Two weeks ago the Kentucky football team was flying high. They were ranked ninth in the country and had a chance to go to Atlanta as the SEC East Champions. However they are now coming off back to back losses. Can they right the ship over their final two non-conference games? Let’s try to find out as Kentucky looks for answers against Middle Tennessee.
Kentucky Looks For Answers Against Middle Tennessee
A Continued Struggle On Offense
Ever since the second half of the South Carolina game on September 29th, the Wildcats have only mustered seven offensive touchdowns. In addition Benny Snell has been held under 100 yards rushing in four of the last five games. The coaching staff doesn’t seem to have the answers however the Big Blue Nation wants to blame offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
Defenses continue to line up eight players in the box at the line of scrimmage daring the Cats to beat them through the air. Except for the game winning drive against Missouri Kentucky has been unable to do it. Quarterback Terry Wilson struggled against Tennessee but he wasn’t alone. The receivers dropped numerous passes and Gran’s idea of seemingly running the same plays over and over aren’t helping. Take a look at this stat showing the Wildcats’ offensive struggles.
Kentucky is the first school to have a winning record in SEC play while never scoring more than 28 points in any SEC game since 2006 Florida
— Corey Price (@coreyp08) November 12, 2018
During his weekly coaches show Mark Stoops defended his staff concerning all the criticism of the offense.
Coach Stoops on the offensive criticism: "We accept the criticism. The people you are pointing fingers at have put us in position to get to a 9 win regular season."
Coach Stoops https://t.co/YdiCQn4YTl
— UK Sports Network (@UKSportsNetwork) November 12, 2018
Also on his coaches show Stoops thinks the way to get back on track is with fundamentals. “In the end it comes down to us getting back to who we are. We have to get back to running the ball and being fundamentally sound.” He also added “to win a game you have to stop beating yourself.”
True Blue Fans sometimes forget Wilson had never played a down in major college football until this year. These aren’t junior college teams he’s facing, it’s the best conference in the country. He simply needs to make better decisions which only comes with more game experience.
Looking For Answers On Defense
Through the first eight games of the season the Kentucky defense ranked as one of the best in the country. However in the last two games they have been quite bad. Giving up 331 yards rushing to Georgia is one thing but getting whipped by a mediocre Tennessee team is another.
Against Charlotte the Volunteers only rushed for 20 yards, however they rang up 219 on the Kentucky defense in in a 24-7 rout. After not allowing big plays all year Jarrett Guarantano and the Tennessee receivers beat them repeatedly. Most notably was a stretch at the end of the first half. With the Vols content to run the clock out they got a 16 yard run the Guaratano hit Marquez Callaway with a 39 yard “hail mary” at the horn.
For the game Kentucky allowed 416 yards to the team ranked 120th in college football in total offense. That is unacceptable any way you look at it. Saturday’s game is a big test for the Wildcat defense. As Kentucky looks for answers against Middle Tennessee let’s look at the Blue Raiders.
A Potent Offense And A Familiar Face
Coached by Rick Stockstill the Blue Raiders come into Saturday with a 7-3 record and winners of four straight. They currently reside in first place in Conference USA’s East Division at 6-1. They are led by Brent Stockstill the coaches son. On the season he has thrown for 2,287 yards 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. In last week’s 48-32 win over Texas El-Paso he threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns.
In addition Middle Tennessee has a name on their staff very familiar to True Blue Fans. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was running backs coach and later held the same title under Hal Mumme twenty years ago for Kentucky. He helped usher in the “Air Raid” attack that all these years later fans still want to team to run.
Stockstill is going to test the Kentucky defense early and often. They have to avoid giving up the big plays like they did against Tennessee. This is the third time MTSU has faced an SEC foe in 2018. They lost 35-7 to Vanderbilt and 49-7 against Georgia so they won’t be intimidated.
Who Wins On Saturday?
Kentucky looks for answers against Middle Tennessee. The question is do they find them? In any other season the Big Blue Nation would be thrilled with a 7-3 record and possible Citrus Bowl bid. However in 2018 it seems like a major opportunity lost. There’s no shame is losing to Georgia however getting blown by Tennessee leaves fans wanting answers.
Before Saturday’s game the Cats are saying farewell to 16 seniors and this group leaves with a lasting legacy. Not only are they going to a third straight bowl but they leave with the most wins in the SEC over a three year span.
Heading that group of seniors is Josh Allen, who is a finalist for the Nagurski Award for the nation’s best defensive player.
Nationally, Allen ranks 2nd in forced fumbles (5), 3rd in sacks (11.0) and 11th in tackles for loss (15.5).
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) November 14, 2018
He needs only one sack to pass Oliver Barnett for the career mark of 26 at Kentucky.
Nothing has been easy for the Wildcats over the last month and Saturday won’t be any different. Look for a close game in which Kentucky wins with their defense. They send the seniors out on a winning note.
Kentucky 24 Middle Tennessee 17
Up next the Wildcats close out the season on the road against Louisville. We’ll have that preview for you next week here at Last Word On College Football.