CRAWFORD | Opportunity lost: Eight quick takeaways from Kentucky - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Opportunity lost: Eight quick takeaways from Kentucky's 30-27 loss to Auburn

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — The ESPN cameras were rolling, a Thursday-night sellout crowd in renovated Commonwealth Stadium was primed, and an Auburn University team that had ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in rushing defense coming in appeared ripe to be steamrolled in a University of Kentucky football coming out party.
 
But Kentucky could not lower the boom. The Wildcats moved the ball well on Auburn, but a few red zone miscues, poor third-down defense in the first half and some mystifying play calls in the final minutes deprived the Wildcats of their first home win over Auburn since 1966.
 
It might’ve been a field-storming goalpost kind of win, a win that would’ve announced Kentucky’s intention to contend for the championship of a hobbled SEC East division. Instead, the goalposts were lowered quietly after the game, as Auburn celebrated a 30-27 win in the first Thursday night game in Lexington since 1939.
 
“We just needed to make a few more plays in critical situations, and we needed to start a little better,” UK coach Mark Stoops said. “ … I felt like we weren’t quite physical enough early in the game, we made some adjustments and played better in the second half. We had our opportunities. 
 
The takeaways:
 
1. GOT THE JOB DONE: Sean White, Auburn’s redshirt freshman quarterback, came of age a bit in this one. He completed 17 of 27 passes for 255 yards and ran the Auburn hurry-up very well, particularly in the first half. He had the key pass of the second half, a 34-yard completion to Ricardo Lewis to set Auburn up at UK’s 12. That eventually led to the decisive touchdown.
 
2. DIDN’T GET THE JOB DONE: A tie. Kentucky’s red zone offense had been outstanding all season. The Wildcats came into the game perfect on red zone chances. But they had some costly misses against Auburn. Twice with first-and-goal from inside the Auburn 10, they didn’t get the ball to Williams even once. On the first of those, Patrick Towles threw an interception in the end zone from eight yards out. On the second, UK had to settle for a field goal. It’s a fine line, but in a game like this, those missed chances make all the difference. And its clock management on the final drive was hard to explain. The Wildcats had the ball at midfield with 1:29 left in the game and no timeouts. They then threw a 5-yard pass into the flat, and receiver Dorian Baker turned inside instead of toward the sideline. The next play was a Boom Williams run up the middle, squandering more time. When a long pass was broken up, UK was left with 4th and 3 and Towles was sacked.
 
3. TURNING POINT: Auburn’s offense was struggling, UK had all the momentum, and had pulled within 23-17 when its defense made a huge momentum play. Marcus McWilson looked to have forced a fumble by Auburn’s Peyton Barber at the end of a first-down run. Replays, however, later showed that Barber’s arm had hit the ground before the ball came loose. Instead of Kentucky’s ball near midfield, it was Auburn’s ball on first down. Two plays later, White completed a 34-yard pass to set up an Auburn TD. 
 
4. SURPRISE, SURPRISE: The Kentucky passing game. Conventional wisdom dictated that given Auburn’s struggles to stop the run and Boom Williams returning to Kentucky’s starting lineup, that it would be a huge night for the Wildcat ground attack. Instead, its wide receivers were game breakers. Auburn’s secondary couldn’t cover them. On a potential game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter, the Tigers twice gave UK first-down conversions on pass-interference penalties. Then Jeff Badet made a fantastic catch down the left sideline to set up a touchdown that kept the Wildcats close. Garrett Johnson had nine catches for 160 yards. Baker had 6 catches for 66 yards — but also dropped a TD opportunity in the second half. Badet had five catches for 67 yards. 
 
5. WDRB PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Statistically, no one could handle Garrett Johnson, whose 160 yards receiving led the game. Boom Williams averaged 7.1 yards per carry, 16 rushes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He just didn’t get it enough, particularly in the red zone.
 
6. STAT OF THE DAY, STAT OF THE DAY: Stoops is now 0-19 when his teams trail at halftime. In a series dating back to 1934, Kentucky has won just six times.
 
7. WHAT WE LEARNED: Kentucky has the skill position players it needs to win these games. It doesn’t yet have the depth and talent in the defensive trenches it needs. But the Wildcats should be able to score enough points to win. They just need to lean harder on Williams. He didn’t help his own cause with a couple of dropped passes, but he’s a big-time SEC talent at running back, and when you get one of those, you need to ride him — 17 touches and two targets is a healthy number, but five or six more might’ve been the difference between winning and losing. By contrast, Auburn used its feature back, Peyton Barber, on 26 carries, and he also had one catch. When you find a star, in this league, you have to use him.
 
8. NOW WHAT? The Wildcats now get nine days to get ready for only their second road game of the season — and first in nearly six weeks — at Mississippi State a week from Saturday.  The Bulldogs will face Louisiana Tech this week.
 
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