Kentucky football: What we liked, didn't like from Kentucky's loss to South Carolina
The band Modest Mouse had an album in 2004 called More Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
They weren’t talking about Kentucky football, but on Saturday night they could have been.
Without an injured Will Levis, Kentucky’s playoff (cue Jim Mora — “PLAYOFFS?”) hopes are long gone, as are its hopes of remaining in the upper echelon of the SEC after a 10-win season in 2021.
Here’s what was good and bad from the No. 13 Wildcats’ 24-14 home loss to the Gamecocks.
What we liked
1. The linebackers
Kentucky’s team strength remains its linebackers and, even with Jacquez Jones out with an injury, that remained true. DeAndre Square, Jordan Wright and D’Eryk Jackson each posted at least 6 tackles and at least 1.5 tackles for loss.
The defense forced a pair of turnovers and kept the Wildcats in the game well into the 4th quarter — and the linebackers were key to that effort.
2. Chris Rodriguez
In his 2nd game back, the senior running back had 126 rushing yards on 22 carries. That’s 5.7 yards per carry. Kentucky’s other 43 plays netted just 171 yards.
Had the Wildcats simply lined Rodriguez up in the Wildcat and told him to run forward 40 to 45 times, the outcome might well have been more competitive than Saturday’s result. If Kentucky can avail itself of some weapons to go with Rodriguez, his production might be even more impressive.
3. Jutahn McClain
Kentucky’s reserve running back didn’t see a ton of time, but he was productive as well with 3 rushes for 19 yards and a 10-yard touchdown grab.
Kentucky’s running backs kind of paralleled the linebackers — they were the class of their side of the football and did plenty to keep the Wildcats competitive.
What we didn’t like
1. The offensive line
South Carolina had 4 sacks coming into the game. In 5 total games. The Gamecocks had 6 in Lexington.
Even with Rodriguez picking up 5.7 yards per carry, Kentucky’s offensive line could not put together any consistent play. It was massive tackles for loss or false-start penalties or just general inconsistency.
Kaiya Sheron didn’t have a banner game in his 1st start at quarterback, but the offensive line didn’t do much to help him. Or anybody else, for that matter.
2. The offensive scheme
From a woebegone 1st play that coughed up the football to South Carolina on the Kentucky 2-yard line to a perplexing possession to open the 2nd half with 3 consecutive pass calls (and a pair of sacks), it wasn’t 1st-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s best night.
Admittedly, with a porous offensive line, a tentative quarterback and inconsistent playmakers, Bill Walsh probably couldn’t have done much better. But that first play …
3. Special teams woes
If there was anything Kentucky didn’t need, it was to give up yardage and points on special teams. And with a missed field goal, a blocked punt and a ho-hum punting game, that was exactly what happened.
When Levis was throwing the ball up and down the field, a couple of kicking issues against Florida or Ole Miss kind of slipped under the radar.
But with every yard and point suddenly harder to come by, Kentucky really needs clean play from its special-teams units. But it hasn’t had much of it yet.