Dawson: Cats learned good lessons in opener

When Shannon Dawson got his first look at the defensive scheme that UL Lafayette was running against Kentucky in the season opener, it was like a kid seeing a shiny new bike waiting under the Christmas tree.

He couldn’t wait to go racing down the street.

The Ragin’ Cajuns repeatedly stacked the box and showed man-to-man press coverage, meaning Kentucky was going to have ample opportunities for big plays, and for at least a half, the Wildcats cashed in on them. UK’s first-year offensive coordinator thought he was going to engineer a game of a lifetime.

Something odd happened between a 33-10 lead and the end of the game, though. Momentum vanished. Kentucky found itself needing a touchdown drive with 57 seconds remaining to hang on for a 40-33 victory as fans and media alike scratched their collective heads and pondered how the game changed so drastically.

“When we hit, we hit big,” Dawson said Tuesday after reviewing film. “And when we didn’t, obviously, it was a missed opportunity."

Dawson attempted to deflect criticism from junior quarterback Patrick Towles, who opened the game strong by completing 10 of 18 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, but finished on a 6-for-16 rut for only 38 yards and an interception that helped fuel the Cajuns’ comeback.

“We just missed some throws that would have put the game out of reach,” said Dawson, noting that Towles needed to show calmer feet in the pocket at times. “We just gotta make those plays. They were there.”

They were there, and the temptation to continue racking up so-called "explosive" plays proved to be too hard to resist. Dawson suggested he let his aggressive mindset -- something which will likely ingratiate him to fans who love seeing the ball thrown downfield as much as possible -- get carried away.

“The problem was more so probably with me,” he said. “I took some shots, probably, when I got us in 2nd-and-10s a lot. I don’t think I helped the defense a whole lot with my aggressiveness at times, so I probably have to do a better job of understanding the flow of the game, you know, and try to grind out some first downs at times, but it’s hard when they’re giving you exactly what you want and you’ve got a guy that you know can beat him.”

Kentucky’s defense ultimately had to face 88 snaps from ULL, and after giving up 197 yards and seven points in the first half, the defense surrendered 282 yards and 26 points in the second.

The solution? More snaps, according to Dawson.

“We didn’t run enough plays. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “We got a lot out of the 60 plays we ran. We were averaging right at 8 yards per play, which is good, but we didn’t run enough plays. To run more plays, you’ve got to get more first downs and execute better."

That point was a major focus of his film review with Towles.

"I think what was positive to me watching tape is there's a lot of coachable moments in that game that Patrick's going to learn from. A lot. That's invaluable in my opinion," Dawson said. "We got him in a lot of situations where it's not that he made the wrong decision, but in those situations you've got to understand that your reads might be a little bit different because (you just want to) move the chains. 

“That’s more on me than anything because I’m an aggressive person by nature, and a lot of times, I don’t pull the reins back because I want to attack. I don’t mind throwing it down the field on 3rd-and-2 or 3rd-and-3. But, in all honesty, that might not be the best thing to do.

“It was more my coaching flaws than (Towles’) playing flaws in a lot of those situations. We’ll get that fixed.”

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