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Joker Phillips will feel the pressure after the Kentucky Wildcat's 24-17 loss to the Louisville Cardinals


In rivalry games, you throw the records out the window.  In Kentucky’s case, they threw their game plan out the window as well, coming out ill prepared and confused for the third straight game this year.You have to give the Louisville Cardinals credit as they seized the opportunity and upset Kentucky 24-17 to drop the Wildcats to 2-1.  Perhaps the biggest win was for Charlie Strong, who out coached Joker Phillips   And that coaching game was not as close as the score may indicate.

Kentucky’s first drive seemed like more of the same with a dropped pass by Gene McCaskill.  A Cardinal penalty gave UK a break and then the explosiveness that is Josh Clemons happened.  Clemons caught a short pass from Morgan Newton and turned it into a 38 yard gain to the Louisville 5.  The drive stalled from there but Craig McIntosh booted a FG to give UK their first points on the opening drive of a game this season.  Kentucky’s defense came out impressive, forcing a three and out.

Kentucky’s receivers continued their struggle with holding onto the ball.  UK was working on a nice drive when Morgan Newton hit LaRod King on a third down play.  King had a nice gain but lost the ball and the Cards recovered on their own 33.   Kentucky’s defense was up to the task again, but the Wildcat’s next possession was doomed to a three and out courtesy of incredibly unimaginative playcalling by the Kentucky brass.

All week long, we have been told to feat the big play potential of the Cardinals.  That became a self fulfilling prophecy as Daniel Brown ripped off a 23 yard run and Will Stein hit Andrell Smith for a 38 yard TD.  Like that, the Cards had a 4 play, 72 yard drive and a 7-3 lead over Kentucky.

Morgan Newton found a new target on the next drive in the form of EJ Fields with a couple of receptions.  Kentucky’s stall died when a 1st and 5 near midfield quickly turned into a 4th and 17.  Ryan Tydlacka had a punt blocked and it seemed as if Louisville could make an early statement.  Mister Cobble squashed Louisville QB Will Stein and knocked him out of the game and Teddy Bridgewater could not rally the Cards offense.

While Louisville’s offense stalled due to inexperience, Kentucky’s stalled due to incredibly unoriginal playcalling.  Despite Morgan Newton having one of the prettiest deep passes in the SEC, Kentucky stayed on the ground behind a struggling offensive line.  And what about creative play calling on third down?  Forget about it.  Joker Phillips seemed to think that the draw play on third and long was the greatest thing to happen to football since evolving from the leather helmet.    Louisville’s defense figured out Kentucky’s offense and shut them down.  With the field position battle won, Louisville took advantage of a short field and Bridgewater’s confidence grew with a couple of short passes.  Then Bridgewater hit DeVonte Parker with a 25 yard pass that put Louisville up 14-3 with just 1:12 left in the half.

Down and facing the reality that Louisville was going to get the second half kickoff, Kentucky finally opened up the playbook.  And Morgan Newton was up to the challenge.  Under pressure, Newton hit Nick Melillo for a 12 yard gain.  Newton then hit his new favorite target EJ Fields for a couple of passes and then looked back at his original love, LaRod King to finish off the half.  Newton hit King for a 17 yard reception and then a play later, a 15 yard scoring drive.   Kentucky went in at halftime trailing 14-10, but that last drive definitely put the momentum back in Kentucky’s corner.

Whatever momentum Kentucky gained was lost in the third quarter.  Kentucky allowed Louisville’s offensive line, which has been horrid all season to push them around all night long.  The Wildcat defense seemed equally confused by the fact that third string QB Daniel Brown was going to run the ball whenever he lined up at center.  The Cards drove the ball down the field virtually unmolested until they got into the red zone.  Kentucky managed a stand but Louisville came away with points on a FG and took a 17-10 lead.

