CRAWFORD | Four verticals: Plays that killed Kentucky in Florida - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Four verticals: Plays that killed Kentucky in Florida's comeback win

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Kentucky wideout Charles Walker shakes two Florida defenders during a punt return in Saturday's loss. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Kentucky wideout Charles Walker shakes two Florida defenders during a punt return in Saturday's loss. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s always this way. In a close game, you can reach into the barrel of plays that were run and come up with a handful that made the difference between winning and losing.

From that standpoint, Kentucky’s 28-27 loss to Florida is unremarkable, less so because Florida has beaten Kentucky now 31 consecutive years.

But the plays that beat Kentucky on Saturday night before a Kroger Field crowd of 62,945 were particularly galling to many who called to commiserate on Matt Jones’ Kentucky Sports Radio postgame talk show and others precisely because they’ve seen variations on the theme before.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said his team “played winning football” and he was in large part correct.

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“There's quite a few plays in games and you never know which ones are going to decide the football game,” Stoops went on. “And there's probably one of 12 plays in there that changed the game. And it's very disappointing that we didn't come up with those plays.”

Let’s take a look at four of the big ones.

1). BLOWN COVERAGE NO. 1. Coming out of a timeout late in the first half, Kentucky left Florida receiver Tyrie Cleveland uncovered right in front of the Wildcats’ sideline. He waved to quarterback Feleipe Franks, who hit him for a 45-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 heading into halftime.

Blown coverages are bad enough. Blown coverages where the team doesn’t even lineup correctly are worse. Not being lined up correctly out of a timeout are unfathomable. It’s as if the defense would’ve been better off not coming to the sideline at all.

“There should have been a guy there and I should have called (a timeout) and, quite honestly, we were looking at the unbalanced formation, I was looking at the set and I was fixed on our fits, because we were having some issues obviously with that set,” Stoops said. “And we were looking at exactly the formation in there, the bunch set, and by the time we realized that there was nobody on him, I tried to call a timeout and it was too late. I was fractions off of getting the timeout.”

2). BLOWN COVERAGE NO. 2. On the critical play of the game, with Florida at Kentucky’s 5-yard line after having driven 53 yards and taking a dozen plays to do it – including a couple of fourth-down conversions – the Gators called timeout with less than a minute to play. When the teams lined back up, the Gators once again had a wide receiver completely uncovered on the right side of their offense.

For the Kentucky defense, there was mass confusion. It had 12 players on the field, and two then began sprinting off the field, leaving the Wildcats with 10, and Florida QB Jake Del Rio with an easy game of pitch-and-catch to Freddie Swain for the go-ahead touchdown.

“We subbed and Jordan came out when the other corner came out,” Stoops said. “We were getting into a big goal line set and both corners came out and we left them uncovered. That's our fault, we tried to change personnel groups too late, we should have lived with the call that we had and tried to sub for bigger people. And that can't happen in that situation. Our players can't hear, it's loud and they can't hear and the communication is very, as you guys know, with the crowd noise with offense and I know it's like that on defense, it's the defense at home. And we have got to communicate much better. We have got to do a better job of coaching them.”

3). THE HOLDING CALL. Despite all that, Kentucky gave itself another chance. One thing that’s lost in this game was how resilient the Wildcats were, even in the end. Stephen Johnson drove the team the length of the field and put them into field goal range, including a big fourth-down completion to Charles Walker, 14-yards to the Florida 35, to put the Wildcats within field goal range with 21 seconds to play.

I’m not sure what to make of what happened next. I remember wandering over to Alan Cutler in the press box and asking, “Why don’t you just kick the field goal right here?”

There are, of course, decent reasons not to. A 52-yarder is not a chip shot, even for a kicker as good as Austin MacGinnis, who had missed from 48 earlier in the game. Moreover, kicking the field goal at that point left time for a potential kickoff return and/or at least one more play from scrimmage for the Gators. And anyone who knows this rivalry knows that if anything can go wrong in such a situation for Kentucky, it will.

It went wrong. If you’re going to run a play in that situation, the absolute safe call is to give the ball to Benny Snell and let him get you a little closer. That’s what Stoops did, and Snell blasted up the middle for 10 yards.

“We ran the ball there because we were in field goal range and they were playing split safeties with two high and we felt like we can get a good five, six yards and be in comfortable range for Austin and we broke it for whatever, 10 or 15,” Stoops said.

But there was a flag on the play.

In the offensive backfield, Kentucky senior guard Nick Haynes was flagged for holding. The replays showed that yes, he did hold a defender. It was an iffy flag in that situation, but it was unquestionably a hold. It happened.

Haynes called it “a BS call.”

“I’ll look at the film tomorrow,” he said. “I thought I had a pretty good block. I guess it was just a hold in his eyes. It’s heartbreaking.”

Stoops concurred, calling it, “a heart-breaking call.”

MacGinnis wound up having to try a 57-yarder, which came up a few yards short.

4). MISSED CHANCES. There were other plays. After a 21-yard Sihiem King scamper to the Florida 21-yard line, the Wildcats were poised to lead at the half. But Stephen Johnson missed on his next pass, then was sacked on each of the next two plays. MacGinnis’ 48-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright, a rare miss for a player who became the school’s all-time field goal leader.

It wasn’t the last time UK would misfire down close.

Kentucky’s defense opened the second half dominating Florida. Two three-and-outs, giving up a total of two yards. Kentucky drove quickly for a touchdown on its first possession, and marched again into the Florida red zone, to the Gators’ 5-yard line.

Then the Wildcats took a delay of game penalty. Then came two more short gains before a shotgun snap went over Johnson’s head for a loss of 19 yards. Kentucky had to settle for a 42-yard MacGinnis field goal when a touchdown might’ve begun to put the game away.

Even so, the Kentucky defense responded with another big momentum play, intercepting Del Rio on the next series and setting the offense up near midfield. All the momentum belonged to Kentucky. But the Wildcats ran the ball three times for a net of one yard, and wound up punting for a Florida touchback.

A lot of focus goes on the two blown defensive plays and it should, but the offense three times in the second and third quarters failed to get the job done, too.

“The breakdown in communication defensively on the two plays are really a sore spot because they stick out and it takes away from the great passion and energy that the team, that our team played with,” Stoops said. “We played winning football. We have to get those things fixed and I accept responsibility for those and we'll get those plays fixed and do a better job. So, again, I thank the fans, the atmosphere was phenomenal, and greatly appreciate their support and energy and I know our players did as well.”

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