Ups and Downs–Kentucky–From the Bird’s Nest
Saturday's 40-33 loss to Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium was, at times, a product of extremes. At times the Cajuns were very good. And, at times they were...well...very bad. WIth some time to reflect, here's some of the ups and downs from game one.
1. QUARTERBACK PLAY---Considering it was the opening game, the Cajuns' quarterbacks performed well in game one. Brooks Haack had a tough start (1-6) but completed 21-31 after that. Statistics say he was intercepted twice but one was on the final play of the game. And, he had positive rushing yards (14) despite being sacked twice. The Cajuns responded well to Jalen Nixon when he entered the game and his numbers were solid. Both need to get better. They will.
2. BALANCE--The Cajuns rushed for 247 yards and passed for 232. As always, the ability to run the football is paramount for this team to have success. Some of those yards were tough yards in tough situations.
3. POSSESSION---The Cajuns did a good job of ball control in the game. They converted third and short repeatedly and were 3-4 on fourth down which kept drives alive. Gabe Fuselier and Freshman Gary Haynes had solid games as possession receivers.
4. STEVEN COUTTS--His first ever football game showed why Mark Hudspeth is so high on the Aussie. Coutts had two punts over fifty yards, had a punt downed at the one yard line and netted over 40 yards per kick. He wasn't perfect, getting just 38 yards on his last punt, but it was overall, a very good day for the freshman.
5. THE O-LINE--Overall a good performance. The Cajuns averaged 5.3 yards per carry and, other than the two sacks, had only three carries for negative yardage.
6. COACHING ADJUSTMENTS---The new Cajuns' defensive coaching staff had a lot to do at halftime and they showed their years of experience in the locker room. The Cajuns' defense allowed just a FG after the Elijah McGuire muffed punt and no points after a long kickoff return gave UK at the ball at the UL 28. And, after giving up seven plays of 20 yards or more in the first half, they gave up just two after intermission, both on the Kentucky touchdown in the third quarter.
7. DOMINIQUE TOVELL--Might have been the best defensive player on the field. Had five tackles, two sacks and was a disruptive force for most of the game.
1. SPECIAL TEAMS---Muffed a punt, longest kickoff return was 23 yards, allowed a punt return of 16 yards and two kickoff returns of more than 30 yards, including a sixty yarder. Struggled with kickoffs. Got hit with a five yard penalty tacked on after the return prior to Kentucky's winning drive. If not for Coutts, this unit would get a grade of D at best.
2, ELI AND JAMAL--While McGuire got some tough yards in tough situations, he only averaged 3.2 yards per carry and didn't have a run over eleven yards. He also muffed a punt. Robinson had a fumble in the red zone, slowed down on what should have been a touchdown pass and overall looked pretty tentative. Neither was close to his best.
3. DEFENSIVE LINE--My biggest concern coming into the season and, evidently, with good reason. 2.5 tackles, no sacks, no tackles for loss. This unit has a LOT of work to do.
4. BIG PLAYS--Nine. Seven in the first half. The Cajuns DB got torched in man coverage. They were much better (especially McCollum and Tracy Walker) in the second half, but this team needs Simeon Thomas back if they're going to be able to man up against the opposition.
4. PENALTIES--Seven for 70 yards. And, it probably could have been worse. There were a couple of times I thought interference could have been called but wasn't. On Kentucky's last drive alone, the Cajuns were hit with 25 yards in penalties. They averaged ten yards per penalty. Not good.
5. INJURIES--Al Riles hurt a shoulder early and did not return. And while Gary Haynes was admirable in his first game, make no mistake about the fact this one hurt (pun intended). That's about a half dozen receivers the Cajuns have lost since the spring. Hopefully Riles won't be out long. Darzil Washington went out early as well and he's a guy the Cajuns simply can't do without. He can be so disruptive and his absence hurt. Jacoby Briscoe was on crutches after the game. He had one of the 2.5 tackles credited to the defensive line.
6. CRITICAL MISTAKES---Start with the aforementioned fumble in the red zone. Ten in the thrd quarter, the Cajuns had the ball at the one yard line, got hit with a false start and then a sack, resulting in three points when they should have had seven And, on a critical third down play on the final drive, the Cajuns were unable to get Charles Walker to the ground three yards shy of the marker. Instead he was inches away and instead of a punt, Kentucky got a quarterback sneak (on a fumbled snap) which kept the final drive alive.
I said I wouldn't judge this team based on what I saw the first four games. And I won't. There's plenty of room for improvement. Many of the issues are fixable. Bottom line is, there's no such thing as a good loss. This one hurt. And, it should.