Saturday was an 'all systems failure' for a Will Levis-less Kentucky football team against a conference oponent. Needing to execute at a high rate without their future pro quarterback, the Wildcats came up very short. Let's revisit the game.
The First Play
When you're down a starting quarterback and know you need a defensive slugfest to keep the game where you want it, gifting your opponent seven points in the first 15 seconds is not a great idea. Calling a double reverse trick play on the opening play, with a backup quarterback, doesn't strike me as the best call in the world. Rarely do you see Mark Stoops give the green light for a call like that, but obviously the coaching staff felt they would have to do things like that to find points. A bad read by Chris Rodriguez led to a fumble recovery by the Gamecocks, which resulted in a touchdown just one play later. It's fair to say Kentucky never recovered from this.
For the first time this season, the Wildcats had a 100-yard rusher. Sounds like great news, right? It is, but that 100-yard rusher only touched the ball six times in the second half. If the Gamecocks had opened up a sizeable lead on Kentucky at the half, you would understand this philosophy. The halftime score was 7-7. Cole Cubelic also made a great point during the TV broadcast. There was absolutely zero rhythm to the offensive scheme calls. Kentucky has been using the outside zone and pin-and-pull schemes in their run game this year. When one was working, the coaching staff would abandon it and go back to the other. Cubelic noticed this many times throughout the night and the constant change of scheme never allowed the offensive line to find any sort of flow.
I sound like a broken record at this point. Outside of a phenomenal week one performance, the special teams unit has left much to be desired. A missed field goal thanks to a low snap and a blocked punt were two new examples of why this group has been under fire all year. Kentucky's defense came up huge in forcing a fumble following the blocked punt, but the three points that the Wildcats did not get on the field goal were crucial. With those points, it is a one possession game throughout the entire second half and you probably would have seen more of the run game that had been clicking on all cylinders in the first half.
The two most crucial plays of the game came on explosive plays by South Carolina's offense. The first was a 42-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Spencer Rattler to Antwane Wells that broke the 7-7 tie early in the third quarter. Given the struggles on offense, getting back up by seven early in the second half was extremely deflating to the team and the crowd in blue. Late in the fourth quarter, Kentucky needed a stop to keep the game within two possessions. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks pulled off a similar play to what Kentucky tried to do on the opening possession with a 24-yard touchdown run by Jalen Brooks that put the game out of reach for Stoops and company. This run came on the heels of a 45-yard run by MarShawn Lloyd that got the Gamecocks in scoring position. For a team that usually doesn't allow explosive plays, Brad White and the defensive staff have to be disappointed at the crucial mistakes made in the second half.
The SEC schedule doesn't allow for one to hang their head. Kentucky has two consecutive games against top-20 teams in Mississippi State and Tennessee coming up. In order to save the season, the Wildcats have to regroup and get ready to win the remainder of October and what lies ahead following in November.