The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: UK vs WKU

NASHVILLE -- From the air coming out of the feel-good bubble surrounding new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops to an interesting mix of statistics for the new "Air Raid" offense and an all-too familiar showing for the Wildcats' defense, "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" recaps UK's 35-26 loss to WKU.

NASHVILLE -- From the air coming out of the feel-good bubble surrounding new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops to an interesting mix of statistics for the new "Air Raid" offense and an all-too familiar showing for the Wildcats' defense, "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" recaps UK's 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky in the season opener.


THE GOOD

GROUND RAID: The return of the "Air Raid" attack wasn't exactly what some UK fans may have envisioned, but it would be wrong to label the offensive performance disappointing. Kentucky actually did a lot of nice things on that side of the ball. The Cats finished with 419 yards of total offense, rushed for 216 yards and 6.8 yards per carry, and posted enough points to put UK in a position to win had the defense not been an almost complete no-show. Remember, this was a unit that ranked No. 113 (out of 120 FBS teams) last year in total offense and No. 116 in scoring at a woeful 17.9 points per game. Too many penalties on this night, but overall, there is reason to be encouraged.

AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED: The coaches spent all spring and summer raving about senior running back Raymond Sanders, predicting he could be the star of the offense. Based on one game, that looks to be an accurate projection. Sanders carried the ball 14 times for 98 yards rushing, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. His 49-yard run in the second quarter to set up UK's first touchdown of the season featured a new level of explosiveness that we haven't seen from the Georgia native in the past.

FRESHMAN FLASHES: Defensive back Blake McClain was somewhat overlooked in UK's highly-touted 2013 recruiting class, but the Florida native showed some serious promise with seven tackles and a big forced fumble in the first half that helped the Cats stay within 21-17 at the half when the deficit could have been much worse.


THE BAD

TACKLING: The most surprising aspect of the first game under Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot was the quality of tackling by the Wildcats. It was almost non-existent, and we're not talking about playing physically-imposing teams like Alabama or South Carolina who are licking their chops for a piece of UK in October. Fans had high expectations that the defensive side of the ball would make significant improvement after bringing in two members of the Florida State braintrust, but the result in Game 1 looked a whole lot like defenses associated with names like Major and Minter. Maybe now we know why Eliot had slightly less to say about his unit than a mime would have offered following August practice sessions. Fans would rather hear straight shooting – even if it's damning – than getting their hopes dashed after a game like this. It will be interesting to see if the Cats ramp up the physical nature of practice this week to address the problem.

D-LINE PLAY: Hyped as the leaders of the defense and perhaps the strength of the entire team all summer, the UK defensive line laid an egg in the opener. Senior defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble were largely ineffective all night, and ballyhooed defensive ends Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith were contained for all but about two or three of WKU's 75 snaps. When UK was forced to play the second-teamers, it got even messier. Either the Hilltoppers have a shockingly-good offensive line this season or it's going to be a long year for the position group that Kentucky was counting on to lead the way.

THE GAME: UK and WKU have no business playing a season-opening game in Music City, USA. Nevermind the fact that an SEC program gave a Sun Belt squad a chance to play it not once, but twice, on a neutral field in a four-year span, but the logistics were the biggest problem with an ill-conceived contract that has thankfully come to an end. Many fans found it took four to five hours to make the typical three-hour drive to Nashville from the Lexington area. Some sat for up to two hours in stalled traffic on I-65 from the Kentucky state line all the way to LP Field and didn't make it into the stadium in time to see the opening kick or part of the first quarter.


THE UGLY

By The Numbers:

3 – Touchdowns scored by Hilltopper running backs who were ignored by UK's previous staff in recruiting – two by former Madison Central star Keshawn Simpson and one by former Ft. Campbell standout Antonio Andrews, the latter who has developed into one of the top players in the country.

5.7 – Average yards gained by WKU on first down. The UK defense put itself in bad down-and-distance situations almost all night long. With only a couple of exceptions in the third quarter, the Hilltoppers had easily-manageable offensive situations with many play-call options available to Petrino & Co.

10 – Number of plays the UK offense had stopped behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks.

79% -- Completion rate by previously-unknown WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for daily newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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