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Football Season Coverage

The Five Biggest Kentucky Football Offseason Storylines

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

1. Can they Keep the ’17 Class?

Ever since the late defections from the 2015 class, I can’t share the news of a football commit without immediately hearing, “Wait till Signing Day.”  Even though I think people have the right to be excited, it’s true.  A lot can happen in the final weeks of football recruiting.  The good news is that most of the late news leading into NSD will probably be good news.  Yusuf Corker appears to be the biggest worry, while three or four more four-stars could potentially join the class.

2. Who will be Benny’s Jets?

Next year it’s Benny’s team, but he can’t receive all the carries.  Every year one running back is forced to miss time because of the brutal workload in the SEC.  Even though Snell appears indestructible, he can’t consistency carry the ball 25-30 times a game.

Snell started the year as the No. 4 back behind Mikel Horton (transfer), Boom Williams (NFL) and Jojo Kemp (graduation).  The “next man up” is a young one, redshirt freshman A.J. Rose.  Rose received plenty of praise in the preseason and late in the year for his scout team contributions as the role of running quarterback.  Rose is ready.

Other dark horse candidates to consider: Bryant Koback and Lynn Bowden.  Koback destroyed opponents for four games of his senior season until enduring a leg injury.  He’ll be on campus this spring.  Bowden is not committed and I don’t know what position he’ll play, but if he’s in the mix, you never know what could happen.

3. No Quarterback Competition, Right?

For the first time in a long time, we knew as soon as the 2015 season ended that Drew Barker was Kentucky’s quarterback.  It was a strange place, but we should be there once again after the 2016 season.    Stephen Johnson is 7-3 as Kentucky’s starter but don’t be surprised to hear some rumblings about Barker (I’m looking at you D-Sig), even though he will probably not be 100% until after spring practice.

4. Youth is No Longer an Excuse

Remember the 2014 recruiting class?  They’re seniors.  By my count, Kentucky should have 24 seniors on next year’s squad, nearly twice as many as they had this year.  Most are starters with an abundance of experience.  They’ve been through it all, now it’s time to produce significant results.

5. A Shot at the SEC East

Playing in Atlanta on the first week of December would be considered a significant result.  The chest-pounding positive fans will play out all of the possible scenarios and this year, it isn’t that ludicrous.  Here are a few things going their way:

1. Road opponents (Vandy, USM, S. Carolina & UGA) will be weaker than home opponents (Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, UofL).
2. The East still lacks juggernauts, even though UGA and Florida will be improved.
3. They almost did it in ’16.

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It might seem ridiculous, but with more experience than ever before and a favorable schedule (of the 8 SEC opponents, only Florida and Georgia are worrisome), anything is possible.  You might want to keep your schedule free for the first weekend in December.


Tuesday’s Top 10: A Fantastic Rose Bowl, Texas A&M and Ice-Free Windshields

AP

AP

For the last two weeks, football constantly filled our TV screens.  Whenever there wasn’t a college bowl game, there was the NFL.  Now we must move on, but luckily we were blessed with a fantastic farewell.  The Rose Bowl between Penn State and USC was one for the ages.

USC surged to a large early lead, but Penn State roared back with seven straight touchdown drives.  With a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, Penn State was waiting for the fat lady to sing.  Then USC’s Sam Darnold threw a few beautiful passes and Penn State chucked up an easy interception to give the Trojans just enough time to kick a game-winning field goal.  In the process we saw the Trojan guy almost impale his foot, approximately 27 reviews and this guy.

@BustedCoverage

@BustedCoverage

It was such a great game, such a great finish that many were prompted to ask the question, “Was it better than the Vince Young vs. USC Rose Bowl in ’05?”  I’m still going to say no, but it’s awfully close.

Thanks for being awesome football.  You aren’t completely gone, but we know you’re on the way out the door.  Don’t be gone for too long.  You’ll be better than ever when you return.  Now, on to basketball.

1. A Late Night Matchup with A&M

Have a cup of coffee after dinner, BBN.  Kentucky’s SEC home-opener tips off at 9:00 on ESPN.  Dickie V will courtside with Dave O’Brien and Kaylee Hartung.  Kaylee deserves five gold stars from the BBN, making the trip to Lexington less than 24 hours removed from covering the sidelines of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

2. Close Calls with A&M

Kentucky is 4-2 against the Aggies since Texas A&M joined the SEC.  In those six meetings, four have finished in overtime, with those games decided by an average of 4.25 points.  Even though this year’s A&M team has yet to produce an impressive victory, Cal expects a dogfight.

“It’s going to be a war because it always is,” Calipari said on last night’s call-in show.  “I would expect this to be that type of game.  Sometimes you have matchups with teams that are what they are.  Every time you play that team it’s a close game.”

3.  Size Matters

The Aggies’ strength is their size.  They start three forwards over 6’9″ with Tyler Davis anchoring the post.  They also have a lineup that features three 6-10ers along with the 6’9″ D.J. Hogg.

Cal said he may use bigger lineups with Willis and Gabriel to combat their size, but his best solution is using speed in transition.  If they can get A&M running, it’s Kentucky’s game to lose.  If it turns into a half court game, you’ll see exactly what Calipari said, a dogfight.

4. Experience a Day at Camp Cal

Class resumes a week from tomorrow, officially ending Camp Cal.  With a game tonight and Saturday, they’ll slowly be easing back into their normal schedule.  Before the beautiful mess of practices comes to a close, see what the players go through during their everyday grind.

