Kentucky football: Grading Week 5 thumping from South Carolina
The last time that Kentucky started SEC play 0-3 was 2013, Mark Stoops’ first season as head coach. That was until Saturday night, when Kentucky fell to 0-3 in league play in 2019, and did so in particularly offensive fashion.
The loss was about the only thing offensive that Kentucky had going in the 24-7 loss to South Carolina that really wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. Kentucky needed a garbage-time touchdown to avoid being shut out. The Wildcats had barely 200 yards of total offense as their five-year winning streak over the Gamecocks ended.
What I Liked
Most Valuable Punter
Look, it’s not a joke — Max Duffy was Kentucky’s best player on Saturday, and it wasn’t close. Duffy averaged 51.1 yards on nine punts, and kicked one into a Carolina player to provide Kentucky’s best scoring chance before the last couple minutes of play. Duffy led the league in punting yardage and net punting yardage coming into the game, and did nothing to hurt his cause.
Boogie on the Pass Rush
Edge rusher Jamar “Boogie” Watson missed some plays, but he also had two sacks of Carolina QB Ryan Hilinksi and was credited with two more pressures. South Carolina was only so-so in the passing game, and Watson had something to do with that.
A new look at QB
After the utter failure of an apparently injured Sawyer Smith at quarterback (11 for 32 passing for 90 yards and an interception), Kentucky finally went to WR Lynn Bowden for the game’s final series at QB. Bowden was just 2 for 2 passing for 7 yards, but he ran for 26 yards during that drive and led Kentucky to its only scoring opportunity. Off the bye week, it’ll be interesting to see how UK handles the quarterback situation.
What I Didn’t Like
Offense, Offense, and more offense
Before Kentucky’s garbage-time touchdown with a wide receiver playing QB, the Wildcats had 128 yards of total offense. Kentucky’s offensive output before that last drive went like this: Interception, punt, stopped on downs, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, stopped on downs, punt, punt, punt. UK has to figure out its QB situation, but also find an offensive identity that was completely missing in this game.
The Gamecocks were not a noted running team, but South Carolina racked up 247 yards on 46 carries against Kentucky, with Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle both reaching 100 rushing yards. Granted, the Wildcats offense did nothing to hold up its end of the bargain, but Kentucky’s perimeter defenders looked like they were on roller skates for large portions of this game.
Poor receiver play
Granted, Smith was off his game, but his receivers frequently did little to help him, dropping open passes, failing to run designated routes and generally leaving a guy playing through more than a little pain out to dry on several occasions. Other than a 26-yard catch by Ahmad Wagner, Kentucky did absolutely nothing down the field in the passing game, and that’s not entirely Smith’s fault.
This was simply an odd game all around. Despite Smith’s apparent injury issues and the struggles in the passing game, Kentucky continued to dial up pass after pass early in the game. Kentucky went with a curious mixture of being tentative and overly aggressive. Even when Smith is right, Kentucky is probably ill-suited to pass 60% of the time … and the past two weeks it has been brutal.
Starting out flat
The tone for the game was set on each team’s first possession. South Carolina took the opening kickoff and marched down the field for an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Kentucky gained one first down and then threw an ugly interception. Frankly, everything seemed to mushroom from there. Kentucky simply wasn’t ready at kickoff, and paid the price throughout the night.