September 14, 2013

Defense sturdy early, but Cats fall to Cards 27-13

If you'd like, you can criticize Mark Stoops for seeking a silver lining. He gets that you might.

He understands that you're looking for more than improvement and that fighting hard -- as his Kentucky team undeniably did in Saturday's 27-13 loss to No. 7 Louisville -- isn't enough in a rivalry game.

But Stoops sees improvement, even if "I may get knocked for saying it," he said after his first Governor's Cup game.

Still, he told his team afterward, "We're never going to accept losing."

"We're going to hit the reality of this situation head on," Stoops said. "That's what it is. We need to learn how to make plays when the game's on the line. We need to learn how to make stops."

Kentucky (1-2) made its share on Saturday. In the end, it wasn't enough.

Louisville (3-0) racked up 492 yards of total offense, led by as many as 21 points and mostly controlled the second half. And yet, the Wildcats could walk away feeling they'd given themselves a shot at the upset.

And feeling that they blew it.

"We have every right to feel bad about ourselves," freshman wide receiver Ryan Timmons said. "We had chances, but… the offense wasn't consistent enough and we've got to do better."

Though the Cards got big numbers from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (16-of-28 passing, 250 yards, a touchdown) and running back Senorise Perry (11 carries, 100 yards, two touchdowns) and rolled up 242 rushing yards, Kentucky's defense kept the game competitive early.

The Wildcats held Louisville on its first six possessions to four punts, a field goal and a fumble, and the Cards had 153 yards of total offense at halftime.

Louisville led 10-3 at the half, and the Cats had a chance to cut into that lead near the end of the second quarter, until running back Raymond Sanders fumbled a handoff that Louisville recovered at its own 14-yard line, a play Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown called "crucial."

"Obviously we had some momentum going there, had an opportunity to go in -- I think that was on a first-down play -- and tie the game at half," Brown said. "And our defense had fought hard, had really played well enough for us to be tied at the half. I thought that was huge, because they took the ball the first drive of the second half and went down and scored."

That opening second-half drive -- capped by Perry's one-yard scoring run -- put Louisville in front 17-3 with 10:39 to play in the third quarter, and Kentucky never seemed like a significant threat from there, despite having a chance to cut the lead to a touchdown in the final minutes.

That Louisville scarcely seemed threated is in part a testament to the Cardinals. But it's at least partially due to Kentucky's unforced errors. The Wildcats dropped at least five passes (though the official play-by-play lists only three) and committed three turnovers to the Cards' one.

Kentucky's inability to sustain drives kept the Cats' defense on the field -- Louisville had a nine-minute advantage in time of possession - and led to some fatigue on the part of the UK defense.

"I think it did hurt us a little bit," Stoops said. "It's always like that. We understand that. Sometimes it's going to go your way that way, where the offense is going to have long drives, kill some clock. Sometimes it's not. That obviously didn't work in our favor today."

Still, Kentucky fought. And though Louisville closed out the game, and a third-straight win in the series, it was apparent to those on both sides that the Wildcats are making strides.

"They're getting a lot better," Louisville linebacker Preston Brown said. "You can see it just how they play. They played a lot harder today. It was great to see how much intensity they brought to the game."

Kentucky players will tell you the improvement hasn't just come since last season's Louisville game. The Cats are better than they were in a week-one loss to Western Kentucky.

"I feel like we're a physical team, and we've got great talent all around," UK linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I know we can win games. We let this one slip away from us with simple mistakes."

But Kentucky will have to show more improvement still.

The Cats get a bye week to get healthy -- they'll need it after quarterback Maxwell Smith left Saturday's game with an apparent shoulder injury - before facing ranked opponents Florida, South Carolina and Alabama on consecutive Saturdays.

"I think we're a little banged up," Stoops said. "I think most teams in the country are. It would be nice to be at full strength during that stretch."

And Kentucky can go into its bye week confident that, though it wasn't good enough to win on Saturday, it's getting better.

"I think there's a lot of positives," Brown said. "Our defense played their tails off. (Louisville's) quarterback's as good as anybody in the country. Their receivers are as good as anybody in the country. That offense is very talented and is well-coached, and our defense made a lot of plays.

"Obviously, (the offense) didn't help them out. We couldn't convert on third down to keep 'em off the field, and our guys got a little tired, expectedly, in the second half. I thought we played really well in the special teams. Our returns were much improved (from) last week. I thought we showed some signs (offensively) in the second half of being better. But I think there's a lot of positives. They're a good football team."



 

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