At some point the Kentucky Wildcats figure to put a whole game together. Through their first two games of the 2015 season, they’ve proven they can light it up in the first half where they’ve scored 48 of their 66 points. Once the Wildcats come back on the field after halftime, it’s a totally different story. Potential blowout wins against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Carolina have turned into white knuckle affairs in the second half. Kentucky had to score a touchdown with 57 seconds to go after blowing a 24-7 halftime lead and a 34-10 lead late in the third quarter to beat Louisiana Lafayette. Against South Carolina, the Wildcats also led 24-7 at the half but needed a late game interception to stave off a South Carolina rally for a 26-22 win.
In the third quarter against Louisiana-Lafayette, the Wildcats managed only 20 yards. Against South Carolina, Kentucky had only 22 yards in the second half until they put a 9-play, 46-yard dive that ate up the final 4:32 after the interception.
So what’s the problem? Is it the adjustments the other teams make in the second half that stymie Kentucky or is it simply a matter of inadequate depth? The answer is probably somewhere in between, but it’s a problem the Wildcats know they need to solve before Florida (2-0, 0-0) comes to town Saturday night.
This is the game that Kentucky has had circled on the calendar ever since last season when the Wildcats lost to Florida in overtime in Gainesville. Kentucky fans still believe the SEC zebra crew let the Gators get away with a delay of game on the Jeff Driskel to Demarcus Robinson touchdown pass that tied the score and sent the game to a second overtime. With the incentive of last year’s controversial near miss and 28 years of frustration – the last time the Wildcats beat the Gators Ronald Reagan was president and Crocodile Dundee was the #1 movie at the box office – the Commonwealth Stadium crowd will be a zoo Saturday night. Kentucky is a better football team than the one that lost 36-30 to the Gators in double overtime in Gainesville and nothing would prove that better than the first win over Florida since 1986.
Florida, meanwhile, hopes to prove that Kentucky isn’t the only team that’s gotten better in one year.
For the Gators to come away with a win, it will start with the defense preventing Kentucky from getting off to another fast start. Kentucky runs an offensive system that originated with Hal Mumme. Coordinator Shannon Dawson is a Mumme protégé by way of West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who coached for Mumme at Valdosta State and then refined his craft under Mike Leach, who was also part of that Valdosta State staff. The passing game relies on quick, short passes to set up the running game. So far this season, the Wildcats’ first half success has had a lot to do with establishing the run early behind Stanley “Boom” Williams (averaging10 yards per carry) and DeLand native JoJo Kemp (7.1 running mostly out of wildcat formations). When the Cats need a hammer they bring in Mikel Horton, a 235-pound bruiser who excels between the tackles. Kentucky’s offense is quite similar to the one the Gators saw last week against East Carolina. Count ECU coach Ruffin McNeill as another disciple of the Mumme-Leach-Holgorsen offensive system.
The Gators were able to make ECU one-dimensional last week, holding the Pirates to -13 yards on the ground. It’s imperative that the Gators do the same thing against Kentucky, which goes one-back, four wide better than 50% of the time. When the Wildcats get to the line of scrimmage, Florida’s secondary is going to be out on islands spread across the field like a picket fence. Stopping UK quarterback Patrick Towles and those talented receivers cold in their tracks is a difficult challenge but the secondary is the strength of the Florida defense. Should the Gators take the run out of the Kentucky equation, the chances of leaving Lexington with a 3-0 record and adding a 29th notch on the UF-UK rivalry belt will be vastly improved.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC
ALABAMA (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Nick Saban won’t say who’s going to start at quarterback against Ole Miss – Jacob Coker or Cooper Bateman. Coker played the first half against Middle Tennessee and Bateman played the second. Saban said they both “need to play better” at his Monday press conference.
