Heading into Saturday’s contest, most everyone believed the Wildcats held the edge in the trenches. Specifically, most folks trusted Kentucky’s talented and veteran offensive line to beat up a talented but inexperienced Auburn defensive line. Throw in Auburn’s most experienced lineman in Big Kat Bryant limited with an injury, another experienced edge player in Derick Hall being ejected from the game and much hyped true freshman Jay Hardy out due to an injury and you would think this would be a massive landslide victory for the Wildcats. That was very much true for the first half.
The Kentucky Wildcats offense controlled the game in the first 30 minutes of action compiling 229 yards on 41 plays. That’s just over 5.5 yards per play. Much of that damage was done on the ground where Kentucky rushed for 120 yards and a score. The shortest drive for the `Cats in terms of time of possession was their last one going for four minutes and thirteen seconds. The only thing the Tigers did well defensively in the first half was keep the Kentucky offense out of the endzone.
When rewatching the game, especially the first drive, Kentucky’s offensive line jumps off the screen. They absolutely manhandled the Tigers defensive front and consistently were able to climb to the 2nd level to take a linebacker out of the play. Here’s an early example.
Kentucky is running GT Counter against an even box meaning there are the same number of defenders as there are blockers. Watch how every lineman fits on their man and wins handily especially Kentucky’s right guard Luke Fortner who had a hell of a first half. By the time an unblocked defender can get to the running back, Kentucky already has a first down and more.
The Wildcats first touchdown was another demonstration of the talent on this offensive line.
Again, Kentucky has an even box with 5 Auburn defenders against their 5 offensive lineman. You can’t see it in this view but the Wildcats have quads to the field meaning four wide receivers. The Tigers over adjust leaving an enticing box to run against if the UK offensive line does their job.
Boy did they do it...
Again watch as Kentucky’s right guard man handles Auburn’s interior lineman. On the first gif it was Daquan Newkirk, here it’s redshirt freshman Colby Wooden. The center gets a clean release to Owen Pappoe creating a massive running lane for Wetumpka’s own Kavosiey Smoke.
Heading into halftime, I was concerned that Auburn’s defense would collapse in the 2nd half. They had been beaten up much of those first 30 minutes and needed a heck of a play at the end of the half to prevent a 2nd touchdown. How would this new defensive line without superstars Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson respond after getting pushed around?
Well they responded in a big way. By beating the hell out of what might be a top 3 offensive line in the country and they did it immediately.
Kentucky’s first 2 drives of the 2nd half were both 3 & outs and went a total distance of 1 yard. The push the Wildcats had all first half was gone. Instead, those veteran studs were going the opposite way.
Daquan Newkirk drives Kentucky center Drake Jackson, a man many believe is the best center in the SEC, three yards into the backfield. Tyrone Truesdell eats a double team slowing the left guard which keeps K.J. Britt free to go make a play. Except Britt isn’t needed as Wooden shrugs off the attempt by the tight end to seal the edge and plants the running back into the ground.
This was the first play of the 2nd half and a message had been sent. We aren’t scared of you anymore.
Remember that right guard from the first half? Remember how he was just abusing Auburn’s interior defensive line? Specifically the youngsters? Ya about that...
#3 is TRUE freshman Zykeivous Walker. He takes redshirt senior Luke Fortner for a ride into the backfield for an almost safety. Tyrone Truesdell blows by the left guard forcing the running back into Walker. Those wide open running lanes have disappeared.
After surrendering 120 yards rushing in the first half, Auburn’s defense gave up only 25 in the 2nd half. In fact, if you remove Kentucky’s final inconsequential drive from the numbers, Auburn’s defense held this `Cats offense to a total of 75 yards on 27 plays. That’s 2.8 yards per play. Incredible.
The Tigers now will head to Athens to take on an offensive line that might have equal talent (on paper) as this Kentucky front but is nowhere near as experienced or as a sturdy just yet. Starters Big Kat Bryant and Derick Hall will be back and there’s a chance 2020 signees Jay Hardy and Dre Butler will as well. The UGA offense really struggled against an ok Arkansas front. If the Tigers can carry their 2nd half play into Athens this weekend they have a great chance at shutting this Dawg rushing attack down.