There's lots of blame to go around right now. You can blame Stephen Garcia for missing open receivers. You can blame Stephon Gilmore and Ace Sanders for their fumbles, which in large part are why the game was still in reach for Kentucky in the second half. You can blame Ellis Johnson's three-man rush and zone coverage schemes. You can blame the DBs for getting waxed in the second half, oftentimes on 3rd- or 4th-and-long situations when you knew a pass was going to either Chris Matthews or Randall Cobb. (I'm absolutely at a loss for how Cobb got so open on his TD.) You can blame Marcus Lattimore's injury. You can blame the bad bounces we got when Kentucky fumbed near their own goalline and on the final interception. You can blame the homecooking officiating. You can just concede that Mike Hartline had the game of his life and give credit where credit is due.
However, where the blame deserves to go in this one is on Steve Spurrier. He deservedly took a lot of the credit for the Alabama win, and now he gets the blame for losing a game that we had no business losing, because he laid a huge egg in this one.
Let's go back, for a moment, to what happened at the beginning of the third quarter. Kentucky gets the ball first, needing a score to get back into the ball game. Our defense, though, stuffs the Wildcats for a three-and-out--a huge stop that could have been a decisive moment in the game in terms of momentum. We get the ball back, and Lattimore gets hurt after a couple of postive gains. The next pass is a long completion for the third down conversion, and then the next three plays are short complete pass, reverse to Sanders, and incomplete pass, followed by a punt.
Spurrier completely abandoned the run once Lattimore went out of the game. Actually, let's be more precise--losing Lattimore certainly had something to do with it, but Spurrier has done this several times now. This time, though, has to be the worst example, because it came in a situation where conventional wisdom says to run the ball. We had an 18-point lead. Our QB obviously wasn't playing his best game. We were playing against one of the worst rushing defenses in the country, a defense that we had carved up like swiss cheese with the running game in the first half. It was time to run the ball up the gut and get out of Lexington with an ugly win.
Spurrier, though, got cute. We ran the ball something like three times in the second half, an absolutely shocking decision considering how weak Kentucky has been against the run. I'd like to say he did it because he wasn't confident that we could run the ball without Lattimore, but that would (1) be the wrong decision and (2) doesn't reflect the fact that this is just what Spurrier seems to do. Firstly, even without Lattimore, we should have been able to run on Kentucky. Much worse backs than Brian Maddox have ran the ball on Kentucky, and when we ran Maddox in this one, he was getting some positive yardage. And where was Kenny Miles? We could have rotated Maddox and Miles and ran the ball up the gut. Again, both Maddox and Miles have had good game against better defenses than Kentucky's.
Spurrier seems to have an innate distrust of this team's offensive identity, and that's hurt us multiple times now. We're never going to consistently be a good passing team with Garcia under center. He had a great game against Alabama, and he had his moments in this one, too. He's turned into a decent QB. However, he's too inconsistent to rely on all the time, and what's worst about Spurrier's choice to put the game in his hands in the second half is that anyone could see that Garcia was off early on.
I don't know if Lattimore is going to be back for Vandy or not. I sure hope so, because he's obviously a huge difference maker for us. Vandy and Tennesee, though, are bad football teams, and we shouldn't need Lattimore to beat them. Maddox and Miles are more than serviceable running backs, as evidenced by their performances last year. Spurrier just needs to trust that they can help us win the games. If he doesn't, I'm very worried that we're about to lose more games to teams that we should be throttling.