Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst
As we have been saying here for more than a month, this is a very mentally-tough Wildcat football team, with great senior leadership. Yesterday, those qualities made the difference between the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" for the Cats.
This was a very physical football game, and a tale of two very different halves. The most outstanding feature of the competition was tremendous team speed and quickness exhibited by both squads. The next most important feature was individual athletic excellence from Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Wesley Woodyard, Andre Woodson, and UK's fine group of WRs.
Let's talk about the particulars. Until this week, both offensive units have been prolific and versatile. So prior to yesterday, I felt the game key for both teams was making the other's offense one-dimensional by implementing a smart, tough, physical defensive game plan. For UK, this meant taking away any hope that Arkansas could move the football through the air, and forcing the Hogs to rely solely on McFadden and Jones. For Arkansas, it meant limiting UK's rushing attack, putting the football game squarely in Andre Woodson's hands, and then placing tremendous pressure on Andre in UK's pocket. Now that it's over, I believe both defensive coordinators actually did a great job in achieving those tactical objectives. Both teams were forced to punt seven times in the game, and the defenses forced numerous turnovers.
Nonetheless, 71 total points were scored, and the two offensive units posted a whopping combined total of 925 yards from scrimmage. This shows that both teams have powerful, prolific offensive units. You can limit them situationally, but you just can't stop them.
In the first half, Arkansas completely outplayed UK. Prior to the intermission, Arkansas posted 370 yards of total offense, with McFadden and Jones each gaining over 100 yards of rushing yardage in the first half alone. Meanwhile, UK (possibly flat after beating UL last week) was able to gain only 136 total yards in the first half.
However, fierce aggressiveness by both defensive units had the two offenses off balance throughout the game. Thus, the true story of the first half was turnovers and injuries. McFadden and Rafael Little both were punished in the second quarter by aggressive defenders. McFadden turned an ankle and began cramping from dehydration. He missed part of the second quarter and most of the third. Little suffered a deep thigh bruise that took him out of the remainder of the game. Arkansas WR London Crawford broke his arm trying to straight-arm Woodyard (hummm...bad idea). The pressure of the game showed in numerous mistakes by both teams. Turnovers and mistakes in the first half were so frequent that you have to watch a replay of the game for a full accounting. That said, two critical UK fumbles stiffled drives that could have put the Wildcats in control, while Michael Smith's crucial fumble late in the second quarter allowed Trevard Lindley to score the TD that surprisingly got UK back within 6 points at the intermission.
The second half belonged to UK. After the intermission, the Cats outscored the Hogs 28-9 and outgained them from scrimmage by 319-113 yards. This continues a trend of fourth quarter UK dominance that has been evident against Georgia, Vandy, Clemson, and UL in UK's current surge.
Here are some other observations from yesterday:
* Syracuse's shocking upset of UL shows that last week's 40-34 UK victory took a lot out of both "I-64 rivals". This was also quite evident in UK's sluggish first half in Fayetteville.
* * Woodson watch. On the season, UK QB Andre Woodson has now thrown 86 pass completions in 134 attempts, for 1008 yards and 11 TDs. Woodson surpassed Trent Dilfer for first place on the NCAA's all time list of most consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception.
* Four UK RBs carried the football against Arkansas. Prior to being injured in the second quarter, Rafael Little had 50 yards and 1 TD on 10 carries. Little did not return after suffering a thigh bruise. He now has 438 yards and 3 TDs on 62 carries for the season. Little also caught 3 passes for 28 yards yesterday. Tony Dixon was UK's leading rusher for the game, with 78 yards on 9 carries. Dixon suffered a bruised shoulder in the third quarter and did not return. Alfonzo Smith carried 4 times for 23 yards. Smith suffered a sprained ankle late in the third quarter, and missed the final quarter of play. True freshman Derrick Locke rushed for 48 yards and 1 TD on 9 carries. In the wake of injuries in this game game, Little and Dixon are thought to be questionable for next week's game. Smith is doubtful. Don't be surprised if Locke sees most of the PT against Florida Atlantic.
* Steve Johnson paced UK receivers with 111 yards on 7 receptions. All SEC receiver Keenan Burton had 65 yards and 2 TDs on 3 catches.
* UK's offensive unit converted only 5 of 13 third down opportunities in the game, but UK's defense dominated by limiting Arkansas' offense to 7 of 18 third down conversions.
* After being penalized only 17 times in the season's first three weeks, UK was penalized 7 times for 60 yards against Arkansas. Several of the penalties came on false starts by UK's OL as th Cats struggled with the quickness of Arkansas' defensive front seven.
* Although virtually unnoticed by ESPN's announcers, UK senior LB Wesley Woodyard had a huge game with 12 solo tackles, five assists, and 1 QB hurry on a blitz. Woodyard was without any doubt the most important indiviadual defensive force for either team throughout this game, and is bound to be a candidate for SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
* LB Johnny Williams and DE Jeremy Jarmon also had perhaps the best football games of their UK careers.
* CB Paul Warford and S Marcus McClinton intercepted passes from Arkansas QB Casey Dick. Both interceptions came at key junctures of the game. That said, Trevard Lindley's 66 yard TD return of Michael Smith's fumble late in the second quarter was the game's defining defensive play.
* Tim Masthay punted seven times for a 43 yard average. Masthay also put most of his kickoffs deep into Arkansas' end zone. Frankly, Masthay's improvement has quietly been one of the most striking developments so far this season.
Sunday, September 23, 2007