It’s time to hit the alarm, Wildcat faithful.
The program is at DefCon 4, Red Alert, Threat Level Midnight, whatever you want.
What began as a season of promise for the Kentucky Wildcats has now become a season on the brink after a 42-41 overtime collapse to the Ole Miss Rebels Saturday at Kroger Field.
After taking a 28-14 lead in the third quarter, the Kentucky pass defense literally fell apart in the second half, allowing Rebel quarterback Matt Corral to shred the defense time and again for huge chunk completions that led to quick Ole Miss scores. Consider the following stat: in seven quarters of play, Kentucky’s pass defense has allowed 503 yards, six touchdowns, and 37 completions.
To be honest, though, there is plenty of blame to go around for this heartbreaker, and it started with the first offensive play from scrimmage for UK. Running back Asim Rose broke loose for a 72-yard score, but inexplicably began celebrating before reaching the end zone and was caught from behind at the one-yard line. On the next play, Rose fumbled at the goal line and turned the ball over to Ole Miss.
Although the Cats recovered to get back in the game and take a lead due to its strength on the offensive line and the running of quarterback Terry Wilson and running back Christopher Rodriguez, it just felt like something was going to break down somewhere for the Cats.
Enter the Wildcat kicking game.
With the score tied at 28 in the third quarter, Wildcat placekicker Matt Ruffalo came on to attempt a 49-yard field goal. Earlier in the game, Ruffalo doinked an extra-point attempt off the right upright and fortunately made it. This time he wouldn’t be so lucky as he hit the right upright again and missed the try.
After the Rebels drove down the field like a hot knife through butter to go-ahead 35-28, to the Cats credit Wilson and the offense refused to give up, going 12 plays and 75 yards, and scoring on Rodriguez’s second score to knot the game at 35 and forcing OT.
On the first possession, Wilson looked like the signal-caller Cat fans had been clamoring for, marching UK into the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown run to make the score 41-35.
Again, enter the kicking game.
On the extra point attempt, Ruffalo shanked the kick wide right and left the door open for Ole Miss to win on their next possession. They did.
Even if the offense puts up 35 points and 100 yards more in total offense (559-459), UK cannot win an SEC game leaving points on the board and unable to stop an offense that has an idea of completing the forward pass.
The Wildcat secondary, once thought to be a strength, is now a glaring weakness. The UK pass rush has absolutely no time to be effective when they’re unable to get to a quarterback who has a quick release or the ability to scramble. That was proven today.
The next five games could be the demise of the season for the Cats. Next is the Air Raid of Mississippi State, which could throw for more than the 621 yards and 44 points it did in an upset of LSU. Tennessee is rolling along with the conference’s longest win streak, Georgia is, well, Georgia. And Missouri, though 0-2, isn’t going to roll over to the Cats, especially in Columbia. Even the Vanderbilt game is far from a given for UK.
The alarms are ringing, Cats. Can you answer them?
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist from Speedwell, Tenn. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and at A Sea of Blue, KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and HarlanCountySports.com.