For four quarters, the Kentucky Wildcats were a walking, breathing defensive monster on the plains of Texas. The Cats held the high powered Texas A&M offense at bay with the hopes that the Cat offense would catch up to the defense and allow UK to claim a historic victory.
Alas, victory wasn’t to be as the Wildcats lost their first game of the season Saturday night 20-14 in a matchup highlighted by two superior defensive units that didn’t allow either offense to have much success until the Aggies broke through for two late scores to seal the deal.
With that in mind, let’s assess the Kentucky performance in defeat, shall we?
OFFENSE (D): This grade might be generous. The only thing that kept this score from an F is the Cats did produce a 54-yard TD pass from Terry Wilson to Lynn Bowden in the first quarter to give Kentucky a quick 7-0 lead, its only lead of the game. Other than that, the Cats didn’t produce anything that resembled an offense.
To be honest, there is a lot of blame to be shared for UK's rough night with the ball. The Cats were hamstrung by poor play, penalties at bad times, and questionable play calling. Wilson, UK’s sophomore signal caller, struggled mightily throwing the ball, passing for 108 yards on 13 for 20 passing. Wilson seemed to struggle the most when the Aggies cut off his scrambling and designed runs, and forced him to stay in the pocket and throw. The results were missed receivers and forcing the Cats into a one-trick pony with their running game.
Speaking of the running game, where was Benny Snell at tonight? You know, the Heisman Trophy candidate. Snell was a non-factor in College Station, only running the ball 13 times for a ultra quiet 60 yards. Asim Rose, whom offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said he needed to get the ball more, had 8 yards on three carries. What gives?
To be frank, it goes back to play calling. There was no rhyme or reason to Gran’s offensive schemes tonight. The power run game which largely helped forge the new Kentucky person behind the running of Snell and Rose, the wheels of Wilson, and a mammoth offensive line was simply non-existent.
The poor play calling was highlighted in overtime. During UK possession, the Cats had the ball on third down. With two yards to get, Gran originally had the Cat in their “Wildcat” package with Snell as the running back/quarterback. Instead of running the play, the Cats call timeout and Gran calls a play that causes Wilson to take a sack and force kicker Miles Butler to miss a 43-yard field goal attempt on fourth down. Not good.
Look, I’ve been a coach at every level but college and pro. I know how hard it is to call plays with games hanging in the balance. It’s tough and you won’t please everyone. I get that. But the fact remains that your best offensive player (Snell) didn’t have the ball most of the night and especially with the game on the line. That truly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
DEFENSE (A): The Cats gave a tremendous performance on defense Saturday night. They made plays when they had to and, most importantly, held their ground all night long. In years past, the Cat defense would wilt under this game’s type of pressure due to their lack of toughness and depth. Those days are no more.
Led by their own All-American in linebacker Josh Allen, Kentucky held firm for four quarters, the Aggies scoring on two TD passes (one on a tipped ball an A&M receiver ran under.)
Individually, defensive back Darius West had a big game for UK with 10 tackles, an interception, and a fumble return for 40 yards. Safety Mike Edwards came up big as well with nine tackles (three for loss). For the night, the Cats had four sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS (C-): The Cats' kicking game is a weakness. Even though kicker Miles Butler missed his only attempt, you get the feeling UK is very uncomfortable using the field goal as an option for points anywhere over 40 yards. However, the Cats have a heralded freshman kicker with a big leg in Chance Poore. Could he be an answer to the problem? Punter Max Duffy did his job all night long, flipping the field several times and pinning the Aggies deep in their own territory. On the night, Duffy punted 10 times for a 48.7 yard average.
Ok BBN, you can exhale now. The Cats are 5-1. If anyone told you that right now UK would be 5-1, ranked in the country, and their only loss would be at Texas A&M in overtime, you’d be plum excited. So still be excited. Yes, it’s a tough loss. Yes, there are questions about the game, but that’s why I trust coach Mark Stoops and his staff. They’re smart guys and they will get things lined out. I have no doubt.
Kentucky has a bye week this week which will help the Cats who are banged up heal and let everyone catch their breath. Next up for UK is Vanderbilt. The Commodores always play the Cats tough, so the bye comes in a good spot. Can the Cats get back on track? I think so.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports writer from Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact him by email @email@example.com, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.