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UK offensive woes could be hurting an “improving” defense


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.

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  1. Karen Sprinkle

    If it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all comes to mind as well.

  2. TheProfessor

    Let’s see, is it a defense that can’t win those 3rd down possession plays that keep them on the field and the offense off the field, or is it an offense than can’t win those 3rd down possession plays that puts the defense on the field, and takes the offense out of the game?

    Don’t you just hate these chicken-egg philosophical questions?

    1. RJ

      Defense wins football games. Offense scores points and sells tickets.

  3. Ashley Scoby

    It’s a nasty cycle, let me tell you. Hard to tell where it begins and where it ends.

  4. TheProfessor

    It begins and ends the same way, with players that execute better than the players on teh other side of the line.

    Right now, UK does not have those players, and their opponents do have them.

    Is that Joker’s fault? Is that a fact of Kentucky’s football heritage as a state? Is it the result of some grand cosmic penalty for not recognizing Bear’s Brilliance.

    I have heard all three explanations offered, but the bottom line remains the same for me. If and when UK has had more of the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, the X’s and the O’s have seemed to work, and when UK has not had fewer of the Jim’s and Joe’s, those same X’s and O’s don’t work because the stupid coaches don’t know how to call plays.

    1. larryvaught

      well put Professor

  5. Georgia Blue

    Every team we play i can see where over 90 % know what play we going to run. Our offense is confusing to our players but opposing players know what play we are going to run and that’s sad. Too many excuses from people in charge. I can see where our young quarterback is program to lock on to his primary receiver. You can tell and see where he doesn’t look for the open receiver and that’s coaching. Our playcalling is conservative on both side of the ball. We have alot of Talent that is being wasted because they want turn them lose. We play to soft not aggressive on both side of the ball. I would love to see what type of team. We would have if the coaching staff call more aggressive plays and stop make excuses. Quit playing not to lose and let these players have fun these last 6 games

    1. larryvaught

      GeorgiaBlue, I feel like we don’t let the talent make plays either and that line about playing not to lose is exactly right. Like the philosophy is just to try and keep the game close rather than gambling, taking chances to win and risking a bigger loss. Let these guys get aggressive, take chances and have some fun

  6. john l

    Regardless UK has one of the worst defensive teams in the SEC.And it seems has the same defensive failures year in and year out ranging from terrible defensive backfield play,to getting pushed around on the line of scrimmage,and linebackers being out of postion.Just seems that these situations should be fixed by now.


    I know the most fun I had Saturday was the onside kick. That was an actual aggressive move to win. Other than that I see us playing down to down, in order. 1-2-3-4. How about 1-2-1 or 1-1. Can’t we be aggressive and skip a few downs in between. Oh, that means a play would actually have to be designed then called during the game that would cover 8-10 yards. Our players cover -5 to +3 yards. Never more aggressive than that. I would rather see an interception on a 40 yard pass then 3 plays that accumulate 6 yards and a punt. I really feel Joker nor anyone actually wants the job they have because I would sure as hell do something different. And I heard a lot of stuff last week about how we weren’t experienced but have talent. Really? Where did that shine through in the game. I see mediocre talent on the field making mistakes that lead me to believe the coaching talent on the sideline is subpar at best. Even players with less talent who execute properly will have some productivity. Possibly an occasional first down, or turnover. Right now we have none of that.

  8. Tana

    The Professor makes some excellent points in his post. Some of the other guys have seemed harsh critics, to me, under the current circumstances. Also, those current circumstances relate to the Professor’s post. There’s a higher level of talent within our two youngest classes. Actually, it’s a fact that we had had only TWO healthy quarterbacks to start the game and only ONE after the second guy had gotten to play a little over four minutes and had led a beautiful 80-yare drive down the field, going 5-5 with his passes!!! Reading the thread, I’m wondering how we’re supposed to take all these risks and somehow solve the problem now that we have only ONE healthy quarterback — and, yes, one of those two true freshmen! Goodness, what are these “stupid” (that’s how I’m feeling as I’m reading some of the criticism following a piece in which the writer is speaking of some of the BUM luck that has made it harder on this team and, specicically, its defense!!!) coaches thinking — not coming up with a solution to the problem to which Ashley (and as Karen said in agreement — “If it weren’t for bad luck, they would have no luck at all”).

