5 Reasons Why Kentucky Wildcats Lost to Western Kentucky
5 Reasons Why Kentucky Was Defeated By Western Kentucky
The start of the Mark Stoops era at Kentucky did not go as planned Saturday night. The Wildcats were the presumed slight favorite over in-state rival Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers stunned the 'Cats last season with a two-point conversion in overtime to win the game in Lexington. This time around, the game always seemed to be in favor of the boys from Bowling Green. What exactly went wrong for the Wildcats?
Kentucky had the revenge factor already on their side. Some of the Wildcats were on last year's team that fell to the Hilltoppers in stunning fashion. The loss was heart wrenching and should have been enough to give the 'Cats a mental edge. They should have remembered WKU players disrespectfully stomping on the field after pulling the upset in Lexington. The drive should have been there to give WKU a much needed reality check. However, the drive was just not there. If it was, the Hilltoppers quickly extinguished the idea of Kentucky running them off the field with a couple of quick and easy scores.
Not only did Western Kentucky back up their taunting, they made sure this win was not an upset. They didn't need to intercept four Kentucky passes to keep pace in scoring. They didn't need to have any last second heroics like last season's two point conversion in overtime. After last season's victory, WKU players drenched then head coach Willie Taggart in Gatorade after pulling the upset. This year, new head coach Bobby Petrino was left dry. Why? The Hilltoppers' win was not considered an upset this time around.
Needed More Pressure on WKU QB Brandon Doughty
WKU QB Brandon Doughty was seemingly flawless against the Wildcats. He connected on his first five throws in the first half and then connected on his first three attempts in the second half. Doughty finished the game missing on only seven of his 34 passes, racking up 271 yards and a touchdown. Especially early on, the game was really just pitch and catch for the junior quarterback.
Kentucky's defensive pressure was very meek if they are supposed to be considered an SEC defense. Doughty was sacked only one time by Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith. The rest of the time, the Hilltopper QB had limited pressure in his face and was able to sit back and pick apart the Wildcats' very maligned secondary.
The Hilltoppers had six players with more than one reception compared to Kentucky only having four. Doughty also threw to two receivers six times each, and the Wildcats had zero receivers with six catches. Doughty was able to spread the ball around a lot more and never focus on one guy. WKU's defense never allowed Kentucky's quarterbacks the time to hit multiple receivers and allow the Wildcats to confuse them.
'Cats Can't Stop The Run
The Wildcats' struggles on defense escalated with Western Kentucky finding the going very easy against Kentucky's front seven. The Hilltopper running backs accumulated 216 yards of offense on the ground, accounting for four touchdowns. Kentucky's defense seemed gashed and porous at times while WKU running backs Antonio Andrews, Leon Allen and Keshawn Simpson had a field day getting into the end zone.
The only flaws from the running backs came from WKU's Antonio Andrews. The star running back/kick returner fumbled twice and allowed Kentucky to stay in the game. If Andrews had better ball security, the Hilltoppers could have put some more points on the board instead of allowing Kentucky to claw their way back into contention. If WKU had not fumbled, the game could have turned very ugly for Mark Stoops and Kentucky.
Did Kentucky Start The Wrong QB?
When Mark Stoops came to Lexington, he knew he already had three quarterbacks with game experience. Maxwell Smith was named the starter last season before being hurt in the fourth game of the season. Jalen Whitlow filled the void for Kentucky and added some athleticism to the position. Smith is the more accurate passer, but Whitlow can make more plays with his feet. Patrick Towles also played but in limited action.
Kentucky never publicly named the starter, but Jalen Whitlow was the guy to lead the first series for Kentucky. While Whitlow did some good things on the ground, he was very shaky at best with his passing. Combined with the overwhelming amount of penalties (we'll get to those), Kentucky's Air Raid offense remained grounded for most of the night. The tempo was not there because Whitlow and the 'Cats could not move the chains. Kentucky totaled 15 first downs compared to 22 for WKU. The offense never got in a good flow with Whitlow at the helm, and his only positives came from running the football.
Mark Stoops seemed content to stay with Whitlow until his throwing shoulder began to cramp during the start of the 4th quarter. Max Smith finally got his shot at the reins, but the 'Cats were already down 35-17. Smith had issues keeping his receivers in bounds on long pass plays. The receivers would simply run out of room down the sideline before making the catch. Despite that issue, Smith played very well and showed the best ability to bring the tempo Neal Brown's offense is advertised for. With Smith's performance, the quarterback controversy is still very much alive.
Missed Extra Point
With 1:37 left to play in the 4th quarter, Kentucky's Max Smith hit Demarco Robinson in the end zone for the touchdown. Kentucky now pulled within nine points of the Hilltoppers. The momentum had seemed to start to favor the boys in blue.
The announcers were already talking about the Wildcats' chances of stopping the next WKU series and getting the ball back for a quick score and two-point conversion. In the midst of that conversation, Kentucky kicker Joe Mansour winds up and shanks the extra point off of the upright. Everyone was already taking for granted what should have been an easy point, but nothing came easy for Kentucky on this night. The chances of Kentucky holding the Hilltoppers off on defense wasn't going to be easy as it is, and then converting two points seemed nearly impossible. The missed extra point solidified Kentucky's fate and all but sealed the win for WKU.
Penalties, Penalties Everywhere
When Joker Phillips was still coaching in Lexington, his favorite term was "we shot ourselves in the foot." Despite the new regime, that's exactly what Kentucky did with their 10 penalties against WKU. At least six of those penalties were related to false starts. These constant little mistakes would stall the Kentucky drive and keep the Air Raid offense from ever taking off. The Wildcats kept getting behind the original line of scrimmage and had to claw their way back with 3rd and long plays. On those 3rd down conversions, the Wildcats were only successful six out of 15 attempts.
Without those penalties, Kentucky could have made more productive drives down the field. The 'Cats could have used their uptempo system to wear down the Hilltopper defense and force them into mistakes. In contrast, WKU only committed five penalties and used their own tempo to control the game and the time of possession.
Brian Lewis is an SEC Football Writer for RantSports.com. You can add him to your network on Google for more of his work.