5. Cats Sweep SEC Weekly Awards, Again

Malik Monk was named SEC Freshman of the Week following his 34-point performance against Ole Miss and Isaiah Briscoe was awarded SEC Player of the Week after messing around and getting a triple-double. It’s the second time this season UK has swept the weekly SEC awards.

Kentucky moved two spots in both polls to No. 6.  Tonight Vegas considers them 14-point favorites over Texas A&M.

6. Boom Williams Signs with an Agent

Bye Bye Boom.  For those who believed he may balk and return to Kentucky, last night he made the split permanent by hiring an agent, Atlanta-based SportsTrust Advisors.  Boom has two months to prepare for the NFL Combine.  The NFL Draft begins April 27.

7. The Dancing Guy Dance-Off You Need to See

Found in the crowd after Friday night’s pep rally in Jacksonville was UK’s Dancing Guy.  As usual, he held nothing back.

8. UofL Women Trick Duke

At the start of the second half, Jeff Walz had his players set up their offense on the same bucket they spent the previous half.  Duke went along with it, giving the Cards a wide open layup.

9. No Scraper? No Problem

We haven’t had too many cold mornings, but I found a way to make sure KSR’s Fearless Leader isn’t late to the radio show because of a frozen windshield.

10. KSR Returns

Going back to work won’t be so bad.  At least you have a new KSR to listen to, starting in one hour.


The Best and Worst from the TaxSlayer Bowl

The Best and Worst from the TaxSlayer Bowl

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Mark Stoops’ first bowl game as a head coach was my first Kentucky bowl game.  Even though we left without an ideal result, the reward for Kentucky’s 7-5 regular season was still an enriching experience.  Here’s the good and the bad, beginning with the bad (around the New Year, you must always finish with the glass half full).

The Worst

5. The Basketball Watch Party

I do not intend to put the UK Alumni Association on blast.  The event was fine with the hand they were dealt, but it’s an example of the biggest problem with the TaxSlayer Bowl: Jacksonville simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the BBN.  In other locales — Nashville, New Orleans, Vegas — there are plenty of places for large crowds to congregate and everyone can still be accommodated.  That was not the case in Jacksonville.

4. Watching the Triple Option

When the matchup with Georgia Tech was announced, there was a a collective sigh across Kentucky.  I was convinced Kentucky would be able to figure it out after 15 practices, but I was wrong.

You can’t simulate linemen diving at your knees for 60 minutes in practice.  You can’t simulate the speed of their offensive and defensive lines.  You can’t not get bored watching it.  All you can do is get annoyed and fall on the ball when it’s loose.  Unfortunately, every time the ball was loose, it bounced right back into Tech’s hands.

Tech didn’t play dirty.  Tech simply plays a style that incites postgame fights in the parking lots.

3. The Referees

There were more than a handful of, “what in the hell was that?” calls.  My least favorite was the Kash Daniel “piling on” penalty, which took UK out of field goal range after Tech’s opening third quarter drive.  Mark Stoops’ least favorite call was at the end of the second half.  No one could explain to him why the clock didn’t run, allowing the Yellow Jackets to kick a field goal as time expired .  Essentially, their ineptitude gave Tech three points (if you’re keeping track, that’s at least six more points for GT).

Stoops gave the refs hell all the way back to their halftime locker room.  When they shut him out, he kicked their locker room door, then threw a Gatorade cooler at the door to cap off a fantastic tirade.  They better hope they never bump into him on the streets of Youngstown.

2. Bye Bye Boom

I wish Mr. Williams nothing but the the best moving forward, but it stinks that we won’t get another year of Booms.  He’s battled injuries, now it’s his time to monetize his elite athleticism.  Still, I am greedy and wish I could see him do fantastic things for another year in a Kentucky uniform.  He’s done so much for the Kentucky football program, it’s hard to pick a favorite moment, but this is the one I’ll never forget.

1.  The Scoop and Score

The stadium was rocking.  The game started perfectly with a deep out to Dorian Baker.  The Cats were rolling.  All was going according to plan.  Then the wind was sucked out of the stadium.

The Cats had plenty of time to overcome adversity, but it wasn’t just an anomaly.  UK’s offensive line got their ass kicked all game by the speed of Georgia Tech.  Kentucky had the advantage in the passing game, but Stephen Johnson rarely had enough time to release the ball.  Johnson willed two late scores to add some juice to the game, but it was too little, too late.

The Best

5. Savannah

The night before beginning my bowl week, I took Freddie Maggard’s advice and stayed the night in Georgia’s coastal paradise.  I’d heard good things from many, still, it surpassed all of my expectations.  We only had about four hours to explore the historic downtown, but I enjoyed the unique design and the delicious fish and chips.

4. Jon Toth’s Last Press Conference

A man not known for his sense of humor, in his final press conference Toth was filled with zingers.  You have to appreciate dry humor to appreciate Toth’s remarks, just like you have to appreciate consistency to enjoy his play at a position that is more difficult and important than most realize.

You will be missed Mr. Toth, and not by just Freddie Maggard.

3. Top Golf

It took a lot for me to not put this at No. 1.  I could not stop laughing during my first 20 minutes on location.  As a person who isn’t terrible at golf, I received so much joy watching much better athletes flail like toddlers learning new motor skills for the first time.

For probably the first time in five years, I got to see UK football players in a relaxed environment where they could be themselves.  Interviewing them with a dozen other reporters doesn’t produce genuine conversation.  It was nice to chat with a few guys and just talk about stuff, instead of staring at them through a screen discussing football.

