Kentucky faces its toughest competition in a loss to Auburn: Itself



By Joshua Huff

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Amid an inconsistent season, it only seems fair that the inability to put together four quarters of consistent football sent UK to its second Southeastern Conference loss of the year.

This time to Auburn, 30-27.

Facing a disappointing Tigers team, UK was expected to pick apart Auburn’s freshman quarterback Sean White and enter the meat of its schedule an impressive 5-1 (3-1 SEC). As UK football goes though, the fairytale ending was not meant to be and instead, it will enter the game against Mississippi State 4-2 (2-2 SEC) with Tennessee and Georgia on deck.

White picked apart an underwhelming UK defense to the tune of 255 yards as the Tigers racked up 407 yards of total offense. Even when the Cats’ defense put the clamps down in the third quarter, the UK offense, down two scores, failed to capitalize.

It was in all, a consistent theme of inconsistency throughout the game that doomed UK.

Dropped passes, ill-timed penalties and the inability to punch it into the endzone shockingly resulted in a UK loss on Thursday with the world watching in primetime. For a program looking to reach national prominence within a conference with little breathing room, UK’s performance did little to ease the doubts.

The Cats had a chance to either tie or pull ahead with less than two minutes remaining in the game. But the pixy dust was all but used up during UK’s miraculous win against Eastern Kentucky. Patrick Towles was sacked at Auburn’s 46-yard line on fourth and three to end UK’s threat with around 30 seconds left.

It was also Towle’s ill-advised pass in the second quarter, which was intercepted in the end zone by Auburn’s Carlton Davis that ultimately doomed UK. Had the Cats failed to score – should Davis’ interception attempt drop to the ground – a field goal could have possibly led to the game going into overtime at 30-all; Cinderella, however, would’ve been disappointed, because ultimately it was not meant to be.

Towles finished the night 27-for-44 for 359 yards and no touchdowns. His bloated numbers are intriguing because arguable UK’s best player, Boom Williams, finished with just 16 carries. Williams opened UK’s first possession with a 60-yard run, but all but disappeared in the second quarter – he had no carries.

Also, even more confusing is the lack of attention to tight end C.J. Conrad. After he blew up against Missouri he disappeared against EKU and had just three catches against Auburn. One in which he carried about three Tigers nearly eight yards down the field. Yes, Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker are getting the most looks, but if you watch the NFL most teams are turning to a tight end focused offense. New England utilizes it the most, and is immensely effective.

Conrad may not be as good as Rob Gronkowski, but of all the UK offensive players, Conrad has the most upside: he can catch, block and is absurdly strong for a freshman. Stop throwing the ball to Williams (he had two drops and nearly a third), stop trying to be too fancy and go deep every other play, attack the seams and hit teams in the mouth.

Head coach Mark Stoops turned the program around, but the next few weeks are going to be trying for UK. It’s not out of the question for it to lose its next three games. For it to have a chance the defense needs to get its act together. Prior to the game, Auburn averaged just 343.8 total yards per game with just 153 of it  in the air and 190 on the ground. On Thursday, the Tigers put up 407 yards of total offense. They went 11-for-18 on third downs and controlled the clock in the first half. UK ended up winning the time of possession, and the total yards, but couldn’t punch it into the end zone, which proved to be its downfall.

Nobody wants to be cynical, but the reality that UK faces is not good. Its only conference wins came against teams heading in the wrong direction: Missouri and South Carolina. Both are typically dominant SEC teams, and both are currently having subpar seasons. Auburn, though not having as good a season as predicted, is still one of the most talented teams in the conference.

UK is not there yet. It still resides in the bottom of the conference with the likes of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. For UK to truly rise out of the thunder that is the SEC and become lightning, it needs to beat the Florida’s, the Georgia’s and the Tennessee’s.

If it can’t achieve that, UK remains just a typical middling football program stuck in the shadow of the much popular basketball program.

Stoops can only hope that the next four weeks will change that culture, because UK is fun to watch. Just not when its fighting itself.