ARKANSAS (1-1, 0-0 SEC): A week ago, Bret Bielema said, “Ohio State’s #1 and they have one game remaining on their schedule that has anybody ranked right now – Michigan State. We’re going to play eight straight opponents that are ranked.” Three days later the Razorbacks were beaten 16-12 by unranked Toledo. Monday, Bielema was walking things back, saying, “It’s not a conference loss” and then comparing what happened to the Razorbacks with a loss Kansas State suffered to Marshall back when he was an assistant coach.
AUBURN (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Backup corner Josh Hosley has a torn ACL and is done for the season … Defensive end Carl Lawson (hip flexor) remains day-to-day ... Gus Malzahn elevated Peyton Barber (240 yards in two games) to the #1 running back over Roc Thomas and injured Jovon Robinson, still trying to recover from a sprained ankle suffered in game one against Louisville.
GEORGIA (2-0, 1-0 SEC): Mark Richt says look no further than the head coach for the reason why the Georgia offense has been so conservative, particularly last week against Vandy. Richt said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has wanted to open up the offense more but he’s been overruled. “Some of the things, if there was kind of – like the decision to run the ball three times deep in our territory and not throw it, that was my decision. He honored what I wanted to get done at that time. I was trying to chew up as much time as possible and hope we knock it out of there.”
KENTUCKY (2-0, 1-0 SEC): Mark Stoops says the Wildcats aren’t afraid of the Gators. “We know we can play with Florida,” Stoops said Monday. “I said it a year ago. I just felt like we were getting better and had some opportunities. This year, again, we have respect for Florida, obviously – they’ve been a great program for a long time – but we really just concentrate on ourselves and let’s get better and let’s do the work and let’s prepare to go win the game.” …The Kentucky defense will be bolstered by the return from injury of Jason Hatcher at outside linebacker. He had 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss a year ago.
LSU (1-0, 1-0 SEC): Freshman defensive end Isaiah Washington (broken hand) will be able to play this week. Last week the Tigers played Mississippi State with only three defensive ends … Les Miles plans to continue a 3-man rotation at the guard positions with Maea Teuhoma, Will Clapp and Josh Boutte splitting time.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-1, 0-1 SEC): Saturday’s game against D1AA Northwestern State is a get well game for the Bulldogs, who are looking to get their running game in gear after struggling against Southern Miss then getting stuffed by LSU. The Bulldogs are averaging only 124 yards per game, 13th in the SEC.
MISSOURI (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Although he played last week after a high ankle sprain in week one, running back Russell Hansbrough remains day-to-day. He left last week’s Arkansas State game after the first series of the second half after dinging his ankle … New defensive coordinator Barry Odom is the talk of the town after his defense has given up only 180 total passing yards in two games.
OLE MISS (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Center/guard Robert Conyers (sprained ankle) is expected to play against Alabama. Corner Tee Shepard will miss the first half because of a targeting call against Fresno State … While noting that the Rebels will have their hands full stopping Bama running back Derrick Henry (6 TDs in two games), Hugh Freeze says he’s even more impressed by the defense. “They are as talented as I have ever seen,” Freeze said. “They are as deep and talented as you can imagine. They have had some really good defensive squads and this is as talented as I have ever seen one.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-1, 0-1 SEC): This is likely the week freshman QB Lorenzo Nunez finally sees the field. With Perry Orth now the #1 after Connor Mitch’s injury, Nunez is now listed as the #2 … South Carolina’s struggling defense (11th in the SEC) no only has to figure out how to stop Nick Chubb (309 rushing yards in two game; 10 straight 100-yard games) Saturday but the Gamecocks will have to play a second straight game without starting corner Chris Lammons (knee).
TENNESSEE (1-1, 0-0 SEC): After taking responsibility for the Vols’ overtime loss to Oklahoma, Butch Jones stated, “I refuse to allow any negativity to creep in or around our football program. We have way too much positive going on and we have to get some things corrected.” … Jones has gotten a lot of heat for running Alvin Kamara on third and goal at the one on the Vols first possession, then kicking a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down after Kamara was stuffed.
