Kentucky enters this weekend’s game 4-3 on the season, with wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, South Carolina, Missouri and Eastern Kentucky. Their three losses are to Florida, Auburn and a blowout this past weekend to Mississippi State by the final score of 42-16. Much like last year, Kentucky had a pretty fast start to their 2015 season, but have fallen off a bit as of late. Mark Stoops has his team improving, but I still get the sense that they aren’t quite ready to compete with the “big boys” of the SEC on a consistent basis.
Quarterback Patrick Towles has an NFL arm, but still struggles with consistency and decision-making at times. On the year he has thrown 8 touchdowns, but also 9 interceptions. He has, to his credit, rushed for an additional four scores, but has not been nearly as effective with his legs in 2015 as he was a year ago. At running back, Stanley “Boom” Williams and Jojo Kemp have provided a nice one-two punch on the ground with Williams being the home-run hitter for the Cats this season. The receivers are good, especially Garrett Johnson, but they have had their share of consistency issues this year as well.
Defensively, Kentucky just isn’t very good this year. They lost a lot off of last year’s defensive line and have struggled to pressure the opposing quarterback all season, tallying just 12 sacks through seven games. Kentucky is giving up an average of almost 173 yards rushing per game to go along with 232 through the air, good enough for 70th nationally in total defense against a fairly easy schedule to this point.
Enough with numbers, however, let’s move on to the film…
4:20: Kentucky’s defense has been the issue all season, and they are already confused early against Auburn. They are trying to match personnel to Auburn (who runs a similar system to Tennessee) and the result is a defense who has no idea where to be or what to do. Auburn tries to hit them with a quick play and misses the throw, but Tennessee’s tempo will give Kentucky’s defense a lot of trouble on Saturday if they will put the pedal down early.
5:06: Look at how much time Auburn’s Sean White has in the pocket on this play…ALL DAY. He then escapes late (something Joshua Dobbs can certainly do) and finds Ricardo Louis wide open for a huge play. Remember the name Ricardo Louis (#5) because Kentucky had no answer for him on this night.
6:39: Again, no pressure on the quarterback and White finds Louis wide open for another big play.
8:06: Auburn made that drive look too easy.
11:42: Tennessee will need to be mindful of this play from the Cat offense. Towles fakes the handoff to the left and then immediately kicks out for a rollout to the right looking for a big play down the field. If Tennessee’s defensive backs get caught peeking into the backfield, then this could spell a huge play for Kentucky. Tennessee did a great job of not biting on the play-action against Alabama, so they should be prepared for this type of action.
12:22: “Boom” Williams earns his name, here. Auburn misses a tackle in the backfield and Williams is able to explode up the field for a HUGE play. His speed is is best asset, but he does have the ability to break a tackle and extend the play…he does so here in a very big way.
15:21: Expect Evan Berry to get a few opportunities on Saturday night, and look for him to have a big return or two. Kentucky is ranked 76th in the country in kick-return defense.
15:30: Again…WAY too much time for Sean White and he makes Kentucky pay. Joshua Dobbs – if he stays patient – could be in for another huge night.
16:36: Auburn doesn’t hit a huge play here, but this bodes very well for Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara on Saturday. Kentucky just doesn’t have the speed/athleticism on defense to get to the edge on wide runs. Auburn is probing a little bit here, setting up big plays later in the game.
19:16: We’ve seen Tennessee run some Wildcat (the irony) this year…But with Joshua Dobbs, every play is like the wildcat. Auburn runs it here for a six-yard touchdown that would have scored from 96 yards out. Too easy.
21:36: Towles isn’t Dak Prescott, but he has some speed and size that make him a force when running the football. Tennessee will need to get him down when they have a shot at him to avoid plays like this.
22:14: Really nice play by Kentucky on this WR-screen. I imagine we’ll see that on Saturday.
25:09: Towles shows his inconsistency here. He’s had a GREAT drive up until this point, but then loses focus, gets over-confident, and forces a pass he has no business throwing. This is the story on Towles…he’s going to make some plays that “wow” you, but then he’ll give the football back to the other team. Tennessee defenders will have their shot at a couple interceptions on Saturday night.
32:05: This is an NFL throw by Towles up the seam. Tennessee will need to pressure him early to avoid huge plays like this.
33:55: Auburn gives Towles a heads-up as to the coverage their running, a cover-one blitz against Kentucky’s 5-wide set. Towles knows he has man-to-man coverage across the board, so he wisely looks off the free saftey – just for a second – and then hits another deep throw to his top target, Garrett Johnson.
35:50: Kentucky’s red zone woes continue.
37:01: This play should be there for the Vols if they’ll just attempt a vertical pass or two early. Tennessee had success against Georgia running a very similar play, which led to a big play to Ethan Wolf later in the game as Georgia’s corners started sitting on the short stuff.
37:47: This is possibly a touchdown if Dobbs is at quarterback.
50:23: Here’s a very similar WR-screen to the one they ran earlier, and a very similar result. All of the action is to the right, but then Towles fires back to the right and the linemen peel up to block for the screen.
50:52: Williams goes from a stand-still stop in the backfield to racing down the sideline for a first down in the blink of an eye. Tackling angles on him will be, dare I say, “critical.”
53:32: Does that jump-cut remind you of anyone?
Nothing really stands out the rest of the way, but it was a very good football game should you choose to finish watching it.
The bottom line is that Auburn’s defense is one of the worst in the SEC, which allowed Kentucky to hang with the Tigers a little bit in this one. Tennessee should prove a much tougher test for the Wildcats’ offense on Saturday. Towles will hit some throws like he always does, but I expect Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen to be in the backfield all night making it difficult for Towles to study the field for extended periods of time. They need to be mindful of “Boom” Williams, however. He is a player with some serious speed that Kentucky will look to get involved early and often.
Defensively, I really think that Kentucky is going to, once again, have a very hard time containing Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs tore them up as a true freshman, he tore them up last year, and I have a feeling he’ll do it again on Saturday. He should get whatever he wants on the ground, and I think that Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara will benefit greatly from the attention that Kentucky will put towards Dobbs. He’ll have to hit some plays through the air to keep extra men out of the box, and I think he will. We saw it last year, and it remains true…but Kentucky just doesn’t have the athleticism in the secondary to cover what Tennessee will bring to the field on Saturday.
Early prediction: Vols by a lot.