UK Football

Kentucky-Georgia notes: Special teams woes revisit Kentucky

Georgia wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie ran back a punt return in the third quarter.
Georgia wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie ran back a punt return in the third quarter. Herald-Leader

It may take a good bit of video viewing to pinpoint all that went wrong for Kentucky's special teams in a 63-31 loss to Georgia on Saturday.

There was an unexplained short opening kickoff that Isaiah McKenzie turned into a 90-yard touchdown in less than 10 seconds.

UK special teams coordinator Craig Naivar said nothing is wrong with kicker Austin MacGinnis, who later made a 38-yard field goal. He just mis-hit the kickoff.

But a lot went wrong on that play.

"We didn't squeeze to our lanes quick enough," Naivar said. "They strung it back across the field and hit a crease on us and made us pay for not having great lane integrity and (not) having a great kick."

For his part, McKenzie just saw his opening and went.

"I (saw) it open up really quick on the right side, and once it opened up I knew I had the speed to get there," he said. "I just hit it."

While UK was able to come back from the initial 21-point deficit, cutting the Georgia lead to 11 points at the half, that opening kickoff return was deflating.

"Once that happens, you got to find it in yourself to get back up, because it can take the life out of you ASAP," senior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said. "I think that kind of did take a little bit out of us."

It was a surprise to Naivar, too.

"We've been good on that unit," the first-year special teams coordinator said. "That kind of sets a tone in the game. We've set positive and negative tones on games off that unit. We didn't get it done. We'll go back and look at the video and make some corrections on that and get it fixed."

Other short kickoffs during the game were to account for the wind.

"With the wind in our face right there we saw some things on video we were going to try to exploit as well," Naivar said. "We were fortunate on some of those things there."

Naivar's group also gave up a 59-yard punt return to McKenzie early in the second half, which ultimately helped put the game out of reach.

"I got pinned in the corner, had to get back to the middle, my teammates had some great blocks," the Georgia returner said.

Georgia Coach Mark Richt was pleased and a bit surprised at the Bulldogs' success on special teams against UK.

"Year in and year out, their special teams have been some of the best in the league," he said. "We knew we had a challenge there. We rose to it and for the most part had a good day."

Kentucky now has given up four special teams touchdowns this season, two against Georgia, one at Louisiana State and the onside kick for a touchdown versus top-rated Mississippi State.

"Giving up two touchdowns is real bad," Naivar acknowledged, but he believes the mistakes are "fixable.

"We had issues in the LSU game, and we came back and were strong against Mississippi State and were strong at Missouri," he said. "So we'll go back to the video and correct and go from there next week."

False starts continue

Kentucky coaches pulled junior offensive lineman Jordan Swindle from the game after his ninth false start in 10 games. He re-entered later in the game, but they wanted to make sure one of the leaders of the line understood.

"We told him that we were going to take him out if he got one and he got one," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We pulled him out. I think we held him out a couple series. He came back in, though."

When pressed about why Swindle keeps making the same mistakes over and over, Brown jumped to the defense of one of his most consistent players, aside from the false starts.

"People are quick to criticize; they don't understand it's some of the best athletes in the world lining up across from him," Brown said. "It's in a third-down situation where that guy — you know, that No. 84 (Leonard Floyd), he's pretty fast.

"I think he was maybe Freshman All-American last year and he's made a bunch of plays this year. So, you know, you're going to flinch a little bit when those guys line up across from you."

Offensive bright spots?

After it struggled mightily against Missouri last week, Brown felt better about how his group played this week.

"We did some good things in the run game," he said. "Our pass game was hit and miss. We tried. Sometimes we struggled protecting. Sometimes we struggled throwing it. Sometimes we struggled getting open."

Quarterback Patrick Towles, who admitted he was in a fog against the Tigers last week, said he felt better Saturday.

"It was better than last week, but still not good enough," he said. "I missed a couple of throws and could've played better."

Towles, who threw for 139 yards and a touchdown while running for 60 yards and a 1-yard score, impressed Georgia's Richt.

"I really believe that guy is going to play in the NFL," he said. "He can run well, he's physical, throws the ball extremely well, and he's got a lot of poise and confidence. He's a really good player."

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