Take out the Georgia game on our schedule and this is the hardest game left on Kentucky’s schedule in my opinion. We may not be an underdog in any game except for against the Bulldogs. So, this isn’t a must win situation as much as I think most fans feel about it. Sure we all want to win every game and do something truly amazing but realistically this team just needs to not take a step back as a program. We can still do that even if we do end up losing at South Carolina. Now let’s talk about why we will win on Saturday.
Sawyer Smith has made some mistakes and is banged up a little. Stoops is not happy with throwing the ball as much as we had to against Mississippi State. AJ Rose finally got going in last week’s game. I think this leads to Stoops turning this offense into something similar as last year but with the ability to hit big plays when we need to. I see the number of passing plays shrinking and more of the Rose/Smoke duo. In the first three games, games in my opinion we outplayed our opponents, we won the time of possession battle (+1:30, +6:02, +9:50). In the Mississippi State game we lost the time of possession battle and it felt like we wasn’t as competitive as the first three (-6:12). If we can win this battle it should come down to redzone offense and kicking.
Our redzone offense has less than great so far with 16 attempts and 9 touchdowns and 2 field goals. That’s 68% and good for 115th in the nation. 6 of those 9 touchdowns came from our ground game which is a somewhat surprising stat because it feels like we’ve had more redzone passing touchdowns this year. Chance Poore has been the scapegoat this season and it looks like Stoops will try something new in the kicking game. Matt Ruffolo came in last week and hit a 29 yard field goal after Poore missed two from 47 and 26. Chance may still be the guy from long range but for now it looks like Ruffolo will be our guy when it comes to field goals. When it comes to punting Max Duffy is king. He leads the NCAA in net punt average which is not only a testament to him but his coverage team as well. The teams net punt average is 47.93 yards which is better than any NFL punter right now. He is also the number 1 ranked punter in the nation in gross punt average with 51.2 yards. The field flipping has allowed Kentucky’s defense the opportunity to play on their side of the field more and put more pressure on the opposing offenses.
Our defense will need to improve a bit especially in the flats. The front 7 do a very good job of stuffing the inside running game but have allowed a lot of underneath throws and runs to the outside. I believe it may have something to do with the coverage Stoops and White feel comfortable with. It looks like we run a lot of man to man with zone help over top with a little cover three mixed in. These schemes allow speedy receivers the ability to shake corners for open short throws (outs and slants mainly) and cover 3 puts a linebacker on a receiver which is recipe for a big chunk play. I think they are comfortable with this style defense because the development of our young corners hasn’t progressed to the point of trusting the over top help and reading and jumping the short routes. If we can improve in this area next game and going forward we should see a lot of 3 and outs and a win in the time of possession battle.
Prediction: Kentucky wins 31 – 17