By ASHLEY SCOBY
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Kentucky football can’t win for losing.”
It’s the theme of the year, and the theme of the program, in many people’s eyes. But it was especially true last night against Mississippi State as yet another UK quarterback went down to an injury – this time, Patrick Towles to an ankle sprain after going 5/6 for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The injury only added to the frustration felt by an offense that was already struggling. With the exception of Towles’ drive for a touchdown, and Whitlow’s touchdown drive later in the game, the offense struggled to move the ball. Whether it was a pass interference call going against the Cats or one of the freshman quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long and taking a huge sack (both did so), it was just one thing after another.
Three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. Short drives by the Cats were plentiful last night; even if there was the occasional first down, it never really went anywhere. The Bulldogs won the time of possession battle, 35:59 to 24:01, putting an already-struggling Kentucky defense in a position to get gassed, and quickly.
It’s a basic concept of football: When the offense can’t move the ball, the defense gets more and more tired, allowing the opposing team to knife them up.
Many who have watched the entire season of Kentucky football would say that the defense would be allowing this many points/yards, even if they didn’t have to be on the field for so long. Obviously, Mississippi State came out on the first drive last night and scored a touchdown. But there are some bright spots on this defense that might be able to shine a little more if they weren’t on the field for so long, gassing themselves out.
Avery Williamson, one of the most talented players on UK’s defense this year, has taken on a leadership role with this team, as many of his predecessors at linebacker have done. And he thinks that the defense has drastically improved this year, and continues to do so, especially at run emphasis and at really understanding what the opposing offense is going to do.
“I feel like we adjusted well (through the course of the game),” Williamson said. “Over the week I just studied a lot and I knew what they (Mississippi State) could do. I was telling the linebackers what it was going to be, like ‘it’s going to be a pass.’ I knew exactly what they were going to do.”
That preparation, as well as the evolution of the younger guys on defense (the Blaylock twins, for example) and the ability to rely heavily on a guy like Williamson could be extremely good for the future of this UK defense. The Bulldogs only scored 27 points, and the game was within 13 points heading into the final quarter of play.
What would it be like to see the improved play of this defense (and another game like Williamson’s last night – 13 tackles and an onside kick recovery) with a better-than-anemic offense? Maybe we saw a flash of it when Towles was throwing five straight completions and then a punt was forced on MSU’s very next possession by the UK defense. Maybe we saw a flash of it when Whitlow led the Cats on his own touchdown drive after Towles’ injury, and then the defense forced yet another MSU punt on the Bulldogs’ next possession.
A whole game of that synchronization, however, is still in the works. As the defense continues to improve, its injuries continue to pile up. Right as the offense starts to hit its stride, someone gets hurt, or the drive stalls.
They just can’t win for losing, after all.