LEXINGTON — Once South Carolina decided to mainly run the football the second half Saturday, the Gamecocks had their way with Kentucky’s defensive line.
That’s what worries Kentucky defensive lineman Tristian Johnson, too. He knows other Southeastern Conference teams are going to note the way South Carolina ran for 174 yards the second half and scored 31 points in its 38-17 win.
“The second half they came out and ran power a lot. They came downhill and we just didn’t do our jobs. We did things wrong and have to stop that,” Johnson said. “What we showed in the second half is what every team that we play is going to see, so we have to fix it and make sure it is not a problem.”
That could be easier said than done according to defensive coordinator Rick Minter.
“It was the tell of two halves. Very proud of way they played the first half, very proud of how hard they played the second half. What our kids dug their heels in and prepared for, we pretty much snuffed it out the first half,” Minter said after the game. “The second half they said they have taken away a lot of our stuff, so let’s just run right at them.
“We are young and light in the pants a little bit, and we didn’t slow down the run and the play-action pass off. That is disappointing. I feel for our guys because we put a lot of time in. They were ready and geeked up and played their tails off. I am hurting for them because they tried so hard.
“We got mashed around a little bit and what happened tonight is kind of who we are. We are not stopping the run. We are not getting off on third down. That is kind of us in a nutshell. We have flashes of play at Florida that was pretty good for a quarter, and tonight it was a half. Maybe we are headed for better things. We have got to find a way to put together four good quarters for results to be different.”
Johnson hopes the Wildcats learned a valuable lesson in the second half Saturday that they can use this week when they host Mississippi State.
“We are showing more of that we can do, but what we did in the first half we have to do in the second half also and not just be a one half team. Football is four quarters, not two,” Johnson said. “This is football. There will be things that don’t go your way and sometimes when they don’t you have to still learn to benefit off them. You can’t worry about little things that happen. You just have to do what you do.”
But that’s been the problem. Minter admits after five games that a team’s “identity” is formed. Through five games, UK is allowing 193 yards rushing per outing.
“We are a team that can play pretty decent and then people line up and come right at us and we are challenged. We have to keep working hard on it whether it is structure, fundamentals or just age and maturity or all that rolled into one,” Minter said. “I feel proud of what our plan did to take care of what they wanted to do coming into this game.
“When we did that, their answer was to line up and just mash them a little bit. That’s what we have to get better at. There were a couple of drives they didn’t work very hard for. We can’t give up those kind of passes over our head or that sort of thing. But we have to stop the run a lot better to play in the SEC.”
Minter said going into the season his biggest fear was that his secondary might be vulnerable, especially if UK had to play true freshmen as it has.
“We really haven’t been hurt at all with their play. They have all played pretty well. We have been hurt in other areas, but can’t say those young corners’ play has hurt us or impacted the outcome,” Minter said. “Teams are just lining up and running at the front seven. Sometimes that is a corner involved, sometimes it is not.”
Whatever it is, Kentucky has to correct that problem before morale sags and a season that has begun with a 1-4 start is completely shot.
“You just have to tell everybody to keep their head up. We all do. If everybody in the locker room is fighting for the same thing, we don’t have to worry about the young guys,” Johnson said. “It is tough all the way around for every guy because nobody likes to lose. That’s one thing with the game of football or any sport. Everybody loves to play, but nobody wants to lose. Everybody that wore the blue and white and had Kentucky on their chest all took it the same when we lost. We all have to try and turn this around.”
That’s why Johnson was not overly happy despite having a career-high six tackles while starting in place of the injured Mister Cobble.
“It is not frustrating to play well and the team lose. It is me not doing my job all the way around. I have to take the blame for not being able to step it up when I have to,” Johnson said. “When my guys count on me, I have to be able to do my job.
“It ain’t just an I game. I can’t look at it like I had a good game or career-high game. I can’t look at it like that. I have to be a team player because it is a team sport, so I have to do what it takes. Everything that I did negative, I have to try to make it a positive to make it better.”