The well-worn football adage that teams make a lot of improvement from week one to week two sure needs to be true for the University of Kentucky this week.
UK needs to have a full understanding of holding on to the football in a crowd.
The Wildcats will have their second game, but opener at Kroger Field, against a Mississippi team that showed some offense in a 51-35 loss to No. 3 Florida.
Lane Kiffin will be on the opposite sideline from Mark Stoops on Saturday, so expect Ole Miss to be going up top with the football.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns with one interception (on a deflected pass) on 22-of-31 passing. Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore was unstoppable with 10 catches for 227 yards on 12 targets. The Rebels got after it with an impressive 7.9 yards per play on 613 yards of total offense.
A lot of that damage came after Florida had built a commanding lead, but Kentucky will be facing that same Ole Miss offense.
UK could be 0-2 to open the season. How the Wildcats became 0-1 had a familiar feel.
UK went on the road to open this COVID-19 season against a big name SEC opponent. This time it was Auburn, never an easy assignment for the Wildcats.
UK played its collective guts out in the first half, it moved the ball constantly, it seemed to go up 15-8 just before the half on a power run touchdown.
It seemed to the officials that Chris Rodriguez didn’t score for UK, although his entire body, with the football, crossed the goal line in the Plains.
You get an idea of the magnitude of the second half disaster for UK by seeing No. 8 (not that great) Auburn drop the Wildcats 29-13.
Auburn got three takeaways in the second half against Kentucky. Spin moves and the ball getting dislodged were twice the culprits for the Wildcats. Twice Auburn scored touchdowns quickly after the UK mistakes.
“No excuses, just have to be able to hold onto the football,” UK quarterback Terry Wilson said after his first game in over a year.
Couple those mistakes with the adjustments that Auburn made to slow UK down after halftime, and it’s easier to understand the turnaround from the first half to the second.
“We were very concerned coming into the game,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “They led the league in rushing last year. They had four starters back and they’re very good offensive linemen. Our defense did a really good job of stopping them between the tackles.”
UK outgained Auburn by 60 yards for the day finished with 384 yards in total offense, but a lot of that work was done in the first half, when UK had 234 yards to Auburn’s 143.
UK got a reminder about the cost of mistakes.
Kentucky had more first downs, more passing yards, more rushing yards, more total yards, ran more total plays and had a higher third down percentage but lost the turnover battle 3-0 and that was the difference in the game.
Kentucky went 7-1 when outgaining opponents last season. That one loss was at home to Tennessee.
UK could make some errors and likely escape a season opener against a Toledo, a Central Michigan or an Eastern Michigan.
That’s not what the Wildcats were going up against at Auburn.
While this wasn’t a heavy-duty Auburn team, it still had significant talent advantages around the field. Auburn was too good to keep gift wrapping touchdowns.