2. The UK Pep Rally

The Big Blue Nation never disappoints, but rarely I’m surprised to see just how crazy you people are.  I was surprised to see the crowd of thousands Friday night at Jacksonville Landing.  Bowl games are supposed to be a reward for the fans and Friday night felt like a reward.  Despite dissension throughout the year, it was heartwarming to see everyone on the same page, happy to be Kentucky football fans.

1.  A New Year’s Eve Bowl

Every once in awhile with this job, I forget I’m working and have a “Holy Shit” moment.  When I walked onto the turf at EverBank Field on Saturday, I had a “Holy Shit” moment.  After four years of football seasons featuring teams that didn’t average four wins, I was covering UK at a New Year’s Eve Bowl in Florida.

It was a wild football season, filled with epic collapses, nail-biting finishes and a victory on the road against a Heisman Trophy winning rival.  Some may be disappointed in the finish, some may say the Cats were just happy to be there.  Consider me just happy to be there.

If 2017 is anything like 2016, Kentucky football fans are in for a treat.


Boom Williams Hires an Agent

@boom_that_guy

@boom_that_guy

If you were thinking Boom Williams might change his mind and return to Kentucky, think again.

Boom Williams announced on Twitter he has joined SportsTrust Advisors, a sports management firm based out of Atlanta.  Boom is now in good company with a few prestigious SportsTrust clients: Brian Urlacher, Eddie Lacy, DeMarco Murray, Dont’a Hightower and DeMarcus Ware.


Report: Joker’s Got a Brand New Job at Cincinnati

joker

After spending a season controlling the quality at Ohio State, former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips  is taking his talents down I-71 south to coach wide receivers at the University of Cincinnati.  First reported by Football Scoop, Phillips will join former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell in the Queen City.

It will be Phillips’ fourth job since he was fired at Kentucky.  He coached Florida’s receivers for a year before he was forced to resign for recruiting violations in 2014.  He spent the 2015 season with the Cleveland Browns until head coach Mike Pettine was fired.

Now in Stoops’ backyard, he’ll likely battle Vince Marrow for a few recruits.  I’ll take Vince over the Photoshop extraordinaire.


After Action Review: Georgia Tech

PIC BY HISTORY.ARMY.MIL

PIC BY HISTORY.ARMY.MIL

An After Action Review, or AAR, is a US Army evaluation tool used to analyze an intended mission/action. Let’s apply this method to the Kentucky-Georgia Tech football game:

WHAT WERE INTENDED RESULTS

Win the football game


WHAT WERE ACTUAL RESULTS

Lost the football game 33-18


WHAT CAUSED OUR RESULTS

Lost line-of-scrimmage engagement

Georgia Tech dominated both sides of the line-of-scrimmage.

Opening drive turnover

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. We must have discussed and written about turnovers over 100 times leading up to Saturday. Tech’s final 3 games of 2016 produced 34 points off turnovers. A 1st quarter scoop and score increased that number to 41.

Failure to convert Red Zone, 4th and 1

The game’s outcome was never in doubt after the Cats failed to convert; momentum and attitude were all in favor of the Jackets from that point on.

Allowed Georgia Tech to win Time of Possession

Ga Tech: 32:22, UK 27:38. This is one category that Mark Stoops’ team could not afford to lose. 


SUSTAIN

Fan engagement

Bowl games are largely for the fans. The BBN showed up. Players interacted with the fans before and after the game. Appreciated.

Dorian Baker explosive play touchdown

Baker out-fought a defender in order to grab a difficult touchdown pass for the second consecutive game. Lamar Thomas will need Baker to come on strong as a senior in 2017.

Reserve defensive linemen: DT Tymere Dubose and DE TJ Carter

Jimmy Brumbaugh’s nightmare scenario became a reality after Alvonte Bell and Courtney Miggins left the game due to injury in the 1st quarter. Enter true freshman DE TJ Carter and sophomore DT Tymere Dubose.

Both played extremely well given circumstance. (See UK OL struggles vs. 2 redshirt juniors and 3 redshirt seniors). Asking reserve DL to square off against a 5th year senior center and quarterback executing a unique offense was an extremely tall task.

QB Stephen Johnson

Johnson was the only Wildcat offensive player to leave a dent in the Tech D: 19-34, 175 yards, 1 TD passing. 15 also led UK in rushing: 14 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD.

The junior QB battled and showed a great deal of guts in the 4th quarter.


PIC BY BIOGRAPHY.COM

PIC BY BIOGRAPHY.COM

IMPROVE

Punt Team

A blocked punt led to a field goal. Kentucky averaged just 34 yards per punt. Punt team issues were prevalent in 2016 and remains a “must-improve” category going into 2017.

Kickoff Team

Tech averaged 24 yards per return. The 4th quarter failed on-side kick was not well executed. Tech fair caught and sealed the deal.

UK’s opponent consistently kicked the football through the end zone. Austin MacGinnis was apparently injured; UK’s kickoffs were short and lacked hang-time.

Offensive line play

Most perplexing game development was Kentucky’s ineffectiveness along the offensive line. We wrote on several occasions leading up to the game that the Yellow Jacket’s four starting defensive linemen were all redshirt junior/seniors. Experience and the nasty factor proved to be too much for the Wildcats. UK was out-toughed and willed up front.