Kentucky responded with a Morgan Newton rush for no gain, a Clemons run for four yards and a sack of Newton.  Three and out was not what Kentucky needed.  Fortunately, Teddy Bridgewater was having as much trouble moving Louisville, but the Cards were winning the field position game and pinning Kentucky within the their own twenty on two straight possessions.  UK’s offensive line allowed the Cardinals to penetrate as well and Kentucky looked as hapless on offense as they had all season.  Kentucky ran 11 plays in the third quarter and just four were for positive yardage.

It does not matter who you are playing, but you can not keep punting the ball out of your endzone and expect to win.  After playing with fire for a couple of series, Louisville put together a drive, culminating with a 25 yard Bridgewater to Josh Bellamy pass that put the Cards up 24-10.   With their back against the wall yet again, Kentucky turned back to the pass and Newton led Kentucky back into the redzone.  Nick Melillo was the recipient of two of those passes and Coshik Williams had a couple of nice plays.  The drive stalled once again at the goal line, but Kentucky got a key pass interference call on a 4th and goal.  With the new life, Newton hit for his 7th reception of the night and somehow, Kentucky was still alive, down 24-17 with about 5:00 remaining.

Kentucky’s defense did their job and forced a three and out and Kentucky’s offense did their part as well, driving to the Louisville 14 yard line.  And as in the history of Kentucky football, things went terribly wrong. Morgan Newton actually hit DeMarco Robinson for a first down on a 3rd and 2 play, but Robinson fumbled the ball and somehow managed to fall on the ball back at the Louisville 18.  On the next play, Morgan Newton fired the ball about six feet over LaRod King’s head on a 4th and 6.

Game over.  Cardinals 24-17.

It has been the longstanding policy of this blog to not bash any individual players, but UK’s offensive line was miserable.  Kentucky managed just  35 yards on 32 rushes for a 1.1 yard per carry average.  Let m repeat that.  a 1.1 yard per carry average.  Part of the Kentucky game plan was for Kentucky to test Louisville’s weak secondary, but to be honest, Morgan Newton was not given enough time to look deep on most of his snaps.  This obviously is of great concern as Kentucky’s strength was supposed to be the offensive line.  Tonight’s performance was inexcusable.

Part of the blame for this loss goes on the defense.  For the entire night, Kentucky’s defensive line got pushed around by an makeshift, inferior Cardinals offensive line.  Louisville racked up 181 yards on the ground and half of that yardage belonged to third string QB Daniel Brown.  Brown took 14 snaps at QB, and it took Kentucky all night long to realize that he would not be passing the ball.  Instead of being aggressive, Rick Minter’s defense was passive and allowed Brown to have his way with them all night long.

And as miserable as these teams played, Kentucky still had a chance to at least tie the game.  And for that reason, I have to put the bl
ame on this loss solely on the heads of the coaching staff.  Kentucky was not beaten by a better football team.   As poorly as this team played tonight, they were 14 yards from tying the game.  It’s not the players so much as Kentucky was the coaching staff.  Whenever  the offense had their back to the wall, they responded.  But it comes down to the call playing on the third down calls early in the game that suggested no sense of urgency.  It was the willingness to stay with an unresponsive running game until you are two touchdowns down.  For the third straight game, Kentucky was ill prepared and Joker Phillips was outcoached.

I’m not going to lie.  I am about as frustrated with Kentucky football as I have ever been in my life.  And for the first three games, Kentucky has had the most talent and has looked awful.  Louisville is not a good football team and they used their second and third string quarterback to beat Kentucky.  Maybe it’s not fair to put all the blame on the coaching staff, but except for the scoring drives, the offense and playcalling were anemic.  It’s almost like the players are having to find a way to win with a coaching staff that loves draw plays on third and long.  if your coaching staff is going to concede third down calls, how can you expect to win?

I like Joker Phillips.  I do.  But he is 8-8 as a head coach and Kentucky football is in danger of slipping into the mediocrity of the pre  Rich Brooks era with the next three games.  Am I being melodramatic?  I don’t think so.  I am a Kentucky realist and I picked Kentucky to be 3-3 after six games into the season.  To get there now, Joker needs to have his team pull off a miracle.

Pressure’s on.

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