Monday, December 19, 2011
Season report card: Kentucky
By Edward Aschoff
Summer school continues as we take a look at Kentucky:
Kentucky entered the season down a handful of playmakers, and never had much offensive rhythm. The offense stalled from the start, as the Wildcats began the year with an ugly 14-3 win over Western Kentucky. The Wildcats mustered just 190 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times. Things didn't get much better after, as Kentucky lost four of its next five games, getting outscored 161-37 in those four losses. On the season, Kentucky was last in the SEC in scoring (15.8), total offense (259.8), passing (135.6) and passing efficiency (96.2). Kentucky scored 30-plus points just twice. Injuries along the offensive line and at running back didn't help. The Wildcats seemed to have a budding star on their hands in freshman running back Josh Clemons, but he went down midway through the year with a season-ending knee injury. CoShik Williams stepped in for Clemons and became the Wildcats' top offensive weapon, leading Kentucky with 486 rushing yards and had three touchdowns. But it all came back to the quarterback position. A few years removed from a solid freshman year, Morgan Newton took a few steps back in 2011. He entered the season as the Wildcats' starter, but after suffering a late-season ankle injury, he was passed by freshman Maxwell Smith, who earned All-SEC Freshman honors. Both combined for 1,612 yards, 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Under the watchful eye of new defensive coordinator Rick Minter, the Wildcats improved from the 2010 season. Kentucky was much more aggressive and entertaining on defense this season. The Wildcats had the SEC's top two tacklers in Danny Trevathan (143) and Winston Guy (120) and forced 25 turnovers. This is obviously still a work in progress, as the Wildcats gave up 24.7 points per game and 377 yards a contest. Against SEC offenses, the Wildcats' defense upped the points to 30.2 per game and allowed 413.8 yards a game. Kentucky allowed 35 points or more in half of its SEC games. The Wildcats' defense hit rock bottom in their 54-3 loss to South Carolina. Kentucky gave up 54 unanswered points, a season-high 639 yards of offense, including 288 rushing yards, and 32 first downs. Kentucky's defense played arguably its best at the end of the year. The Wildcats frustrated eventual SEC East champ Georgia, taking the ball away four times, before holding rival Tennessee to 276 yards and forced three turnovers in a 10-7 win that snapped a 26-year losing streak to the Vols.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Kentucky didn't return the ball well, but the Wildcats sure knew how to kick and cover returns. Kicker Craig McIntosh connected on 12 of 14 field goal attempts (.857), and Kentucky was fifth in the SEC in kickoff coverage, averaging 46 net yards on kickoffs. Kentucky also finished the season with 14 touchbacks. Punter Ryan Tydlacka was fourth in the league in punting, averaging 43.6 yards per punt. He also had 20 punts of 50-plus yards and had 19 of his punts downed inside opponents' 20-yard line. On their own returns, Kentucky was last in the SEC in punt returns, getting just 35 yards on 19 returns. The Wildcats were also 11th in kickoff returns, averaging 20.3 yards per return.
Joker Phillips didn't come close to having the season he wanted after a successful first year as the man in charge in Lexington. The offense was inept for just about every part of the season. The defense was improved, but this team just wasn't very competitive throughout the year. Kentucky missed out on a sixth straight bowl appearance with its 5-7 record, but we saw some improvement at the end of the season. Considering the injuries this team endured, Kentucky didn't quit. The Wildcats went 2-2 in November and ended things with a monumental win over Tennessee. The win ended the 26-year slide against the Vols and it also eliminated them from the postseason. It wasn't a bowl win for Kentucky, but it was pretty close.