Tech’s “Havoc” stats were not impressive leading up to the Taxslayer: 16 QB sacks (114th nationally), 53 tackles for loss (121st). Yellow Jacket defenders lived in Kentucky’s backfield for 60 minutes.

Interior defensive vulnerability

B-Back Dedrick Mills ran over and through the Cats for 169 yards off 31 carries. Paul Johnson’s triple option didn’t need option 2 and 3 due to Mills’ governance up the middle on simple dive plays.

How confident was Paul Johnson in Mills and his midline run? He decided to go for it on 4th and inches inside his own Red Zone. Result; 1st down. Onions.

Run game

The Wildcats entered the Taxslayer Bowl ranked 16th in the nation by averaging 241 rush yards per game. It ran for 149.


Lexington’s new high school’s mascot will be the Stallions, new football head coach former UK assistant

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

In November, it was announced that Lexington’s new high school on Winchester Road will be named Frederick Douglass High School, and today, we found out more about the new school, which will open in August. The mascot will be the Stallions, their colors “Keeneland green” and orange, and their new football coach Brian Landis, who spent this past year as a quality control assistant on the Kentucky football staff. Before coming to UK, Landis was an assistant at Eastern Kentucky University and Georgetown College.

Check out some pics of the Stallions’ new gear, courtesy of @HLPreps:

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

@HLPreps

Thoughts?


Obligatory Kiffin pic

Leave it to Lane Kiffin to get fired from a job he was already leaving

Obligatory Kiffin pic

Obligatory Kiffin pic

Between Coach K’s back surgery and two basketball media opps came the news you’ve probably already heard: Alabama head coach Nick Saban announced that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will not be with the team as they prepare for next week’s National Championship game. Kiffin’s successor, Steve Sarkisian, will instead handle the Crimson Tide offense so Kiffin can “assume his duties at Florida Atlantic,” who hired him as head coach earlier this month.

The fact that Kiffin managed to get fired from a job he was already leaving is both hilarious and not surprising. Apparently, Kiffin was not juggling both jobs well, showing up late to several events leading up to the Peach Bowl last week — prompting the team bus to leave him at the Georgia Dome on Media Day — and making odd comments about how Sarkisian will probably mesh better with Saban than he did. He even “joked” to reporters last week that he couldn’t recall any fond memories from his three years in Alabama except for the “ass-chewings” he’d get from Saban.

And then there’s the bizarre feature Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel wrote about Kiffin last week in which Kiffin allowed Thamel to tag along while he house hunted in Boca Raton. If you’re looking for an in-depth look into Kiffin’s psyche using real estate analogies, take some time and read it this afternoon. Then check back with me if you’re surprised by Saban’s move.

Kiffin doesn’t pretend that he enjoyed every moment working at Alabama, as he mentions daily 7:30 a.m. staff meetings like he was forced to drink sour milk. He felt isolated in Tuscaloosa; his family didn’t move there, and his profile didn’t allow him to go anywhere socially. “This will come across wrong,” he says. “But it’s like dog years. Three years is like 21.”

I guess you have to hand it to Kiffin; his exits are never boring.


Monday’s Top 10: Gearing up for A&M, UK #1 in KenPom, “Manchester by the Sea”

Monday’s Top 10: Gearing up for A&M, UK #1 in KenPom, “Manchester by the Sea”

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Greetings, friends, and happy new year. I trust everyone’s recovered from their New Year’s Eve celebrations. After spending some time at a friend’s house, I rang in 2017 at home with my husband and dog jamming out to Biz Markie on Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution. It was kind of awesome, not gonna lie.

Let’s roll through today’s agenda, shall we?

1. Kentucky plays Texas A&M tomorrow

The Cats rolled in their conference opener last week, and tomorrow night, they’ll host Texas A&M at Rupp. The Aggies are 8-4 this season and are coming off a 10-point loss to Tennessee last week, so unless Kentucky comes out completely unprepared, they shouldn’t struggle. We’ll find out the line a little later today.

2. We’ll also find out where Kentucky’s ranked

The Cats are currently 8th in both polls. I doubt they’ll move much, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of the top ten shakes out after Duke and North Carolina both lost.

3. Kentucky is #1 in the new KenPom ratings

If you prefer Ken Pomeroy’s ratings to the polls, you’ll be happy to hear that Kentucky’s the new #1 team in the country according to KenPom’s measure. The KenPom top ten:

1. Kentucky
2. Villanova
3. Virginia
4. West Virginia
5. Kansas
6. Baylor
7. Duke
8. North Carolina
9. Louisville
10. Gonzaga

4. It’s almost time for the first SEC Coaches Teleconference of the season!

The start of league play also means the start of the weekly SEC Coaches Teleconference, which means we’ll hear from John Calipari around 11:35 a.m. I’ll bring you any updates. Odds he works in a plug for his podcast?

5. Tony Barbee will preview Texas A&M this afternoon

Since Calipari will be on the SEC call this morning, he’s letting assistant coach Tony Barbee discuss tomorrow’s game vs. the Aggies with reporters after lunch. We’ll have a live stream of his comments around 2 p.m. and a full recap afterwards.

