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Enthusiam Curbed: Kentucky Wildcats open season with ugly 14-3 win over Western Kentucky Hilltoppers


Coming into this season, there was a renewed  optimism among some of the Kentucky Wildcat football fan base that this was the year Kentucky finally broke the shackles of 6-6 and finished with 8 wins and made some noise in the SEC East.  That kind of talk has been diminished this morning as for more than three quarters, Kentucky and Morgan Newton looked no better than the 6-7 team that was squashed in the BBVA Compass Bowl.  In the end, Newton and the Wildcats walked out of Nashville with a ugly 14-3 win over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  There was no celebration and there is a universal feeling that big improvements must be made to avoid finishing this season with another game in Nashville.  That is if we can get to six wins and a bowl.

The first quarter was obviously a worst case scenario for Kentucky. UK was stuffed on a three and out on the first possession and Morgan Newton threw right into coverage for an interception at the UK 32 on the second possession. UK’s defense stiffened and Caseey Tinius booted a 41 yard FG to put the Hilltoppers up 3-0. Four possessions into the season and UK had negative 9 yards of offense to show and no completed passes. To be honest, the blame has to be placed on the whole offense. The offensive line was getting pushed around and LaRod King dropped a perfectly thrown bomb that could have gone for a TD. Being the optimist, I chalked up the first quarter to jitters.

As inept as the Kentucky offense was, the WKU offense kept squandering opportunities. Kawuan Jakes missed a wide open Jack Doyle in the endzone and Casey Tinius missed a 34 yard FG. WKU shoud have been up 14-3 at this point, but the defense has been in mid season form. Kentucky’s offense stalled but Ryan Tydlacka flipped the field with a 60 yard punt. The defense responded as Winston Guy picked off a pass and UK was in business at the Western 23.

A few plays later, true freshman Josh Clemons ripped off a 14 yard TD run and Kentucky got on the board, taking a 7-3 lead with 5:46 left in the first half. That was all the highlights of the first half for Kentucky.

Both quarterbacks were borderline horrible in the first half. Newton was 4-11 for 28 yards with a pick. Jakes was 4-12 for 48 yards with a pick. The difference was in the running games. Kentucky managed just 35 yards of total yardage in the first half compared to 101 for the Hilltoppers. Newton had four dropped passes by his receivers but Jakes overthrew two WR’s for sure TD’s so both teams were unhappy with their offense.

Last season, Kentucky developed the reputation as a second half team and they usually came out strong in the third quarter.  That myth was destroyed as absolutely nothing happened in the third stanza … except Morgan Newton hit Gene McCaskill for a nice 34 yard gain that put Kentucky at the WKU 46 as the third quarter ended.

Newton made another bad decision as he attempted to hit McCaskill deep in WKU territory.  The WKU defender outjumped McCaskill and WKU had their second pick of the night.    The defense bailed Kentucky out with a three and out but Newton followed on the next possession with his third pick of this game, this time, off a hard pass that was batted by three to four players.  Kentucky’s defense once again forced a punt but Western Kentucky’s Andrew Jackson summed up the feelings of the BBN when he was caught on microphone saying “SEC Boys.  These are supposed to be SEC boys”.  Being dissed on national TV by a Sun Belt player is not going to help recruiting. 

Things got no better on the next UK possession as a awkward DeMarco Robinson rush put Kentucky in a 3rd and 14 with about 6:30 remaining.  then Morgan Newton made something happen.  Finding no receivers, he ran the ball up the middle, broke a tackle or two, and outran most of the defense for a 58 yard gain.  After a groan inducing delay of gain, Newton hit LaRod King in the corner of the endzone and Kentucky went up 14-3 with 4:35 remaining.  Fortunately for Kentucky, Jakes had a horrible game as well and WKU could not threaten again.  His last gasp pass was intercepted in the end zone by Winston Guy and Kentucky escaped with the win.

First and foremost.  A win is a win.  As ugly as this game was, it was not a tragedy.  Granted, Kentucky was pushed around for three quarters by a Sun Belt Conference team, but there are several fingers to point and Joker Phillips has his work cut out to make sure this team learns from their mistakes.

It’s too early in the season to close the book on Morgan Newton.  He looked horrible for three quarters, but when a play needed to be made, he made two of them with his long run and pass to King.  To be honest, Newton has a beautiful long pass, but does not have the touch on the shorter passes.  It is apparent that he did not trust his receivers last night and he developed “happy feet” in the pocket.  For the night, he finished 7-18 for 97 yards with one TD and three interceptions.  It was not all his fault as he had at least four dropped passes, one of which would have been a likely TD by King.  Newton showed potential, but too many times looked as if he had regressed.

The WR’s deserve their share of the blame.  Simply put you have to catch balls that hit your hands.  Enough said.

The offensive line was banged up but they were pushed around most of the game.  Kentucky only managed 78 yards rushing, which in iinexcusable against a Sun Belt team.  Inexcusable.  Let’s move on.

The defense was incredible.  Danny Trevathan finished with 13 tackles and Winston Guy looked like a first round draft pick.  Rick Minter’s schemes confused the hell out of WKU and Jakes and you knew that they would never get into the end zone after Jakes two missed passes.  While the game was uncomfortable, UK’s D brought the security blanket.  WKU got 141 yards on the ground but that was in 42 carries.  Four turnovers by the D cured a lot of ills by the offense.

Finally, a lot of the blame goes to the coaching staff.  Kentucky was flat from the beginning and had several stupid penalties.  Playcalling was very questionable and you got the sense that Phillips had no confidence in his running game against a SUN BELT TEAM.  Luckily for Phillips, his team was able to overcome themselves and came away with the win.

Let’s be honest here.  I’m not happy with this win and I am embarrassed by the way my team played.  But it is just the first game of the season and I am not going to give up on this team at all.  We saw a lot of good young talent on the field tonight and I think we have a much improved defense.  And despite what we saw tonight, Kentucky has playmakers on offense.  If we have a similar game next Saturday versus Central Michigan, I will officially start to panic.  But I know that I am going to sleep a lot better tonight with a win under the belt than a loss.  And yes, an ugly win still counts as a win.

For complete game stats, go here.  Photo courtesy of the Lexington Herald Leader. 

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