Dark clouds and silver linings about Kentucky football’s wobbly 2-0 start

I’m not worried. Are you worried? Are you worried because through two games this Kentucky football team has not played like you thought or hoped this Kentucky football team would play? Are you worried because you know there are much tougher stress tests ahead?

There are reasons to worry. I’ll grant you that. Mark Stoops’ team is 2-0 — and 2-0 is always good — but the victories over Ball State (44-14 in Week 1) and Eastern Kentucky (28-17 on Saturday) have fallen short of impressive, showings that have no doubt left BBN with an uneasy feeling.

So, through two games, let’s sort out the Cats’ start via dark clouds and silver linings:

Dark cloud: Officials have done a lot of finger-pointing at the boys in blue these first two outings. UK was whistled seven times for 51 yards against Ball State; 10 times for 70 yards against Eastern Kentucky. “Penalties are really hurting us,” Stoops said Saturday.

On two separate third-and-1s Saturday, the Cats were whistled for a false start. Third-and-6 is much different than third-and-1. Additionally, tight end Josh Kattus was twice called for holding. Three different Kentucky defenders were called for offsides.

Silver lining: Those are lack-of-discipline penalties. Correctable errors. Both Stoops and defensive coordinator Brad White talked about the team “getting loose,” to use White’s term. The SEC schedule will require tighter play. Much tighter.

Dark cloud: “We did not establish the line of scrimmage in this game,” Stoops said after UK rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries. Good, not great. Of the Cats’ 22 rushing attempts — not counting one sack of the quarterback — eight attempts gained just 2 yards or less. Six of those eight came on first-and-10.

Silver lining: UK was missing two starters along the offensive line. Left guard Kenneth Horsey, perhaps the team’s best offensive lineman, is to miss multiple games after being injured in the opener. Starting right tackle Jeremy Flax also missed Saturday’s game with an unspecified injury. No word on his return.

Dark cloud: Kentucky had a punt blocked Saturday, the first time that’s happened since last season’s loss to South Carolina.

Silver lining: Through two games, new kicker Alex Raynor is 3 of 3 on field goals and 9 of 9 on extra points. Last season, UK was 25 of 27 on extra points.

Dark cloud: Twice now, quarterback Devin Leary has started slowly. Through the first two quarters of his UK debut, Leary was 8 of 20 for 144 yards passing with an interception. Through the first two quarters against EKU, Leary was 14 of 25 for 125 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Silver lining: Twice now, Leary has caught fire in the second half. Against Ball State, he completed 10 of 11 passes for 97 yards and a score. Against Eastern, he completed 10 of 13 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Dark cloud: After Cincinnati hung 66 points on the Colonels in that 66-13 bombing Sept. 2, Kentucky managed only 28 on Saturday. After UC blistered the Colonels for 667 yards, Kentucky managed 404.

Kentucky wide receiver Barion Brown (7) runs the ball against the Eastern Kentucky during Saturday’s game at Kroger Field.
Kentucky wide receiver Barion Brown (7) runs the ball against the Eastern Kentucky during Saturday’s game at Kroger Field.

Silver lining: An old saying goes, “Either you have speed or your chasing.” So far, opponents are merely chasing Barion Brown. The sophomore returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Ball State. He returned a punt 36 yards to set up a score and swing the momentum UK’s way against Eastern Kentucky.

Dark cloud: Extended drives are really starting to get on the defensive coordinator’s nerves. Ball State produced drives of 13, seven, nine, 10, 11 and 10 plays in the opener. Saturday, just two of Eastern Kentucky’s 10 possessions ended without a first down.

Silver lining: EKU benefited from inside intel. All within the rules, of course. Head coach Walt Wells was a lieutenant on Stoops’ staff. Quarterbacks coach Maxwell Smith and C.J. Conrad both played for and were graduate assistants for Stoops. Knowledge is power.

Dark cloud: Overall, Kentucky has left a lot of meat on the bone these first two games.

Silver lining: The Cats are 2-0. And 2-0 is always good.

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