Grading Kentucky's tough loss at Auburn
For one drive, it all worked perfectly. Kentucky forced an Auburn punt to open Saturday’s game and marched 93 yards in 11 plays. Terry Wilson was resourceful on 3rd downs, the running backs found creases, and given an opportunity, Kentucky pushed it into the end zone. After that, not so much.
Kentucky outgained Auburn 384-324, outrushed them 145-91, converted 12 of 19 3rd down attempts … and scored 13 points in a 29-13 loss that disheartened much of Big Blue Nation. While there’s plenty here to build on, it’s a discouraging loss for a Kentucky program that had hoped to demonstrate a significant step forward to open the 2020 season.
What we liked
Kentucky’s offensive line was fairly solid. While 145 rushing yards isn’t a ton, it’s more than 9/13ths of Auburn’s 2019 opponents managed. Meanwhile, Auburn’s ground game was held to 91 yards, with a long play of 13 yards. Kentucky managed to pull off several short-yardage stops that further demonstrated that the edge UK hopes to see in line play might be there for most of the 2020 season.
The senior receiver did look a bit rusty at times after spending most of last season in the Lynn Bowden Wing T that Kentucky ran to perfection. But with the forward pass once again seen from UK, Ali grabbed 9 passes for 98 yards. He will likely pass his 23 catches from last season by around Week 3. Perhaps his most impressive grab was a 4th-quarter play that saw an Auburn defender grabbing at his unraveling T-shirt as Ali tore down the field.
Sophomore running back Kavosiey Smoke gave the ‘Cats an early 7-0 lead with a 35-yard burst off tackle. While he split carries with senior A.J. Rose and sophomore Chris Rodriguez, Smoke had a solid game with 62 rushing yards on 7 carries. He also caught a pair of passes out of the backfield. While carries may be hard to come by in the crowded UK backfield, Smoke did nothing against Auburn to hurt his standing.
What we didn’t like
QB Terry Wilson made his first appearance since having his leg shattered in Week 2 of the 2019 season. While the numbers look solid (24-for-37 passing, 239 yards, 13 carries for 42 yards), Wilson’s decision-making was suspect on several key plays. Twice early in the game, after Auburn had clearly jumped offsides, Wilson chucked a 2-yard safety valve pass instead of using the free play to go deep. His goal-line interception to end the first half was an absolute debacle of a play. And his 4th-quarter fumble basically ended UK’s comeback chances. Another confusing move was when Kentucky went for 2 to try to pull into a 15-15 tie and Wilson, seeing no one open, floated a pass through the back of the end zone. Those 2 points certainly could’ve changed things! Wilson’s mobility was fine, and his arm looked good. His decision-making frequently did not.
Kentucky’s secondary put in a statistically outstanding 2019 campaign. That said, they didn’t face a ton of top quarterbacks. Suddenly, 2020 looks much more treacherous. UK (especially ace transfer CB Kelvin Joseph) had trouble with speedy Seth Williams, whose 2 touchdown catches were heartbreakers for UK. Given that Ole Miss and Mississippi State lurk next on the schedule, this is a problem Kentucky has to address sooner rather than later.
Wilson’s ghastly near pick-6 would have never happened had the SEC crew not mangled a Chris Rodriguez touchdown two plays before into a non-touchdown. We have no real idea how Rodriguez’s touchdown wasn’t recognized, as his entire torso cleared the goal line and his knee did not touch down. Admittedly, missed calls happen and how teams (don’t) respond can be key … but this was a hole Kentucky shouldn’t have been in.
A filthy fake
UK punter Max Duffy not only is the defending Ray Guy winner, he’s generally possessed of very solid football judgment (especially so for an Aussie who didn’t exactly grow up playing the game). His botched 4th-quarter fake punt (which handed Auburn another TD) is one exception to this usually brilliant work. Given his 75-yard boot earlier, Duffy’s actual kicking was still quite sound.