TEXAS A&M (2-0, 0-0 SEC): There is a reason wide receiver Speedy Noil hasn’t seen the field too much through the first two games. Kevin Sumlin says there is a reason. “Well, he has been – out of the 28 practices in fall camp, I bet he practiced six of them. He’s been nursing an injury.” Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said it was “a soft tissue injury.” That usually translates to high ankle sprain.
VANDERBILT (0-2. 0-1 SEC): Because quarterback Johnny McCrary was so comfortable running up tempo when the Commodores tried to rally from behind against Georgia last week, Derek Mason is considering changing Vanderbilt’s offense to an up tempo attack on a full time basis. Mason said, “It’s something we have to look at because obviously Johnny feels more comfortable in that. Our receivers were able to get open. We found more open seams and spaces and we were able to move the football. It’s something we’re going to have to look at and evaluate.”
WEEK TWO: ALL TOO EARLY HEISMAN FAVORITES
This is ESPN’s top 10 in a vote of in-house “experts:”
1. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia; 2. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama; 3. Cody Kessler, QB, Southern Cal; 4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State; 5. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU; 6. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State; 7. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State; 8. (tie) Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA and Seth Russell, QB, Baylor; 10. (tie) Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU and Jared Goff, QB, California
TEXAS FIRES AD STEVE PATTERSON
It only took Texas 22 months to sour on AD Steve Patterson and fire him. Some, including Sporting News columnist Matt Hayes, wonder why it took so long. The two hot names being talked about to succeed Patterson are Louisville AD Tom Jurich and former West Virginia AD and now NCAA exec Oliver Luck.
Hayes thinks this one is a no-brainer.
Writing in Sporting News, Hayes says, “Now is not the time for Texas to tread lightly. Now is the time to make bold, daring moves. Like hiring Tom Jurich away from Louisville.”
Jurich is widely regarded as the best athletic director in the business. He’s done a masterful job in guiding Louisville from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference to its final resting place in the ACC. He’s also given Louisville facilities that are the best top to bottom in the ACC that would also rank among the top 5-6 in the SEC. He handles big money boosters with ease and keeps everyone happy.
As for Patterson, he will collect $2.4 million a year through 2019. If you’re going to get fired, $2.4 million a year is a tidy sum to help dry the tears.
James Harden of the Houston Rockets, he of the 13-year, $200 million deal to wear adidas shoes was spotted coming out of a Los Angeles movie theater wearing a pair of Air Jordans. Even though the adidas contract doesn’t kick in until October 1, wearing anything Nike – even when he’s not on the basketball court – is forbidden by his contract.
Bryce Harper won’t be 23 until October 16 but he has already hit 94 home runs in his Major League Baseball career. Harper has 39 homers and 90 RBI with 18 games to go so in the regular season so reaching 100 homers before his 23rd birthday isn’t out of the question.
The mother of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is publicly calling for Pete Carroll to fire offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Delisa Lynch called Bevell “the worst play-caller ever” and says he should have been fired back after the Super Bowl when he didn’t give her baby boy the ball and instead called for a pass that was intercepted to seal the New England Patriots victory.
Bill Clark will be back as head coach when UAB resumes football next year. Clark, who guided the Blazers to a 6-6 record in 2014 before the program was disbanded, will get a 5-year deal said to be worth $600,000-700,000 a year.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Now that you’ve had three days to contemplate Jim McElwain’s sideline tirade against Kelvin Taylor, do you think it will have an adverse affect on the Gators moving forward or do you think Taylor and the team will put it behind them and consider it “just coaching”?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I only discovered The Revivalists a couple of years ago and it was quite by accident. This is a rock and soul band based out of New Orleans that has produced three albums (most recent “Men Amongst Mountains” released back in July). I’ve had the opportunity to see them perform live once and they’re impressive. In October they’ll be playing gigs in Athens, Chattanooga and Tampa plus they’ll do a Live from Daryl’s House in early November. Today’s music is the band’s 2010 album “Vital Signs.”