success and beyond, UK must continue to stay focused on the task at hand and not what is going on around them. I think this will be corrected over the next several days by coach Mark Stoops and staff.
DEFENSE: (A) The Wildcat defense started hot and stayed that way all night long. The defense opened up with a forced fumble and recovery by linebacker Jordan Jones and stayed in the SC backfield for most of the night. All-American candidate Josh Allen was magnificent, tallying eight tackles, three sacks, and four tackles for losses. Allen’s play absolutely harassed Gamecock QB Jake Bentley into many hurries and, most importantly, three interceptions. The picks, made by UK defensive backs Darius West, Mike Edwards, and Derrick Baity Jr., each came when it seemed the South Carolina offense was gaining traction.
Kentucky’s front seven as a unit played very well. The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all night and was huge in getting the Cats off the field on third down. Even great defenses get worn out if they are on the field for extended periods, especially if they can’t get stops on third down. Kentucky did a wonderful job of closing out Carolina’s offensive possessions all game, especially when the Cat offense had its’ second half struggles.
The Cat defense did suffer a loss when sophomore linebacker Kash Daniel was ejected for a targeting call in the second half. Due to this, the Wildcats will be without him for the first half of the Texas A&M contest. However, Jordan Jones slid over to Daniel’s spot and played well which was huge for UK.
SPECIAL TEAMS: (B) I was disappointed with the Cats' kicking game. Kicker Miles Butler was only 1-3 on field goals, missing two very makeable attempts. Kickers have to convert inside the red zone because those missed points can come back to haunt their clubs. Thankfully this wasn’t the case Saturday night.
The punting game was again a bright spot with punter Max Duffy averaging 47.5 yards per punt on four kicks. His kicks helped to force the field once again for the Cat defense to do its damage.
I am also very pleased that the Cats didn’t hurt themselves badly with special teams' penalties.
Conversely, Carolina killed themselves with bad penalties on punt and kick returns. The flags took away at least three nice returns that could have helped the Cocks to get back in the contest.
Even though the Cats seemed to have an uneven performance, the bottom line is Kentucky is 5-0 and 3-0 in the SEC. That’s awfully fun to say. The Cats are now No. 13 in the country. That’s mind blowing to say. But Kentucky has to come down again in a hurry as a travel date to College Station to play Texas A&M next Saturday. The Aggies are 3-2, but their losses are to Alabama and Clemson.
Coach Jimbo Fisher is building a good team and will pose a formidable challenge to Kentucky, especially on the road. How will the Cats respond? My guess is they will hold on to what they know about old sports sayings about offense and defense.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports writer from Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact him by email at email@example.com, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.