6. Please tell me you saw this Saturday night

In case you were out partying instead of watching football Saturday night, Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins got a little, um, up close and personal with Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel:

After the game, Wilkins apologized for his um, “grab,” saying he was just being silly and this is the type of stuff you do when you’re competing. Really? Samuel responded on Twitter Sunday morning:

#Sweetness? Really? Here’s today’s college football schedule:

  • 1:00 PM: Outback Bowl – #17 Florida at Iowa, ABC
  • 1:00 PM: Cotton Bowl – #15 Western Michigan vs. #8 Wisconsin, ESPN
  • 5:00 PM: Rose Bowl – #9 USC vs. #5 Penn State, ESPN
  • 8:30 PM: Sugar Bowl – #14 Auburn vs. #7 Oklahoma, ESPN

7. ICYMI, Boom Williams declared for the NFL Draft

The big news to come out of Kentucky’s bowl game may have been Boom Williams’ decision to turn pro. Boom said he and his parents came to the decision on Friday night, and informed the team after the game was over.

“Me and my family prayed hard about it and we talked about it last night and just came to the decision that we felt like this was the perfect time for me to try to pursue my dreams of going to the NFL,” Williams said. “BBN has the best fans in the nation. I’ll certainly miss the fans. Like I said, it’s just a part of life. At the end of the day, I love Kentucky and I’ll always bleed blue.”

This season, Boom amassed 1,163 yards and seven touchdowns, and over his three-year Kentucky career, put up 2,486 yards and 17 touchdowns. Early feedback suggests he’s got a ways to go to get on the boards, but you can’t blame the kid for wanting to take his chance while he still can.

8. What’s the latest with Hamidou Diallo?

Diallo took an official visit to Kentucky last week, which John Calipari followed up on in person on Friday. The five-star shooting guard is expected to visit Arizona this week, but no date has been set. Will he still visit Arizona or did Calipari say enough to convince him to come to Kentucky already? Thankfully, we’ll find out soon because Diallo only has a few weeks to decide if he wants to enroll for the spring semester. Stay tuned…

9. ICYMI, Bud Dupree had a big play in yesterday’s Steelers/Browns game

Dupree sacked and stripped RG3 to help the Steelers beat the Browns 27-24 in overtime (!). Yes, believe it or not, the 1-15 Browns managed to take the 11-5 Steelers to overtime, but couldn’t bring home the W. Dupree had 7 tackles and the aforementioned sack, bringing his season total up to 4.5 sacks. Good on ya, Dupree.

10. I still like “Hell or High Water” over “Manchester by the Sea”

If felt like everyone and their mom was at the movies in Nashville yesterday, or at least, in our showing of “Manchester by the Sea.” The drama starring Casey Affleck has a lot of Oscar buzz and while it was certainly well-acted and interesting, I still prefer “Hell or High Water.” Something tells me the Oscar for best movie will still go to “La La Land,” because there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than a musical about Hollywood.

No new radio show today because apparently today’s a holiday since New Year’s Day was on a Sunday this year. I’ll still be here to bring you UK sports news in the most ridiculous manner possible, so check back early and often.


UK Athletics

Expectation Management: Cats Finish 7-6

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Kentucky came up short in the Taxslayer Bowl. Georgia Tech beat the Cats 33-18 behind a veteran defensive line and an efficient Flex-Bone offense. The game was chippy and poorly officiated.

Saturday was reminiscent of the Wildcat’s early November game against another opponent from the Peach State, which led to a frustrating ending from losing to a beatable opponent. But, win with class-lose with class. Give Tech credit for doing what it had to do in order to secure its spot on the trophy stage.

Let’s take a look: 

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

OFFENSE

Georgia Tech had not demonstrated traits of being a dominant defense in 2016. On Saturday; at times it was. The Cats could not find a rhythm as the Yellow Jacket secondary and linebackers presented atypical pre-snap blitz reads for Stephen Johnson.

Stephen Johnson’s 1st quarter fumble resulted in yet another scoop and score which marked Georgia Tech’s 41st point off turnover in its past 13 quarters.

The game’s most critical play came on a Red Zone; 4th and 1 with the outcome very much still up for grabs. With momentum at its back, the Wildcats hurriedly ran JoJo Kemp straight at the Yellow Jacket defense that had to make little adjustment for the stop. The 4th down conversion failed; UK never recovered.

Uncharacteristically, Kentucky’s offensive line did not execute or play at the high level that the BBN had grown accustom to over the season’s final 9 contests.

The Cats’ opponent entered Saturday ranked 114th in the nation by accumulating just 16 QB sacks. It also ranked 121st in America with 53 tackles for loss. Result: white jerseys lived in Kentucky’s backfield.

Ineffective pass blocking bled over into the run game where nation’s 16th ranked rushing attack fell short of expectation in Jacksonville. Tech held UK to 92 yards below its season average.

For a month we discussed Ga Tech’s veteran defensive line that consisted of 4 starters that had 4 years or more in the program (1 redshirt junior, 3 redshirt seniors). At times; Kentucky’s freshmen and sophomore offensive linemen played like, well freshmen and sophomores. Fixable; yet frustrating on Saturday. But, the season’s body of work up front displayed sufficient tendencies to not be concerned about its performance in an exhibition game.

The Wildcats won 7 games in 2016 by being the aggressor. This was not the case in the Taxslayer Bowl.

UK By the Numbers

  • Scored: 18 points
  • Rush: 36 carries, 149 yards. Cats averaged 241 yards and over 5.5 yards per carry for the season.
  • Yards per rush: 4.1
  • Pass: 19/34, 175 yards, 1 TD
  • Total Yards: 324. UK average-428.
  • Time of Possession: 27:38
  • First Downs: 20
  • Third Down: 6/16. Ga Tech was allowing 50% going into Saturday.
UK Athletics

UK Athletics

DEFENSE

If you would have told me a week ago that Kentucky’s defense would allow 26 points including a cheap field goal after a blocked punt and I would have bet a can of potted meat that the Cats would have been driving north with a trophy. That was not the case.

