The added cruelty of 2020, when you’re one of those decent teams but far from a great one, is having to play nothing but league games in the SEC. Kentucky probably wins 6-7 game with a schedule properly calibrated with nonconference tomato cans, but that was not in the cards this year.
That’s an important note of context because it’s easy to look at this UK team and define it just by its sub-.500 record. Kentucky not only played its usual SEC East slate, it also had the privilege of playing Alabama. (Mind you, Kentucky also got both Mississippi schools, so it wasn’t a terrible exchange here.)
The frustrating thing when you’re building a program at a place like Kentucky, is you go four years straight with winning records, and then you get smacked back down in ‘20, with a losing record that spends further than it earns.
Kentucky’s defense held up fine within a league-only context, surrendering only 26 points per game on 5.5 yards per play. That’s pretty good work, and that was good enough to make UK the fifth-best SEC defense in terms of per-play average.
Kentucky is a good illustration of the ol’ bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, and the Wildcats rely to some degree on how well their offense is controlling the clock. But these guys are pretty good, and NC State needs to staunch the premise with an orderly approach to every down.
The thing with Kentucky is they play slow. Really slow, on purpose. So they end up having a lot of time to think about things. They have time to diagnose things defensively, because their offense is trying to spend a good half hour out there. So that’s part of the accounting.
You can flip this right around on them with tempo, unless you go three-and-out, in which case you are playing right into their preferences. But that’s clearly a risk you gotta take, because you have to make the Wildcats uncomfortable. You can’t let them roll the clock without consequences, and you need to expose this defense as often as possible.