SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Cats Unable To Take Down Dawgs For SEC East Title
I’m sure many of you either play or have played video games. If you have, you know the frustration of trying to reach a new, higher level on that game after spending a lot of time at the current level you have been on.
If you can remember that, you now know how the Kentucky Wildcats feel.
The Wildcats found out that even though their program has grown by leaps and bounds over the six years that coach Mark Stoops has been in Lexington, there still is a little ways to go before the Cats can enter into elite level status in the SEC, losing to No. 6 Georgia 34-17 Saturday afternoon at Kroger Field.
Make no mistake though. The No. 9 Cats fought for 60 minutes but just couldn’t muster enough juice to topple the newly crowned SEC Eastern Division champions.
The Dawgs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) beat the Cats (7-2, 5-2 SEC) at their own game by controlling the line of scrimmage, rushing the ball effectively, and containing the run on defense.
Even though it still smarts from losing, let’s discuss the Wildcats’ performance against Georgia.
OFFENSE (C): I think if we were all honest with each other, we kind of figured that the Cat offense might struggle against the Georgia defense. For most of the day they did. The powerful Cat rushing offense was held to a quiet 84 yards. UK star running back Benny Snell Jr. was held to 73 yards on 20 carries. In the process, Snell became the first Cat back to score three 1,000 rushing seasons in school history. Snell’s march through history continues. Snell became the third player in SEC history to have 1,000 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs in each of his first three seasons, joining Georgia’s Herschel Walker (1980-82) and Darren McFadden (2005-07) of Arkansas. Snell’s 3,432 career rushing yards, remaining in second place in UK history, behind only UK legend Sonny Collins. Snell also moves into the top 20 rushers in SEC history, currently ranking No. 20. Snell moved into second place in UK career rushing attempts with 647 carries.
Quarterback Terry Wilson was solid today, going 23/29 for 226 yards and a touchdown to back AJ Rose. Though much maligned recently, Wilson answered his critics in a big way. Consider:
Wilson completed 79.3 percent of his passes, the highest percentage for a UK quarterback with at least 25 attempts since Patrick Towles vs. Missouri in 2015.
Wilson has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in consecutive SEC games, the first UK player to do so since Mike Hartline in 2010.
Wilson’s completion percentage was a UK quarterback’s best completion percentage against a Top 10 team since Mike Hartline vs. Auburn in 2010.
Wilson has five SEC games with at least 65 percent completions, first UK quarterback to do so since Andre’ Woodson in 2006.
So for all you folks hollering to replace Terry Wilson at quarterback, the stats say hush. Other offensive stats of note for the Cats include…
Sophomore wide receiver Lynn Bowden led the Wildcats’ pass receiving with six catches for 52 yards. After catching 13 passes last week, he has 19 in the last two games, best for a UK receiver in a two-game stretch since Matt Roark had 20 catches vs. Mississippi State and Ole Miss in 2011.
Senior wide receiver Dorian Baker had one catch tonight. He has 99 career receptions, needs one to become the 16th player in school history with 100 catches.
Sophomore running back A.J. Rose caught four passes for 59 yards, all career highs, including a 31-yard catch-and-run for his first collegiate receiving TD.
So all told, all wasn’t lost against UGA’s vaunted defense. Kentucky just struggled early to answer any Georgia drive in a way to give their defense a needed blow. Once UGA started clicking on offense and the UK offense couldn’t, it became a long night for the defense that had carried the day for so long this season.
DEFENSE (C): This grade is by far the lowest score the UK defense has earned from me all season. Again though, this grade isn’t based on effort. It’s based on execution. The Cats struggled mightily on simply making tackles in the open field and containing the end on the line of scrimmage. In the Cats' defense, the Dawgs didn’t make it easy for the UK defenders as backs Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift gashed the Wildcat defense for 117 and 157 yards, respectively. All told, Georgia had a monstrous night rushing, going for 331 yards on 50 carries. By allowing 34 points today, it was the most points Kentucky has allowed this season.
However, this is the first time since the 1993 season that the Cats have allowed 34 points or less in each of the first nine games. Kentucky has allowed 138 points this season, fewest in the first nine games of a season since 1987 (136). The Cats also allowed 444 yards of total offense today, easily the most yards Kentucky has allowed this season. But this is the first time since 1989 that UK has allowed 444 yards or less in the first nine games. On the bright side, UK only allowed 113 yards passing tonight, fewest against a Top 10-ranked team since Alabama in 2008.
Individually, what more can you say about Josh Allen? The All-American rush end continues to cement his status as the best defensive player in college football by going for three tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries. The two recoveries are the first of his career. Allen achieved this despite being the center of attention of the UGA offensive line all night, constantly going against double teams. There were also some bright spots from other defensive players, including:
Senior safety Mike Edwards leading the UK defensive effort with 11 tackles, his first double-figure game of the season and 10th of his career. Edwards is seven tackles from 300 stops in his career.
Sophomore safety Davonte Robinson having a career-high nine tackles, including a two-yard tackle for loss.
Senior linebacker Jordan Jones contributing nine tackles, including one-half tackle for loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B): To be honest, the Cats were simply quiet and steady in the special teams game. After giving up a long punt return, UK decided that punter Max Duffy would go back to his Australian football days and use the rugby kick to contain Georgia, which for the most part he did. On the night, Duffy had four punts for a 48.5 average. Kicker Chance Poore made both points after attempts and a 34-yard field goal, so he’s going to be a weapon for the rest of the year. Bowden also led the Cats with 88 all-purpose yards.
Alright BBN, time to exhale. Kentucky won’t be winning the SEC East this year. But the good news is although we aren’t an elite SEC club yet, we are much closer than we have ever been. The Cats fought with everything they had, it just wasn’t enough. I believe the Cats needed a test to see where the pipes might leak, and Georgia showed where the leaks were. The good news is everything is fixable and there is no doubt Stoops and his staff will go about making the necessary corrections. As a coach, I firmly believed that you can teach a lot more from a loss than a win. Again, I wanted to win badly, but there is a lot of teachable moments UK can take advantage of and grow from.
Next up for the Wildcats is a business trip to Knoxville to face the 4-5 Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols are coming off an ugly 14-3 win over Charlotte where they averaged less than a yard per carry against the 49ers. There is no question that the Cats' magical season is in no way derailed, but they have to get back to taking care of business and continuing to “level up” each day. I believe they will.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist from Speedwell, Tenn. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, his website Coach Shack’s Corner at www.coachshack50/wixsite.com/coachshackscorner, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.