It wasn’t shocking, but Kentucky football suffered the first loss of the season, 51-13, to Georgia. Until then, the Wildcats were undefeated and won each of their first five games by at least 10 points.
Then the Bulldogs happened.
Georgia, the defending national champions, showed Kentucky football why there is a gap between them and most schools, even a ranked Wildcats team.
Of course, many things went wrong for UK, but it’s important to fix that heading into Saturday’s game against Missouri. The Tigers are also 5-1, but it’s a home game at Kroger Field and key for the Wildcats to right their wrongs.
1. Third-down efficiency
In the loss, Kentucky could not find a footing to sustain drives. The Wildcats were 2-for-11 on third downs, resulting in punts to give UGA more possessions.
Against a strong Georgia defense, the Wildcats weren’t expected to glide down the field with ease, but 2-for-11 is a very low percentage.
Missouri ranks 98th in opponent third down percentage, at 42.67%. That’s good news for Kentucky because Georgia has a rate of 25.76%. Sustaining drives will lead to winning football and Kentucky football will have a great opportunity against a Missouri team that struggles to keep teams off the field.
2. Pass defense
Georgia’s offense is clearly superior to Kentucky’s – and in reality, most teams. However, the Wildcats showed no resistance in stopping UGA’s air attack, letting up 435 passing yards to Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff.
Beck did throw an interception, but other than a few misfires, he was dialed in. Vandagriff picked up where Beck left off. In fact, the two combined to complete 33-of-42 passes, running up and down the field with ease.
The task won’t get much easier against Missouri. QB Brady Cook is completing 71.8% of his passes and is 5th in the country with 1,879 passing yards. Who is 4th you ask? That would be Carson Beck, by just 7 more yards.
If the Wildcats can’t fix the pass defense, it might be the same story all over again.
3. Devin Leary’s innacurracy
Devin Leary has gone from a surefire promise to a question mark, to hindering the potential of this Kentucky football offense. Against Georgia, Leary was just 10-of-26 for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Sadly, this has been the story lately. After three fairly good games to open the season, Leary has been awful, to be frank. In SEC play, he is 34-for-74 for 402 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. That is far from the player Kentucky thought they were getting out of the transfer portal.
Let’s not forget that Leary’s season-ending injury the year before could be more serious to his overall game than we initially thought. But even then, against Ball State, Eastern Kentucky, and Akron, these struggles were not nearly as present. In those games, Leary completed nearly 62% of his passes. While that’s still not great, it’s much better than 46% over his last three contests.
Missouri is 98th in opponent passing completion, allowing QBs to connect on 64.20% of their passes. That has translated to letting up about 264 passing yards per game, 101st in the country. If there is a game for Leary to get back on track, it might come against Mizzou.