UK Football

UK football coaches shoulder most of blame for Florida loss

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) was sacked by Florida Gators defensive lineman Alex McCalister (14) in the fourth quarter  as Kentucky fell to  Florida 14-9 on Saturday September 19, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) was sacked by Florida Gators defensive lineman Alex McCalister (14) in the fourth quarter as Kentucky fell to Florida 14-9 on Saturday September 19, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly.

That will be offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's key message to his players when they meet to review game tape of Kentucky's 14-9 loss to Florida on Saturday night.

Dawson's offense had its worst performance of the season, managing just 241 yards with zero touchdowns and averaging just 3.7 yards per play.

"Everybody is just pressing," he said of the Kentucky offense. "You can see it in everybody's eyes. Everybody wants to make a play so bad. And really what you've got to do in that situation is just relax, but it's hard to do.

"It's hard to do for everybody."

The Cats haven't scored a touchdown since the first half of their game last Saturday at South Carolina, but they say they haven't lost confidence in each other.

"We believe in Coach Dawson and his play calling, and we believe when we execute that we can't be stopped," said running back Boom Williams, who has accounted for 32 percent of UK's offense three games into the season. "Y'all seen that. When we execute and all 11 men do their job on the field, our offense is pretty hard to stop."

But the offense not only struggled, it stalled at times against the Gators' defensive front. Kentucky knew it was going to be a tough matchup against Florida. UK head coach Mark Stoops said when he saw all four guys on the line winning their one-on-one matchups on tape, he knew it could be trouble for the Cats.

"Really never got in any rhythm or any sync offensively," Stoops said on Saturday of the UK offense. "And again they had a lot to do with that. They had great cover guys who were very disruptive up front with their D line. It was very difficult for us to handle their pressure at times."

That defensive pressure, which forced six sacks (two more than UK had allowed in the previous two games combined), made play calling — and plays in general — difficult all night.

"We can't afford to take those negative plays and get behind the chains," Stoops said, noting that UK shot itself in the foot last week with penalties that set them back on first-down situations. Then against the Gators, it was sacks, negative yardage plays.

"Get behind the chains, we're in a world of hurt against a good football team," he continued. "We can't do that, we got to be a little bit smarter in how we protect and take our shots."

Dawson said he loves throwing the ball down the field, but said it's difficult for the quarterback to get the ball in play when he's not given time. On the times Kentucky (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) goes into maximum protection, it eliminates potential playmakers in the intermediate passing game.

"You've got to be careful sitting here throwing it down the field every time when you're not executing, protection's not great and you're getting second-and-10," he argued. "Ultimately, you have to get drives started."

But Dawson said when he breaks down film with a critical eye on Sunday, he will tell his players that the blame falls firmly on him and the coaching staff.

"We've got to have a better plan," the offensive coordinator said. "We'll coach better; we'll play better. That's 100 percent on me, on the offense. We'll get better. We can win that game if the offense plays a little better, and that's my job."

Quarterback Patrick Towles, who connected on a career-low 33 percent of his passes for a career-worst 126 yards, took his share of the blame, too.

"I gotta execute better if we want to consistently win, and I didn't execute consistently tonight and I have to do that," he said, adding later that "it's hard to win a game when the quarterback doesn't play well."

Not all of the blame falls on Towles, his coaches said.

"I wasn't good enough to win the game tonight," Dawson said. "I put it more on me than on them. I've got to do better as a coach."

Kentucky's offense has little margin for error again this week versus No. 25 Missouri (3-0, 0-0).

The defending SEC East champion Tigers come to Commonwealth Stadium with the nation's fourth best defense, holding opponents to just 9.7 points a game.

Missouri foes have managed just three touchdowns this season, including just one on the ground.

Towles seemed ready to put the Florida loss behind him and focus on trying to get better as an offense for the week ahead.

"Luckily for us, we got nine more chances," he said Saturday night. "I'm thankful for that. We got a big one next week. It's going to be really hard to forget about this one. I wanted this win with all I had."

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