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What Can We Take Away From The USM Game?
In its win on Saturday, Kentucky and USM each had 14 possessions. UK had 7 possessions in each half and USM had 6 in the first half and 8 in the second half. In the first half, the Cats used its 7 possessions to score 14 points (2.00 ppp) and USM managed only 3 points on its 6 possessions (0.50 ppp) for a RNE of 1.50 ppp for the half. In the second half, the Cats managed 10 points on its 7 possessions (1.43 ppp) while USM scored 14 points on its 8 possessions (1.75 ppp) for a RNE of -0.32 ppp for the second half. In the game, the Cats and USM had RNE values of 1.71 ppp and 1.21 ppp respectively, for a RNE of 0.50 ppp for the game.
By comparison, last season each team had 14 possessions. In the first half, UK had 9 possessions and USM had 9 possessions. The Cats used its 9 possessions to score 35 points (3.89 ppp) while USM used its 9 possessions to score 17 points (1.89 ppp) for a RNE in the first half of 2.00 ppp. In the second half, each team had 5 possessions. UK did not score in the second half (0.00 ppp) while USM scored 27 points on its 5 possessions (5.40 ppp) for a RNE of -5.40 ppp for the second half. In the game, the Cats and USM had RNE values of 2.50 ppp and 3.14 ppp respectively, for a RNE of -0.64 ppp for the game.
In 2016 and 2017, the numbers are:
While a win, especially on the road, is a win, it is clear that a RNE of 0.50 ppp is a disappointing performance for the start of the 2017 season even though it is a dramatic improvement over last season's dismal opening game effort. However, the significance of the 0.50 ppp RNE cannot be ascertained until USM moves deeper into their seasons, at least through their first 4 games. Without seeing how USM performs against a range of opponents, it is not possible to determine a realistic value of USM's strength. If USM's strength is less than 0.6 ppp, this game will suggest slippage for UK from last season's performance level. However, if USM's strength is 1.00 ppp or higher, then this 0.50 ppp game RNE will prove to be quite strong in relative terms and signal significant improvement for the Cats from 2016 despite their sputtering offense on Saturday.
Like last year, USM ran significantly more plays from scrimmage than the Cats. Last year, USM ran twice as many plays from scrimmage than the Cats (96-48) and this year the USM advantage was still significant, yet smaller (78-55). This year, Kentucky scored on four possessions with a total of 12 plays while USM scored on three possessions that had 30 plays from scrimmage. Last year, Kentucky scored on 5 possessions with a total of 16 plays while USM scored 8 times using 69 plays from scrimmage. In their non-scoring possessions, Kentucky and USM ran 34 and 27 plays from scrimmage, respectively. UK scored quickly, sometimes with a short field while USM scored on longer, time-consuming drives both seasons. Despite the advantage in total plays and their time consuming drives, the overall time of possession was about even in the 2017 game due to USM's 44 pass attempts compared to only 20 by the Cats, but in 2016, USM dominated the time of possession.
Many people observe that turnovers, more specifically turnover margin often determine the outcome of games. The outcomes of the UK/USM games in 2016 and 2017 support these observations. Turnovers cost teams in two ways, field position and/or points surrendered to the opponent. In 2016, there were 6 such events in the UK-USM game (3 by each team), and the average cost was -27.3 yards in field position and 4.0 points. In 2017, there were 4 such events (1 by UK and 3 by USM), and the average cost was -26.8 yards in field position and 3.5 points. These results are consistent with my observations of turnover/4 th down failure costs over many seasons.
The Kentucky special teams played better on Saturday than it did last season. The new punter and the punt coverage kept USM in poor field position most of the game. In contrast, and by example only, UK's first possession of the 2016 game was 3 and out, and the UK punt only covered 24 yards, which set USM up with great field position that yielded an early 7-0 USM lead in the game.
The improved defensive play, improved special teams play, and the improved turnover margin are the primary explanations for a win on the road in 2017 instead of the home loss to USM in 2016. The coaches and the players will work on the issues revealed on the offensive side of the ball, and I believe they will fix them in the coming weeks. 2017 still holds promise to be a season for the ages in the history of UK football.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks