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Playing Nice: Kentucky

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A rare visit from our friends in Kentucky

Florida v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Big thanks to our friend Jason Marcrum at A Sea of Blue, our Kentucky sister site. We don’t do enough with those guys, I blame the ridiculous schedule the SEC keeps.

1. Kentucky’s riding high at 5-0, 16th in the nation, and beat Florida for the first time since the 80s Saturday night. Is this week a possible letdown spot for the Cats?

I could definitely see a bit of a letdown. So much went into beating Florida at home for the first time since 1986, I could see the defense not having quite the same juice vs. LSU. Part of that could be mentally, but don’t overlook the fact they’ve been on the field way too much recently due to the offense not sustaining drives. Last week, Florida had 32 passing attempts vs. 17 for Kentucky and 39 runs vs. just 30 for Kentucky. That kind of disparity could have the Cats’ defense worn down physically and mentally a bit this week.

2. How’s our old pal Dare Rosenthal done?

Rosenthal has been very solid thus far. The transition from multi-year left tackle Landon Young, who was consistently one of Kentucky’s best linemen, to Rosenthal has been great. He’s doing well opening running lands for Chris Rodriguez while holding up well in pass protection, even though the passing game has dropped off a bit recently.

If Rosenthal keeps up his current play, he’ll definitely be in contention for a spot on one of the All-SEC teams/an honorable mention. I’m not sure he’s played at a first-round pick level that Ed Orgeron hyped him up to be, but Rosenthal has been exactly what Kentucky needed after losing Young to graduation.

3. LSU’s offensive line may be the worst performing unit in all of football but Kentucky’s going to be without nose guard Marquan McCall. Does his absence change how you feel about Kentucky’s defense stopping the LSU offense?

McCall is a big loss on paper, but Kentucky has two blue-chip 2020 recruits stepping up in Justin Rogers and Josaih Hayes. When McCall went down early vs. the Gators, those two stepped up big time and helped Kentucky’s interior defense continue to play at a high level for four quarters. Hayes had already been doing well in limited snaps, but this was the first time Rogers saw extensive playing time, and the former 5-star recruit more than held his own.

So for now, I don’t think the loss of McCall is too significant to Kentucky’s defense as long as the two youngsters keep playing at the level we’ve seen thus far, so my guess is Kentucky’s frontline will have a big day Saturday if they’re not having a hangover effect from beating Florida.

4. Kentucky’s of course undefeated but they’ve won their last four games by an average of about six points. What has this team done to always be on the right side of these one-score games and is this sustainable?

It’s definitely not sustainable if the turnovers keep up. One could argue that’s why the games have been so close, but there’s no question the defense is the biggest reason why Kentucky is where it is. Granted, that unit struggled against Missouri (more below), but the Tigers had a great game plan and the weapons to execute it. Connor Bazelak is probably the most accurate QB Kentucky has faced thus far, and he was great at picking apart the Cats’ defense with the short-to-intermediate passes.

But there’s certainly been luck too. That blocked field goal returned for a touchdown last week is a very fluky play you rarely see in this level of football. Last week was also the first time Kentucky didn’t lose the turnover battle this season (tied at 1-1 vs. Gators). If they can hold on to the ball, they can certainly finish the regular season with 10 wins, but if not, they’ll eventually catch up and cost Kentucky several games.

5. Obviously nobody’s done it yet, but if you were to beat this Wildcat team how do you pull it off?

I think patience is the big key. We saw that in Week 2 vs. Missouri. The Tigers’ offense ran about the most dink-and-dunk offense you’ll see, but it worked to near-perfection as they scored 28 points, the most Kentucky has allowed this season. Mark Stoops’ more recent defenses have been great at limiting big plays, but they can be prone to allow long drives that eat up clock.

And then on defense, load the box and always have Wan’Dale Robinson accounted for, even double-teaming him some. With Josh Ali out due to injury, Robinson will be getting a lot of targets, while Kentucky hasn’t had another wideout step up consistently this season. After Robinson and Ali, no other Kentucky pass-catcher has more than five receptions this season.

6. Finally, how weird is it for you knowing it’s October and LSU fans are the ones looking forward to basketball season while Kentucky’s enjoying football?

It’s been a weird couple of years for sure. This year’s Kentucky football team has a real chance to win more games than last year’s basketball team (nine). wut.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of optimism within the program that they’re going to have a big bounce-back year. Hopefully LSU basketball doesn’t have the same issues the football team is having, especially with injuries, and brings more joy to the school than football has this season.