The Wildcat defense played good enough to win the football game. Matter of fact; I left EverBank Field proud of Mark Stoops’ young collection of defenders and excited to see its upcoming development. However, it got very little help from the offense and special teams. Example; Tech averaged 30:07 in time of possession; it surpassed 32 minutes. Regardless; a month’s concern over slowing the triple option was proven to be imprecise in the grand scheme of the 2016 Taxslayer Bowl.

This especially applies when you consider that 2 starting defensive linemen suffered 1st quarter injuries which forced true freshman defensive end TJ Carter and sophomore Tymere Dubose into early and extended duty. Think about that for a minute; a true freshman DE and a reserve DT had to battle a redshirt senior quarterback operating a unique and complicated offensive system on a huge stage. Both have bright futures in Lexington and played valiantly. Progress and player development personified.

Reality states that Kentucky held Georgia Tech to 64 yards less than its season average. Field position favored the Jackets for 60 minutes. This developed due to UK’s porous punting (34 yards per kick), allowing longer than average kick returns (24 yards per), and special team’s penalties.

GT By the Numbers

  • Scoring: 26 points
  • Rush: 266 yards
  • Yards per rush: 5.2
  • Pass: 6/14, 105
  • Total Yards: 371
  • Time of Possession: 32:22
  • Turnovers: Zero
  • Third Down: 5/13

SPECIAL TEAMS

Grant McKinniss: 3 punts, 34-yard average. The punt team, along with its punter have to show vast improvement as we move towards 2017.

Kickoff team wasn’t a great deal better. Miles Butler’s late, 4th quarter kickoff bounced directly into the arms of an awaiting returner who smartly signaled for a fair catch. Game over.

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

What Does This All Mean?

Kentucky finished 2016 with a 7-6 record after winning the Governor’s Cup at Louisville and finished with a .500 SEC record. The Cats beat South Carolina for a 3rd consecutive time and defeated Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State Bulldogs for the first time in 7 years. The reward was a New Year’s bowl game.

UK also lost to Southern Miss at home and was annihilated and embarrassed a week later in the Swamp. The Wildcats then proceeded to fall behind to New Mexico State at home while losing its starting quarterback. The result was still a New Year’s bowl game.

Losing to Georgia Tech stung; no pun intended. But, I have a hard time feeling dejected after hopping on the Big Blue roller coaster for an exhilarating four month ride. The Kentucky Football program is absolutely going in the right direction. Recruiting is rolling. Momentum is growing.

So, what’s next? If anything, we’ve learned that we can trust Mark Stoops at his word as the Youngstown native leans more toward actuality than cheerleading.

Was the team ready to play, was preparation adequate? Yes categorically; bowl games are weird. The young Cats played a good, full-strength, ACC football team from arguably the best conference in college football in its first bowl game in 6 years. Let me declare myself as sunshine pumper before some feel the need to respond to call me such. But, I’m not a sunshine pumper without data or statistics to support opinion. Stoops returns 19/22 starters and a wealth of young talent that is only going to be improved next season.

Mark Stoops:

As I just told the team, we’re extremely disappointed with the way we finished in losing this game. But I’m very proud of them. That’s a great group to coach. There’s a lot to build on. I’m very excited about the future.

We return a whole bunch of football players. They deserve a little bit of time off right now, then we’ll get back to work when we get back when the second semester begins. But I’m proud of this team, their efforts, everything that we’ve asked them to do.”

I tend to agree with Stoops.

We loved Jacksonville. The bowl experience was tremendous. Happy New Year. See you on National Signing Day.


Would You Play?

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Stanford RB Christian McCaffery

You’re a college football phenom.  After helping lead your team to a solid winning season — short of the championship playoffs, but entry into a prominent, albeit absurdly-monickered postseason bowl game — scouting services project you as an early round NFL draft pick next year.  After growing up with modest means (or perhaps even in abject poverty), you stand to earn a paycheck next year worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars…life-altering money…enough to seed your retirement, help your family, maybe even buy a little bling and a few new toys.  The only thing standing in the way is the risk of a career-threatening, or draft-position-debilitating, injury in a game that, aside for bragging rights and school pride, is mostly meaningless.

Would you play?

Running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford both answered no.  Playing the most injury-vulnerable position on the gridiron, each risked a significant, if not existential, financial loss.  Both, of course, were pilloried in the angry social media: by their fan bases who viewed them as traitors, as well as by some old-school analysts who believed they violated the fundamental tough-guy, play-even-if-it-hurts ideology of the sport.  (By the way, both LSU and Stanford won without them.)

Michigan tight end Jake Butt answered yes.  During Friday night’s Orange Bowl matchup with Florida State, Butt suffered a torn ACL, placing his once likely first-round NFL draft selection into jeopardy.  For what it’s worth, Butt had no regrets, later tweeting that it “never once crossed my mind to sit this game out and I would never change that mindset. I play this game bc I love it, my teammates, coaches.” (The Wolverines lost in a squeaker.)

Would you play?