    Back to Ashley’s piece (and I had thought that it was a good one), indeed, the defense HAS been improving, BUT with the loss of skilled offensive player after offensive player, when the defense stops the opponent, the offense, with its losses, has struggled. Actually, yes, the defense looked as it had gone the wrong direction early against MSU, but as Avery Williamson (whom I so respect) noted, they adjusted well. Late in the second half MSU had gained only 53 yards — and our defense lost three of its four safeties, by the way, both starters and one backup — and it scored only one touchdown in the second half.

    No, such improvement does not take away the pain of the losses to Louisville and WKU nor the reality that we still have only one victory. Yet, the focus of Ashley’s piece had been the reality of the significant injuries on the offensive side of the ball, something that may be detracting from the improvement on the defensive side of the ball. I appreciate how our defense has WORKED HARD to improve and has not given up — so I appreciate Ashley’s piece and Avery’s comments. Too, how I would even love to play Louisville again with our improved defense — and with Maxwell Smith healthy, plus Towles and CoShik Williams, etc. Both Ashley and Karen are so right. Too, regardless of any other elements of discussions, our beloved Wildcats have, indeed, had some BUM LUCK, period. GO CATS! BEAT THOSE HOGS!

  9. Tana

    Larry and others, forget the mess-ups within the previous post! Watching over my little baby grandson and trying to write a post quickly, without proofreading, is NOT a good idea!!!

    Trying again, I say that I agree that talent surely does make a difference, adding that it’s an additional problem, though, that the majority of our team’s talent is within the freshman (mostly true freshmen, by the way) and sophomore classes, and, yes, more mistakes occur with such youth and inexperience. Then a greater problem is that we seem to be running out of bodies at some positions, specifically at the quarterback position. ONE healthy quarterback left — and a true freshman at that — is scary to me. That our offense had shown so much potential under both Maxwell Smith and then Patrick Towles (and Jalen Whitlow has shown some, too, by the way) but is now without Smith for the entire year and perhaps without Towles for the entire season is, again, some BUM LUCK.

    So, again, Ashley’s point that such woes for the offense are perhaps making it more difficult for the defense makes sense to me — and, yes, the defense IS improving, just as Avery Williamson had been saying. Injuries are part of the game, BUT I’m feeling for my team as it has, surely obviously, had more than its fair share of them (and it’s just getting ridiculous, frankly, regardless of how anyone feels about Joker and this staff). Surely every Wildcat fan agrees on that. GO CATS! BEAT THOSE HOGS!

  10. KYWCAT

    I’m not for sure that there may be a direct correlation between player preparation and player injury. What I mean by this is the possibility of insufficient strength training, nutrition, not enough/proper tackling drills etc. This again comes back to a coaching issue.

    I almost have the feeling that after the things Joker and Sanders have said regarding Towels injury it is more a “I told you so” response. Sort of like he is defending the fact that he knows as a coach that Towels for whatever reason was not prepared for the field so this is what you get BBN when you rain down criticism on me and pressure. I’ll do what you want and this is the result. Leave the coaching decisions to me. Anyhow just an observation.

    I have a tendency to believe that maybe younger guys can be more susceptible to injury just due to lack of experience or less time weight training but as a coach of nearly all underclassmen I believe you must know and have to take any extra steps to prevent these injuries.

    1. larryvaught

      KYWCAT, I would hate to think that is what Sanders was meaning, but can see how you might interpret that way. I like what some say that if you run more of a spread game, often you have less injuries. Just wondering if that could be right

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