That one hurt. You can’t go on the road in the SEC and turn the ball over three times in the first half. You can’t allow interception and punt returns that get your opponent inside your ten yard line. You can’t kick the ball out of bounds twice on kickoffs. If you do all of these, you lose. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Ole Miss, Georgia, or Mississippi State. You commit mistakes like this and you lose.
The game couldn’t have started any better for Kentucky. A 60-yard touchdown drive led by Derrick Locke to open it up gave Kentucky a 7-0 lead with just under three minutes off the clock. Two drives later, still up 7-0, Randall Cobb collided with an offensive lineman and fumbled the ball at the 11-yard line. Three plays later the game was tied.
Kentucky answered by going 80 yards down the field, quickly reclaiming the lead and then forced another punt. So you’re up 14-7 and you’re starting your drive at your own 41-yard line. You score here and you are up by two scores and Ole Miss is forced to abandon their run game a bit. Didn’t happen. On the first play, Ole Miss true freshman Charles Sawyer jumped the out route, picked off the Mike Hartline pass, and returned it to the UK nine-yard line. Two plays later, it’s 14-14.
So you’ve dominated the first half, but you’re tied because you allowed your opponent to score on 11 and nine-yard scoring drives. Talk about a short field.
First play of the next drive, Chris Matthews is absolutely clobbered and fumbles the football, giving UK three first half turnovers. Ole Miss then proceeds to go 43 yards in five plays, claiming a 21-17 lead.
A 50-yard field goal by Craig McIntosh at the horn cut the lead to 21-17 at the half.
To start the second half the Rebels put together three strait scoring drives, building an inexcusable 42-20 lead. The first two drives they actually moved the ball en route to their touchdowns, with 75 and 60-yard drives. The third touchdown was a result of Jesse Grandy’s 73-yard punt return which gave Ole Miss the ball at the seven-yard line, after a five-yard penalty.
The Wildcats battled back to have a chance at the end, but you can’t allow mistakes to dig you a 42-20 hole, when you’re in the midst of a winnable SEC road game. Kentucky is the better team of the two. I’m pretty sure any knowledgeable football fan who watched this game would acknowledge that. But, they gave the game away. A game they desperately needed.
Kentucky outgained Ole Miss 424-301. Kentucky passed for 300 and rushed for 124. Hartline completed 27-of-46 passes for 300 yards, two touchdowns and a crucial pick. Locke caught eight passes for 108 yards, while rushing for 68 yards on 19 carries. He scored twice on the ground. Cobb had 108 yards receiving and touchdown and Matthews 59 receiving yards and a touch. The Rebels’ offense was one-dimensional, rushing for 211 yards and passing for just 90.
We knew that Ole Miss wanted to run the ball. They wanted to rush for 211 and pass for just 90. That is what makes the first half turnovers and the constant short field for Ole Miss so crucial. Get a two-score lead and you force Houston Nutt and Ole Miss to rely on the pass a little more.
The blame can’t rest completely on the offense for coughing the ball up, though. The Wildcats defense has to find a way to limit opponents from scoring in the end zone. On the season, opponents have scored 16-of-16 times when they get into the red zone. 13 of those scores have been touchdowns. Force a turnover or simply limit one or two of those short fields to a field goal and you win the game.
The defense needs to show more aggressiveness and I’m still trying to figure out why they set up in the nickel as often as they did. They are still struggling in the tackling department and they have to find a way to not get fooled on ball fakes by the quarterback. Where is preseason All-SEC Second teamer, Dequin Evans?
Also, Ole Miss’ defense played a much more physical game than the UK defense did. Their physical play led directly to Kentucky’s mistakes.
Offensively, Kentucky has to find a way to convert better on third down. At times, it appeared that they could move the ball at will. Yet, they finished the game just 6-for-16 on third down conversions. This was an issue last week at Florida, as well.
The onside kick by McIntosh might have been the best onside kick I’ve ever seen in my life. It was right there for the taking, but Kentucky couldn’t pull it in and the ball trickled out of bounds. There has been a lot of talk by fans, wondering why Danny Trevathan, who is wearing a cast, was even on the hands team, much less on the far side. I admit it doesn’t make sense, but the truth is that this game shouldn’t have came down to an onside kick.
Whenever Kentucky loses a close game, a lot of the blame is going to be placed on the play of Hartline. His second quarter pick was detrimental, not going to lie. But, those calling for him to lose his job are out of their mind. He was under pressure the entire game from an Ole Miss defensive line that, despite their defense’s overall struggles this season, is one of the better units in the SEC.
He led the offense to 35 points on the road in the SEC. That should be enough. It wasn’t.