September 15, 2013
So, about those third downs.
Kentucky, as you might have heard, converted precisely zero of 13 third downs against Louisville. Not exactly the recipe for upsetting a top-10 opponent.
"Drive killers," coach Mark Stoops said.
On those 13 third downs, the Wildcats needed to pick up a combined 89 yards for conversions. They gained 17 of those yards (19 percent), and only three individual plays went for positive yardage. Here's the full list:
3rd-and-4: Raymond Sanders rush for three yards.
3rd-and-1: Jalen Whitlow fumbles.
3rd-and-10: Maxwell Smith pass incomplete to Raymond Sanders.
3rd-and-14: Jonathan George rush for nine yards.
3rd-and-6: Maxwell Smith pass incomplete to Alex Montgomery.
3rd-and-1: Jonathan George rush for zero yards.
3rd-and-3: Raymond Sanders rush for negative-two yards.
3rd-and-5: Maxwell Smith pass incomplete to Javess Blue.
3rd-and-9: Jalen Whitlow pass to Anthony Kendrick intercepted.
3rd-and-4: Jalen Whitlow pass incomplete to Jeff Badet.
3rd-and-9: Jalen Whitlow pass complete to Ronnie Shields for seven yards.
3rd-and-13: Jalen Whitlow pass incomplete to Jojo Kemp.
3rd-and-10: Jalen Whitlow pass incomplete to Ronnie Shields.
The failures were mostly, I think, a lack of execution. Four of those passes were dropped (although not every one would have been a guaranteed first down). Two of them were turnovers. Kentucky just didn't give itself much of a chance when it needed to.
"We were poor on third downs," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "No question about it. I can't even give you a brief argument about that."
Brown knows third down. His teams at Texas Tech were among the best in the nation at converting, and his worst third-down game there was 3-of-13, which happened twice.
But Brown was more concerned about the downs that set up those third-down struggles.
UK faced, on average, 6.8 yards to convert those third downs. That's untenable, especially for an offense that's still searching for an identity.
"Where we lost was on first down," Brown said. "... And we had a couple second-and-shorts where we didn't make plays. That hurt us as much or more as third down."
On first downs, Brown has set a season-long goal of gaining four or more yards half the time. Against Louisville, 13 of 26 first-down plays hit that mark -- but of those 13, five got first downs on their own. So you could put it this way, if you're thinking about it from the perspective of setting up successful third downs: eight of 21 plays (38 percent) gained the desired yardage.
And UK faced three second-and-one or second-and-two situations. They didn't pick up the first on any of them (one Maxwell Smith incompletion, one Jonathan George run, one Raymond Sanders run). It's almost unacceptable to not be able to pick up two yards in two tries.
"There were times when things were rolling a little bit," Smith said of the failed conversions. 'Just certain plays, just one guy wasn't executing right. And that's all it takes."