Published September 20, 2011 - 5:14am
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This is a tough week for Kentucky fans. Having to go back to work isn’t easy after Louisville came into Commonwealth Stadium and knocked the Wildcats off 24-17 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. For the third straight week, Joker Phillips’ team gave a disappointing performance.
After dropping the first two passes of the game, Gene McCaskill got to spend the rest of the evening hanging out with his butter-fingered buddy Matt Roark. That was an early indicator that this was going to be a long evening for the Wildcats. Morgan Newton was able to hit Josh Clemons on a 38-yard screen pass that got Kentucky into the red-zone, but the best they could come away with was a field goal and a 3-0 lead. That lead held up until the 2:53 mark in the first quarter when Will Stein hooked up with Andrell Smith for a 38-yard touchdown pass to give Louisville a 7-3 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Stein was shaken up and freshman Teddy Bridgewater stepped in a quarterback. It should have been a chance for Kentucky to key in on the run and dominate the game. In limited action, drives lead by Bridgewater had resulted in negative yardage and a turnover. But Kentucky’s defense swallowed their manhood and allowed the Cardinals to run all over them. Bridgewater was able to connect with DeVante Parker for a 24-yard touchdown pass to make the score 14-3 with a little over a minute to go in the first half.
Just as life was looking it’s bleakest for the Wildcats, Newton and the offense went into the hurry up and was able to march 80 yards downfield and La’Rod King pulled in a 15-yard toss to cut the deficit to 4 going into the half.
That was about all the offense the Wildcats would be able to muster up as they relied heavily on a running game that looked like it was on a treadmill. The legs were moving but they weren’t gaining any ground. Louisville continued to pound the ball on the ground and used a wildcat formation to keep the Cats on their hills. The success the Cardinals had in the running game opened up the field for Bridgewater to complete 10-18 passes and throw for 2 touchdowns and 108 yards in what looked to be a coming out party for the heavily recruited quarterback from Miami.
As the fourth quarter starting drawing to a close, Phillips put Newton and company back into the hurry up offense and manufactured a score late to make it 24-17 with a little less than five minutes remaining. Kentucky’s defense stepped up and forced Louisville to punt with 2:27 remaining. The Wildcats were able to march down to around the Louisville 10-yard line. On 3rd and short, Newton found Demarco Robinson on what would have forced 1st and goal with about 50 seconds to play, but Robins was stripped of the ball and recovered it behind the original line of scrimmage. With 4th and 6 on the 16-yard line, Newton over threw a wide open King and Kentucky turned the ball over on downs. Louisville coach Charlie Strong sent Stein back out onto the field to put the Cards in the victory formation and two kneel downs later, the Governor’s Cup found it’s way back to the Derby City.
It would be easy to leave it at that, but I can’t, so here is the good, the bad and the ugly:
- As he walked off the field after missing La’Rod King on his last pass of the game, Morgan Newton was clearly wearing this loss on his shoulders. After the game, post-game show callers were clearly agreeing with him. But make no mistake, this loss wasn’t Newton’s fault. He was 27-41 with 2 TD’s and 255 yards. He also spread those passes out over 8 different receivers (and it would have been 9 if Gene McCaskill wouldn’t have had a case of the Matt Roark’s). He did all that while running for his life all night long. He was sacked 6 times, raising the season total to 12. Mike Hartline was sacked 14 times all of last season. The same offensive has rendered both of those numbers. I have not been the kindest person to Newton during his time at UK, but I will admit that this season, when we needed a big play, he has made it. He did the same thing on Saturday night when he hit Demarco Robinson on the 3rd and short pass that would have resulted in a first down on the 8 yard line with about 45 seconds to go. Newton did his job, but Robinson put the ball on the ground. Even the deepest of wells run dry and that is what happened to Newton at the end of the game. His magic dust was gone. But even the best quarterback has to have trustworthy receivers and at this point, Newton is still watching audition tapes.
- Junior E.J. Fields was a special teams player coming into Saturday’s game. In his 3 season’s prior, he had redshirted, missed a year with an injury and been a major factor on the scout team. I guess that is pretty good for a guy that never really got a chance. But after a season that has seen more dropped balls than a bingo hall, Fields finally got his chance. And even if it was the result of a process of elimination, Fields impressed everyone in the stands. He caught every catchable pass that was thrown his way. He held onto the ball when he was being hit and pulled down one of the toughest catches I have ever witnessed when Kentucky was facing a punting situation out of their own end zone. It was nice to see him rewarded with a td catch late in the game, but with 7 catches for 57 yards, I expect to see his name at the top of depth chart this weekend.
- Well, the Kentucky offensive line is working a Joe DiMaggio type streak showing up in the bad each week. So I think we will just rename this part of the column after them. This weeks bad award goes to the defense. Yes, the same defense that before the Central Michigan game I said could be one of the best in the country. When a freshman quarterback that has led his team on 2 drives in his career and one of them resulted in an interception and the other resulted in negative yardage, what would you expect the offense to do? The answer is run. They ran on 1st and 10. They ran on 2nd and long. They ran on 3rd and long. They brought in a kick returner to run the wildcat. He ran. Everybody ran. Ironically, Louisville’s 3 TD’s came through the air. The Rick Minter defense that looked so dangerous in the newspapers on the internet looked terrible. Some say it is a lack of talent. Some say it is too predictable and some say that someone actually programmed Steve Brown’s headset to the same frequency as everyone else on the coaching staff. What ever it was, it was bad and this was against a team that had a very inexperienced offensive line and played the majority of the game with a quarterback that has slightly more experience as a college quarter back as I do. This should have been like shooting fish in a bucket but the Wildcat’s looked like a team that brought a knife to a gun fight.
- At the end of the season, I think Kentucky will look back at this loss and say it was their biggest game of the year. With Florida coming to Lexington this weekend and then trips to LSU and South Carolina to kick off October, the Wildcats have a good chance of not winning a game in over a month. Head Coach Joker Phillips is going to have the toughest month of his life. The part of the fan base that he hasn’t already lost, will be gone by the time Kentucky returns to Commonwealth Stadium on October 22nd. I can’t blame this all on Phillips because he certainly didn’t miss any tackles or miss any blocks that allowed the Cardinals to sack Morgan Newton. But the preparation didn’t seem to be there and the team played as flat as I can remember in a game of this magnitude. His counterpart Charlie Strong was in the papers last week telling everyone that Kentucky is the better team. We all know that this was a motivation technique, but for some reason, it seemed like the Wildcats believed it.