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Guest post: Have the Cats really turned that proverbial corner?

By RICHARD CHEEKS

Prior to this season, I reviewed the history of UK’s football program’s efficiency from the 2011 season through the 2015 season with an eye toward placing goals for the 2016 season into context. As a matter of review:

 

Year

Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE)

2011

-0.098

2012

-0.260

2013

0.224

2014

0.982

2015

0.768

Based on this history, I projected the ANE for the 2016 season would be about 0.620 points per possession. Based on this projected ANE, I surmised that the UK team would win 4 or 5 games. To win the long stated minimum goal of 6 wins and bowl eligibility, I opined that this team needed to improve to an ANE of about 1.500 ppp.

A similar analysis of the Southern Mississippi history indicated that UK would have to show significant improvement from the 2015 results (and even more significant improvement from the 2016-projected efficiency) to get a win in week 1. Based on this observation, it seemed clear at that time that UK’s ability to get to the 6-win level probably hinged on the outcome of that opening game of the 2016 season. If the Cats show the levels of improvement to get that first win, then it would probably be able to get another 5, and perhaps more than 5 wins required to gain bowl eligibility. However, if the Cats lose the opener to Southern Mississippi, their ability to find 6 wins from the remainder of their schedule seems very unlikely.

As we all recall, the Cats lost to Southern Mississippi, did not show up to play in week 2 at Florida in an embarrassing 7-45 loss, and risked losing to a weak New Mexico State team in week 3 before pulling out a victory without their starting QB and despite allowing NMSU to score 42 points. The UK football team was reeling after 3 weeks with a 1-2 record. Some observed that the Cats’ defense was so pathetic that it may not be able to stop a high school team. After 3 weeks, the UK ANE stood at a -0.248 ppp. The hopes and dreams of a Mark Stoops’ led football revival were on life support. The offensive efficiency was about 2.69 ppp but the defensive efficiency was an embarrassing 2.93 ppp as compared to the aforementioned 2016 efficiency goals of 3.2 ppp and 1.7 ppp respectively.

When Coach Stoops arrived in Lexington he carried a huge pedigree as a defensive coach, having served as Defensive Coordinator at Florida State. Yet, here is his fourth UK team with a defense that can’t stop anybody on the playing field. In the aftermath of game 3, Coach Stoops proclaimed that he would be taking a more active role in the defense. His hand on the defensive side produced immediate results. In game 4, the Cats’ defense posted a game adjusted defensive efficiency of 0.71 ppp. Against a mighty Alabama offense, the UK defensive adjusted efficiency was 1.50 ppp. Against Vanderbilt, the improvements seemed to consolidate at 0.82 ppp. On Saturday night, the defensive efficiency climbed to 2.54 ppp.

If the initial 2.69 ppp offensive efficiency from games 1 through 3 were sustained, the improvement on the defensive side of the ball would have provided an ANE for the last 4 games of about 1.30 ppp. However, the loss of Drew Barker and the use of JUCO QB Stephen Johnson produced a decline of the offensive efficiency from the 2.69 ppp of the first 3 games to an average of only 2.38 ppp over the last 4 games. However, with a bye week to work on Stephen Johnson’s passing game, the Cats’ offense performed at a very high level against Mississippi State in game 7. Of course, the offense’s performance was tarnished by the two Johnson fumbles that gave MSU 14 easy points, but MSU returned the favor for an easy 7 points for the Cats on a pick 6.

However, the Cats won 3 of the last 4 games despite the offensive efficiency slippage because the defensive improvements were sufficient to yield an ANE for the last four games of 0.990 ppp. This is the highest level of performance by any Stoops’ led UK football in 4 season to date. However, it still falls short of the 2016 goal for this team.

Moving forward, the Cats will play at Missouri (1.429 ppp) next week and host Georgia (0.991 ppp) the following week. The quality of play posted over the last 4 weeks should be sufficient for the Cats to beat Georgia at CWS in two weeks in a game that may be very close, like last night’s game against Mississippi State. However, if the Cats can regain offensive efficiency as hinted by last night’s game while maintaining their gains on the defensive side of the ball, the Cats could manage a rare SEC road win at Missouri and beat Georgia in two weeks.

I am not saying 6 wins are assured because this UK team has not yet elevated its game to a level to justify that level of confidence. I am saying that this team has an opportunity to take two more giant strides toward SEC competitiveness. The Cats have not yet turned that proverbial corner, but they are sitting at the intersection, poised to make that critical turn.

7 comments

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  1. UKFMLY

    You don’t have to say it Prof but I wil. Although there is nothing assured in sports I say they will beat Mizzu on the road Saturday and when they do I am going to buy my Liberty Bowl tickets.

  2. TheProfessor

    I sure hope you are right!

    This is the “turn the corner” moment, in my opinion!

    1. UKFMLY

      I can’t disagree Prof. But I am hoping that “turn the corner” moment was a 51 yard field goal with no time on the clock. I am hoping that moment was the catalyst that ignites their flame and desire for success and leads me to some good ole Memphis bar b que.

    2. TheProfessor

      You may be right, and IF the Cats get this win, and when all the dust settles, many people may look back on this season and pick the field goal as that critical moment. However, my view is that the corner has not been turned until this team gets bowl eligible, and it is not there yet.

      I believe that it needs either to beat Missouri or Georgia to get that done, and my fear is if this team fails to complete the deal this week, it may not be able to finish the job against UGA. That is why I see this game as THE ONE for the Stoops Era.

      If this program fails to get to bowl eligibility this season, the fallout will be substantial. We have already seen glimpses of that earlier this season. If it does it by only beating Georgia, it still turns the corner. However, it had to get the win last week simply to get to the corner turning opportunity.

      1. UKFMLY

        I hear you Prof. As a Kentucky fan we are sometimes conditioned to expect the worst. I bet 88% watching last weeks game expected a missed field goal. Me included. But my heart says they will win this Saturday so I’m going with my heart. 🙂

        1. UKFMLY

          Numbers actually matter but sometimes it’s just going with your heart. Reserved hotel in Memphis but holding our on buying tickets. These Cats have a chance to do more and I for one believe it will happen. Cats will go 2-2 over last four games ant the very worst.

  3. Norman Einstein

    I appreciate all the stats but believe we’ve turned the corner. This team has learned how to win instead of the historical UK standard of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

    GO CATS !!!!!

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