For those of us in the contact-averse, receiver-route-running-challenged intelligentsia, the answer seems simple: As a standard economic calculation, a “no” answer is obvious.  But for decades, Fournette and McCaffrey are the clear exceptions, as rare as ACLU-placard-sighting at a Donald Trump rally.  Beyond the traditions of the game, beyond the peer pressure from fans and fellow students; appearing as a “quitter” or a “coward” or a “non-team player,” could impact a player reputationally, and perhaps even financially, in the short and long run.

But that’s changing.  As scrutiny into the long-term impact of football injuries expands, as NFL salaries spiral, and perhaps most significantly, as the obscene absurdity of big-time college athletics continues to be exposed as preying upon the young people who actually fill the seats and drive up the TV ratings, the old-school view is losing its hold.  Athletes have taken up for their teammates and rivals on Twitter, and columnists are complementing the sit-inners.  If at the 2017 draft Fournette and McCaffrey soar, while Butt plummets, a large number of their successors will be carefully considering skipping bowl games this time next year.  And if the trend continues, a slippery slope could lead to stars skipping meaningful playoff games, or even large chunks of regular seasons.

There’s no easy solution, but some salve can come in a remedy for much of what else is ailing college athletics:  It’s time we pay and truly educate college athletes.

As I explored more comprehensively in this 2014 KSR column, the NCAA, elite coaches, broadcast networks, and advertisers are acquiring ridiculous wealth at the expense of student athletes who don’t earn a dime.  Worse, more than a quarter of major sport athletes don’t graduate; and many that do fail to develop any meaningful job skills, or even middle school level reading skills.

While the NCAA two years ago voted to give a few conferences a little more freedom to compensate their students, it seemed more of a sham aimed at blocking comprehensive change being sought through the court system.  The NCAA should instead establish a meaningful pay-for-play system:  one that colleges can afford; but most importantly, one whose focus is laser-trained on the welfare of student-athletes.  It could look something like this:

Pay the players a living wage. An hourly living wage — the same for each player on scholarship — would provide athletes with some walking around money for the occasional restaurant jaunt or shopping spree, as well as the exceptional luxury of flying parents in for special games. And it won’t break the bank of our institutions of higher learning. Of course, schools would be burdened less if we identified supplemental funding sources such as…

It’s gotta be the shoes. While recent reforms have proscribed many of the abuses in the historically shady relationship between college coaches and shoe companies, it’s still unjust to force players to serve as unpaid jumping billboards for their product.   A fair percentage of any and all endorsement deals could help underwrite an athlete compensation pool. Taken together, this fund could help sweep in athletes beyond just the two major revenue-generating sports, because…

Don’t forget about the girls. Gender equity in college athletics is one of the great successes of the modern civil rights era. And even though on only rare occasions will a women’s team generate meaningful revenue, the spirit, if not the letter, of the Title IX laws may require colleges to pay women the same as the boys.  And speaking of what’s truly important…

It’s the education, stupid.   The primary mission of any university is to educate and prepare its students for the postgraduate job market. Current athletic academic standards instead often function to stifle opportunity or to encourage inappropriate shortcuts. The core flaw is the ludicrous and pernicious assumption that every “scholar-athlete” has the preparation, the aptitude — or even the need — to earn a four-year, liberal arts bachelor’s degree. For decades, outside of sport, policymakers have been encouraging youth from lower income environments and underachieving high schools (a common background for many a collegiate hoopster or gridder) to enroll in two-year vocational and technical colleges, where they can be empowered with the skills they need for the modern job market. That’s why it is incumbent on the NCAA and its member schools to direct athletes, when appropriate, to focus their academic attention on job skills and technical programs that interest them, prepare them for postgraduate life, and enable them to earn associates degrees at the university, or through an affiliated community college or vo-tech program. Similarly, the NBA, NFL and their players’ unions should effectuate a new “two and done” system, which will enable each player to earn sufficient credit to graduate with at least an associates’ degree.  And those that stay on past their two-year degrees can be enrolled in apprenticeship programs with local businesses, or compensated job training in the workplace.

In the end, we should abide by the motto and mission of our Fayette County Public Schools:  “It’s About Kids.”  In our passion for sports, we too often fail to fully appreciate and protect the interests of the teenagers and young adults who provide so much enjoyment for the rest of us.  While the Fournettes and the McCaffreys might still skip a game or two, we would provide meaningful integrity for a system that truly needs it, and we would finally respect, honor and truly compensate the individuals who make college sports possible.

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Would you play?  Should we pay?  Fire away in the comments below.


Pulse of the #BBN: Sadness in Jacksonville, Optimism in the Bluegrass

 

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

New Year’s Eve was just a little less fun than it could’ve been. The Cats came up short, ending a roller coaster of a season on a low note. But the highs were there, and they were enough to keep the fans jazzed and ready to go for the 2017 season. Let’s check in on the #BBN hashtag and see where the people stand.

Of course, fans came out in droves to voice their support for Boom as he heads for the NFL. It’s sad to see him go; he’s been one of the primary forces behind the resurgence of Kentucky football. But Benny can take the reins now, and we can cheer Boom on Sundays. Best of luck, kid.

A team on the rise? Home matchups against Tennessee, Florida, and Louisville? I’m liking 2017 already.

Catsonville, anyone?

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

@JayWinkKSR


Important Dates to know in 2017

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

With 2016 finally behind us, we can now look ahead to what 2017 brings. It looks to be another exciting year!

