Three takeaways from Kentucky football’s 34-23 Senior Day win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday:
1. The once-dominant Kentucky defense needs to pick it back up
Hey, Middle Tennessee has a potent offense. Tony Franklin is the Blue Raiders’ offensive coordinator. We know Franklin, the former Kentucky high school coach and UK assistant/offensive coordinator under Hal Mumme, who wrote a book about the dysfunctional staff he served on here before heading off to Middle Tennessee, then Auburn, then Louisiana Tech, then California — where he coached Jared Goff — then back to Middle Tennessee. Tony knows how to coach offense.
Plus, Franklin had an experienced quarterback Saturday in Brent Stockstill, a sixth-year senior who is the son of head coach Rick Stockstill. Brent Stockstill entered Saturday having thrown for 21 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions for a team that was 7-3 overall and had won four straight.
And Middle Tennessee moved the ball Saturday. The Blue Raiders outgained UK 392-324. Stockstill completed 30 of 33 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns compared to one interception — a costly pick that UK safety Mike Edwards returned 66 yards for a touchdown on the fourth snap of the game. Time of possession: Middle Tennessee 33:22, Kentucky 26:38.
Still, for the Kentucky defense, Saturday was the continuation of a trend. After holding Missouri without a first down the entire second half in Columbia on Oct. 27, UK has allowed 444 yards to Georgia, 412 yards to Tennessee and now 392 to Middle Tennessee.
Credit Josh Allen for coming up with big sacks of Stockstill down the stretch, but the once dominant Kentucky defense appears to be showing the wear and tear of a long season. And there’s one more regular season game to go, at Louisville, prior to the break for the bowl game.
2. Kentucky is at its best when it plays smashmouth football
We know, UK fans want to open up the offense. Eddie Gran is too conservative. Run, run, wildcat, then another run. No imagination. No creativity. (Or so they say.) No production.
But Saturday proved again that the Kentucky offense is best when it it is in ground-and-pound mode. Afterward, Mark Stoops pointed to his favorite statistic: rushing yards. Kentucky gained 203 yards on the ground. Middle Tennessee gained 93.
“Again,” said Stoops, “you’re going to win football games win you do that.”
Previously, UK had failed to reach 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games — 70 at Texas A&M; 91 at Missouri; 84 versus Georgia; 77 at Tennessee. Three of those four were losses and it took a controversial pass interference call and a touchdown on an untimed down for the Cats to win at Missouri.
After three straight games of failing to reach 100 yards rushing himself, Benny Snell got back on the beam Saturday, gaining 116 yards on 26 carries. Snell is now 207 yards away from being UK’s all-time career rusher. And Saturday was more than likely his final home game in a Kentucky uniform.
For more details on that, read my column.
3. Pay no attention to how dreadful Louisville might be
We all know Louisville is really bad this year. We all know U of L head coach Bobby Petrino got fired last Sunday. We all know current Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, the former Louisville quarterback, might return to take over his alma mater in its time of dire need. And we know Louisville’s record is 2-9 after Saturday’s 52-10 loss to visiting North Carolina State.
UK linebacker Kash Daniel knows something else.
“They’re always going to come out swinging against us,” said Daniel on Saturday.
After a disastrous season, the Cardinals will have everything to gain and nothing to lose when they welcome an 8-3 Kentucky to the stadium formerly known as Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the 7 p.m. Saturday game. No one will be expecting Louisville to win.
Stoops said again Saturday that his team is still learning how to be the hunted instead of the hunter and the Cats should be heavy favorites at the ‘Ville. But then Kentucky was favored last week at Tennessee and we know how that turned out.
“No matter what their record might say, they’re a very talented football team that will come out with a fire and we’ve got to match their intensity.”