Bounce-Back Effort: Detractors will scream bloody murder at the notion of a "moral victory" for Kentucky. And they're right… to an extent. There is no victory of any kind here. A loss is a loss. The SEC standings will never feature a "Good Job, Good Effort" column. But coming off last week's embarrassing storm-shortened beatdown at Arkansas, this was a good character test for the Wildcats. They know their season is going nowhere fast, and it will likely result in major changes at the end of the year, but they took the field Saturday determined to give fans a better showing against a team that the wise guys favored to win by four touchdowns. The bottom line is that the rest of this schedule is whatever the players make of it. They can choose to wallow in the misery that some fans wish to expand, or they can keep their heads up and keep working hard to improve and compete. Doesn't mean they're going to beat anybody, but they'll be better for it in the long run. That bothers some among the BBN. They fear it will derail the inevitable. It will not, so give the players a break and applaud them for a strong effort.
Rediscovered Ground Game: The UK staff has been preaching all season long that the Cats need to run the ball more. For the first time, the play-calling matched that mantra. Despite being challenged by one of the bigger defensive fronts in the SEC, the O-Line paved the way to a season-high 206 net rushing yards on 43 carries. Jonathan George turned in a career-high 87 yards and Raymond Sanders, honoring fellow Peach State native Coshik Williams by wearing jersey No. 26 instead of his usual No. 4, delivered 72 yards and a touchdown for his pal who is out with a season-ending injury. The effectiveness running the ball allowed Jalen Whitlow to have his most accurate passing game (9 of 13) to date.
Third-Down Defense: I like to joke that the ominous ringing bell that plays over the Commonwealth Stadium PA system when the UK defense faces a third down is the Pavlovian conversion bell. Usually, it triggers an inexplicable urge to leave a halfback uncovered in the flat. The Cats entered Saturday's game among the nation's worst teams in stopping opponents on third down (56 percent) but were much more respectable (5 of 12) against the Dawgs. That included three 3-and-outs, something of a rare occurrence in SEC play. A similar effort in the remaining games could give UK a chance to win a game or two.
Murray's State: A couple of times a year, I reserve space in this category for a great performance by an opponent. Tip your hat to Georgia's Aaron Murray, who completed 30 of 38 passes for a school-record 79 percent completion percentage, a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns. Every time the Cats flirted with thoughts of an upset, he had an answer. It won't be long before the Bulldogs' junior quarterback is doing that to NFL defenses. He's the real deal, a Drew Brees clone.
Officiating Breaks: Two controversial calls both went against the Cats and led to 10 points for Georgia. The first came just before the half when replays showed that the UK defense appeared to stop the Bulldogs about a half-yard shy of the first down marker, but the spot awarded UGA a first down as time was expiring. That meant the clock stopped, and the Dawgs, who had run out of timeouts, would have a couple more opportunities to score. UK coach Joker Phillips angrily challenged the spot, and replays seemed to confirm his hunch, but the replay official deemed that the spot was correct. Time would have likely expired had the ball been spotted accurately, but the Dawgs were able to salvage a field goal to take a 16-14 lead into the half. The second call was much more costly. After the UK defense appeared to have stopped UGA on a 3-and-out with around 10 minutes to play, the Cats were called for running into the punter. Replays showed that a Bulldog player initiated the contact that led to the minor bump, but Georgia punter Collin Barber sold the play like he had been shot by an Army sniper and drew the flag. Instead of getting the ball near midfield down by five points, the Cats saw Murray march the Dawgs in the other direction for what proved to be a decisive 12-point lead. Do the Cats win without either one of those calls? We'll never know because strategy can always change after those type of situations. But they deserved a fair shot.
Missed Opportunity: Kentucky doesn't figure to have too many more chances to notch victories in 2012, so this near-miss stings a little bit more than usual. Like Bill Curry in 1996, the Cats' coach may be doomed, but it would be nice to send him out with a few good memories. That Curry squad closed the year with wins in three of its last four games, including a shocking 24-17 triumph over Georgia at Commonwealth Stadium. This game kind of had that feel for much of the night.
Weekly Make-Believe Attendance Figure: 54,553.
Young Secondary vs. Veteran QB: Injuries have forced Kentucky to play way more freshmen in the secondary than any SEC should ever have to put on the field at one time, and the last two weeks have been a stunning reminder of just how difficult those growing pains can be. UK faced the top two quarterbacks in the league over the course of eight days – Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and UGA's Murray – and were torched for 799 yards and nine TD passes. I searched through several pages of old media guides, but could not find worse total in those categories for back-to-back games. The Cats sorely missed senior Martavius Neloms' presence last night.
No Bowling: After reaching an unprecedented five-consecutive bowl games, the Cats will be sitting at home for the second straight year and are facing their third straight losing season. One has to wonder if all the progress made from 2006-10 has been negated and how it will ultimately affect recruiting on signing day.
That guy... who took UGA and gave the 28 points. I don't think he's having a great day.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: UK-UGA
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