BOZICH | Despite Auburn misfire, Kentucky in line for 7 wins, bo - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Despite Auburn misfire, Kentucky in line for 7 wins, bowl game

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Kentucky slipped to 4-2 by losing to Auburn Thursday. Kentucky slipped to 4-2 by losing to Auburn Thursday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s all still in play for this Kentucky football team, all the goodies the most optimistic voices were predicting for the Wildcats in August.

Seven victories, a two-game upgrade over last season. A bowl trip, the program’s first since the 2010 season. The opportunity to win a rivalry game against Tennessee or Louisville.

What isn’t in play is the chance for Mark Stoops’ team to deliver a spectacular season. Not now.

Spectacular required winning the game the Wildcats could have won but lost (14-9) to Florida in September or the one they could have won but lost (30-27) against Auburn Thursday night in Commonwealth Stadium.

Two losses by less than a touchdown against Southeastern Conference opponents the Wildcats defeat as often as John Calipari signs a 2-star recruit.

This one, the one that left Kentucky 4-2, will sting for a few days. This one, the one that made Kentucky 2-2 in the SEC, should sting for a few days.

It should sting for Stoops, who got outmaneuvered by Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. Both coaches had extra time to prepare for this ESPN moment.

Malzahn used his time to fix his wobbly passing game, a move left Stoops’ defense look unsettled in the first half. An Auburn team that was averaging 153 yards per game passing the football, threw it for 255, 186 in the first half.

Advantage Auburn. The Tigers got ahead and stayed ahead, surging to a 23-10 halftime edge. Kentucky played catch-up, all night.

“We prepared for a lot of runs,” UK linebacker Josh Forrest said. “We didn’t think they were going to pass it that much.

“We let one slip away us just from the plays we could have made and should have made. Things we did wrong. “

It should sting for Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles. His overall numbers were solid. He passed for 359 yards and led the Wildcats on three touchdown drives. But games like this are decided by a play here and a play there.

For Towles, the play here will be the interception he threw in the Auburn end zone in the second quarter.

Towles went with his first option (Dorian Baker) instead of his second (Garrett Johnson). Check the replay. Johnson had at least several steps on an Auburn defender. Baker barely had two inches on the guy covering him.

Wrong choice. Costly choice.

“That’s on me,” Towles said. “I’ve just got to throw a better ball. If I play my best game tonight we win. But I didn’t.”

For Towles, the play there was Kentucky’s final offensive play. The Wildcats attacked with three wide receivers to the left and a pair to the right. Auburn stacked four defenders to the left but only a pair on the right.

Towles looked left. His first option appeared to be Jeff Badet. Towles wisely recognized that he was double-covered.

If Towles had looked right, he would have seen an open receiver. But he didn’t.

Towles tucked the ball and ran left. He needed three yards. He lost a pair.

Ball game.

“I’ve got to do better,” Towles said. “I’ve got to make a play. We made a lot of plays. They just made one more.”

It should sting for Shannon Dawson, Kentucky’s offensive coordinator. Dawson made a play call in the final minute that will light up lines one, two, three and four on sports talk stations Friday.

Here’s why: Kentucky was faced with a second-and-five with less than a minute to play. The Wildcats had already burned their three timeouts when they forced Auburn to punt.

If you need five yards and call a run without any timeouts in the final minute, you’d better be certain your offense will get five yards to earn the first down and stop the clock.

Kentucky did not get five. The Wildcats got two. The clock did not stop.

Towles tried to complete a difficult pass to Badet down the left sideline. Close, but incomplete. Then came the quarterback’s failed run.

Cue the second-guessing of the second-down running play.

“Obviously you can second-guess calls, every call,” Dawson said. “The run game is going to get second-guessed, I get that.

“They were going two high (two defensive backs deep). We were right there at the 50. If we split ‘em, I’ve gotten 20 or 30 yards at the end of the game. You can’t abandon the run game at the end of the game.

“I felt that we had plenty of time. Forty seconds to me is a long time. Obviously every call is bad when it doesn’t work. I’ll take the blame for that 100 percent. Obviously it was a bad call in hindsight.”

That was more than Kentucky could overcome, even on a night when the Wildcats outgained Auburn by 90 yards and looked like a team that had nearly as many athletes as the Tigers.

Now the Wildcats enter a three-game stretch that features a home game against Tennessee on Halloween sandwiched by road games with Mississippi State and Georgia. That trio is a combined 11-7

Then comes the finishing stretch of Vanderbilt, Charlotte and Louisville. Every team in that trio is 2-3.

There are three more wins in there for this Kentucky football team. There is a reasonable path to navigate to seven victories and a bowl game.

But there could have been more.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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