January 28th- Kansas at Kentucky (Basketball)

February 2nd- South Carolina at Kentucky (Women’s Basketball)

February 4th- Kentucky at Florida (Basketball)

February 25th- Florida at Kentucky (Basketball)

March 8th-12th- SEC Tournament (Nashville)

Tyler+Ulis+SEC+Basketball+Tournament+Championship+Wog2-qUMELrl

March 12th- Selection Sunday

March 16th-19th- First and Second Rounds

March 23rd-26th- Sweet 16 and Elite Eight

April 1st- Final Four

April 3rd- National Championship

April 4th- Kentucky at Louisville (Baseball)

@UKBaseball

@UKBaseball

April 14th- Kentucky Spring Game (Football)

April 18th- Louisville at Kentucky (Baseball)

April 27th-29th- 2017 NFL Draft

June 22nd- 2017 NBA Draft

September 2nd- Kentucky at Southern Miss (Football)

September 23rd- Florida at Kentucky (Football)

October 28th- Tennessee at Kentucky (Football)

November 14th- Kentucky vs. Kansas (Champions Classic in Chicago)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

November 25th- Louisville at Kentucky (Football)

December 2nd- SEC Championship (Football in Atlanta)

December 23rd- UCLA vs. Kentucky (CBS Sports Classic in New Orleans)


The Morning After

Watching those stupid nerds run a high school offense to victory was annoying, frustrating and sad all at the same time.  However, after spending time cooling down with some cocktails, we can be more rational about Kentucky’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss.  A few thoughts:

They made a bowl game.  That’s all we wanted at the beginning of the year.  Just give us some postseason play and we’ll be happy.  It sucks losing the last game of the year but it sucks less when it’s on New Year’s Eve.

The Kentucky offensive line stunk.  Before the Louisville basketball game, we knew UK’s guards would outplay UofL’s guards.  Then Quentin Snider broke Bam’s ankles in a 20-point performance.

Entering this game, we knew Kentucky would win in the trenches.  If not, at the very least they would give Stephen Johnson time to throw against a lackluster pass rush.  Boy we were wrong.  Johnson was hit early and often.  He couldn’t get anything going until he found some time late in the second half.  Of Johnson’s 14 rushes, more than half were the result of Georgia Tech’s pass rush.

Kentucky lost the battle in the trenches.  It’s hard to win when that happens.

The defense wasn’t that bad.  Excluding the final score that proved to be nothing more than the frosting on Georgia Tech’s cake, the defense only gave up one touchdown.  In the triple option, they struggled stuffing the A-Gaps, but only got beat once for a big play on the outside.  They played disciplined football (except for some miscues in the secondary).  The defense did what the defense did all year: bend, but don’t break.

Those calls are still stupid.  The “piling on” call while the ball was still loose is the worst call since the no-call on the delay of game at Florida three years ago in Gainesville.

Kentucky can’t win in Florida.  UK is 0-3 all-time in Florida bowl games and hasn’t won in Gainesville since 1979.  Can we just quit playing football in Florida, please?

See ya, Seniors.  Losing the seniors stinks.  It really does.  Especially when they played so well, but not well enough.  Jojo’s big run should have led to a game-changing score, Ryan Timmons’ consistency should have extended drives and Marcus McWilson’s interception should have changed the game.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t finish on a high note.

We’re Just Getting Started, Bro.  The Cats are losing longtime-starting seniors and Boom Williams, but there is so much youth, it’s hard not to be excited.  They got a taste this year.  Next year the sky is the limit.

As one fan said to me on the elevator, “There’s always basketball and there’s always next year.”


2017’s Good Morning Wakeup Post

2017’s Good Morning Wakeup Post

happy-new-year-2017-wallpaper_8-700x438

Good morning everyone! Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable time ringing in the New Year. Here is to another great year in 2017. Now for the headlines:

Cats fall 33-18 in TaxSlayer Bowl

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The Cats could not recover from a poor first half and fell to Georgia Tech 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Kentucky will finish the season with a 7-6 record. After a rough start to this season, winning seven games is extremely impressive. While the game did not end how most of us envisioned, it still is impressive that the Cats were able to turn the season around.

The game really could not have started worse. Stephen Johnson had a costly fumble that Georgia Tech returned for a touchdown to jump out to an early 7-0 lead. The Yellow Jackets did not stop there as they jumped out to an eventual 20-3 lead at the half. Overall, Kentucky had its chances to make its way back into the game. They just could not find a way to slow down the Yellow Jacket running attack which accounted for 266 yards on the ground.

Boom Williams declares for the NFL Draft

In news that did not surprise many, Stanley “Boom” Williams declared for the NFL Draft. Williams rushed the ball 11 times for 35 yards in yesterday’s game. He will leave Kentucky having accounted for 2760 total yards and 20 touchdowns. His explosiveness will definitely be missed for Kentucky next season, who could have had one of the top running back tandems not only in the SEC, but maybe even the entire country.

National Championship Game is set

Following the TaxSlayer Bowl, Alabama defeated Washington 24-7 and Clemson crushed Ohio State 31-0. This sets up a rematch of last season’s National Championship game that saw Alabama defeat Clemson 45-40. This was by far the preseason pick for the National Championship game and should be a good matchup between the talented Clemson offense and the stellar Alabama defense.

In case you are wanting to rewatch last year’s game (it was a dandy), here is the full game on YouTube.

College Basketball Scores from Yesterday

Villanova 80 Creighton 70

Virginia Tech 89 Duke 75

Louisville 77 Indiana 62

Georgia Tech 75 North Carolina 63

Florida State 60 Virginia 58

 

@GormleyKSR