5 things Kentucky must do to bounce back against Ole Miss
Week 1 was a deflating experience for Kentucky. So much for UK as the David to Auburn’s Goliath. Sure, it was a 15-13 game minutes into the 4th quarter. That went by the wayside after a poor quarter from left Kentucky on the short end of a 29-13 count.
This weekend, Kentucky desperately needs to beat visiting Ole Miss to avoid slumping to the bottom of the SEC. How might they do that? Here are 5 things they need to do …
1. Avoid turnovers
In 14th place in the SEC in turnover margin, it’s the Kentucky Wildcats. Two of UK’s turnovers were deep in the Auburn red zone. Had the Cats simply backed off and made chip-shot field goals instead of pushing into danger, Saturday’s game might have ended very differently.
Frankly, much of this burden lies with Terry Wilson, whose first turnover was a back-breaker of an interception that cost the Cats a touchdown (they were on the 6-inch line) and should have cost them 2 (Auburn did return it for a pick-6 that was lost due to a targeting foul behind the play). His second, a 4th-quarter fumble, gave Auburn a short field that the Tigers turned into a touchdown to make a 2-score game.
Kentucky simply has to get more out of their possessions, particularly in the opposing red zone.
2. Push the rushing advantage
Kentucky outgained Auburn on the ground 145-91 but seemed content to try to play catch-up with Wilson passes. Worse still, Wilson gained 37 yards on 13 1st-down pass attempts. If the net gain is under 3 yards per pay, why not push Kentucky’s ground advantage instead? Kavosiey Smoke’s 7 carries for 62 yards line is practically screaming for 15-20 carries.
3. Play the pass better
Kentucky was 11th in pass efficiency defense in Week 1 (right below the LSU team that allowed 623 passing yards) and also had just 1 QB sack, tying for 12th in that category.
That won’t fly against Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, who led the SEC in pass efficiency in Week 1 while posting 443 yards against Florida.
Considering that Florida hadn’t allowed 600 yards of offense since 2014 before doing just that against the Rebels in Week 1, Kentucky obviously understands it’s facing a potent offense. The Rebels did allow 4 sacks and threw an interception against Florida … but if Kentucky CB Kelvin Joseph can’t do a better job on Elijah Moore than he did on Seth Williams, it could be a long, long afternoon for the UK defense.
4. Show situational awareness
Much of Kentucky’s opening game jitters manifested themselves in just not looking prepared. Auburn’s 2-point conversion came from Kentucky falling asleep after the first AU touchdown.
Similarly, when Kentucky tried for 2 to try to tie the game, Wilson, seeing no open receiver, threw the ball away. Why? Taking a shot at a receiver could yield a positive play. Throwing the ball away simply couldn’t.
Likewise, Wilson failed to take a downfield shot on 2 early offsides penalties, inside throwing check-down passes for short yardage when he had every incentive to get creative.
Kentucky can’t afford to miss opportunities due to a lack of situational awareness, particularly against an Ole Miss team that scored 35 against Florida.
5. Talk less, play more
With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton, Kentucky needs to at least take half of the advice of Aaron Burr, who tells the hero to “talk less, smile more.”
Kentucky’s need for confidence seemed to manifest itself in players consistently talking smack at their Auburn foes, just before unleashing particularly disastrous plays (Wilson and Joseph both jump to mind, but they had plenty of company).
Kentucky has benefitted from a Benny Snell-like chip on its shoulder. When that chip manifests itself into outworking and outplaying opponents, that’s fine and well. When it becomes empty talk, well, that’s not going to help much of anything, except opponents’ winning percentages.