By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
How many of you are pleased with the 2-0 start by the University of Kentucky Football team? Most hands are raised. Now, how many of you are pleased with the way the Wildcats have looked in winning those games? Not many hands. If you are in that second group and you didn’t raise your hand let’s look at the reasons why.
In a season that has been promoted as a “breakthrough” year for UK – with some analysts picking UK as a team to potentially challenge for leadership in the SEC East – the Wildcats haven’t yet passed the eye test. There have been high points in each game. Long kickoff returns, punts downed inside the five yard line, key takeaways at critical times in the game along with excellent pass completions to CJ Conrad – the tight end – and a couple of long pass plays to wide receiver Blake Bone. All of those are positives and have looked good. Other positives are the defensive line stepping up to help shutdown the opponent’s run game by holding each team to less than 60 yards rushing per game.
That in itself is something to get excited about after watching last year’s defensive line get consistently gashed by most opponents. UK’s linebacker play has been very good but the defensive backs have been inconsistent in their coverage and have given up too many big plays. Even with the inconsistencies on both offense and defense UK’s turnover margin is plus four which helps explain why the team has won both games while not playing consistently good football.
So what does that tell us after two games against non-conference foes that are probably better than the logo on their helmets would indicate? It seems to say this team has a lot of very good pieces that don’t seem to fit together well yet to make a complete puzzle.
Pieces like Stephen Johnson at quarterback and Benny Snell at running back don’t seem to be meshing yet with the “mix and match” group of offensive lineman that have played each week. Other important pieces of the puzzle on offense – the wide receivers- haven’t really established a “go-to” guy although several receivers have made nice individual plays.
It’s the same on defense. Critical puzzle pieces like Denzil Ware and Josh Allen have been as good as advertised and fit nicely into the puzzle but the defensive backs seem to still be looking for consistency. Once they find it they should fit nicely into the scheme. Linebackers have been solid on defense and as they continue to grow together they should be a strength of this team. That would be another important piece of the puzzle to fall into place.
Unfortunately – like working a jigsaw puzzle – it takes time to find all the correct pieces and it doesn’t look like much while it is in process. Most people that work jigsaw puzzles put the easiest pieces – the outside edges – together first. That provides a good foundation for completing the puzzle. The same process seems to be occurring with the Kentucky Football Team. Easy pieces like Stephen Johnson and Benny Snell along with Denzil Ware and Josh Allen are providing a good “outside edge”. Now the rest of the pieces need to fall into place as they develop and gain a little more experience.
Like most jigsaw puzzles this team has a lot of pieces that don’t look like much just sitting out by themselves. But once they come together they could form a beautiful picture. Maybe a picture of a football team that achieves what most UK fans are expecting – a bowl game and an opportunity to compete for the SEC Eastern Division title. Neither of which would be very likely if this team had started 0-2 like last season.