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Football Season Coverage

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Cats in the NFL Week Five Recap

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco threw for over 200 yards on the way to a 30-17 win against the Oakland Raiders as the Ravens finally got it going offensively after a slow start to the season. Za’Darius Smith continues to produce in the league as the defensive end recorded four tackles in the team’s win.

In his second week back from a chest injury Randall Cobb had a solid game with 4 catches for 29 yards as the Packers scored 20 points in the 4th quarter on their way to a 35-31 win.

Cobb’s biggest highlight from Sunday’s win might be his touchdown celebration with teammates Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson as they created their own bob-sledding team:

Avery Williamson led the Titans in tackles with 7 in the team’s 16-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The Titans defense bounced back after giving up 57 points to the Texans but their offense could not produce points with Marcus Mariota sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Wesley Woodyard also played well as the veteran recorded 5 tackles and 2 pass deflections in the loss to the Dolphins. The Titans will try to get back on track next week as they host the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.

Bud Dupree had just one tackle in the Steelers 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in one of Sunday’s more surprising outcomes. Ben Roethlisberger had one of the worst outings of his career as he threw 5 interceptions, the former Super Bowl champion has struggled for much of the season as the Steelers record falls to 3-2.

Corey Peters recorded just one tackle as the Cardinals were blown out by Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles. Wentz threw for 304 yards and 4 touchdowns on the way to a 34-7 win.

Kentucky Evaluates the First Half of the Season during the Bye Week

Last year the Kentucky football team spent the Bye Week changing the offense into a run-first team to fit the personnel.  This year the 5-1 Cats do not need to make dramatic changes, but they’re still using the week to evaluate the first half of the season.

“This is the only time during the season that you can really sit back and look at the whole season.” Mark Stoops said they self-scout to, “see what we’re doing good, what we’re doing bad.  Continue to improve in the areas that we can and we’re doing well.   Areas that we’re not doing well, how can we fix it?”

On the defensive side of the ball Stoops said, “There’s obviously some big plays that we got to eliminate.”  Fortunately, they do not require a complete overhaul of the defense.  “There’s issues that we can get fixed, let’s put it that way.”

Offensively, Kentucky must improve in short yardage situations and in the red zone.  The Cats are taking care of the ball, but they aren’t finishing drives as well as Eddie Gran demands.

“Touchdowns in the red zone.  We’re 90 percent right now scoring, but we’re 55 percent touchdown and we need to be at 65 to 67.  That should’ve been done easy already.  We have really, really messed up some things and we’ve gotta get that fixed.  If we can do that, then it wouldn’t have come down to the last play (against Missouri).  We could’ve put it away with a touchdown and we have to.  Those are the things that are fixable.”

On third and short yardage situations, Benny Snell takes all the blame for failing to convert.

“It’s usually either me or the offensive line being on two different pages.  One of us will make the error,” Snell said.  “We definitely need to improve on that, but I will take full responsibility for that because no matter how it needs to be blocked, if it’s one-on-one I should be winning every time to get that yard.  That’s one thing that I am going to improve on.”

After practice on Wednesday and Thursday, Stoops is giving the team three days to get off their feet, but Snell can’t stay away from the field on Saturdays.

“I’m probably going to still feel like I played a game.  I’m going to work myself out more.”

The Cats are using the Bye Week to make the second half of the season even better than the first.

“We definitely know that we’re a lot better than people think,” Stephen Johnson said.  “I expect us to reach our goal, which is to win the rest of our games.  Obviously we’re going to take it one game at a time, but we definitely got a high ceiling for this team.

“We know that we’ve got a lot of stuff to fix — offensively, defensively, special teams — but if we fix the small things, we’ll be doing a lot better than we are now.”

See everything Johnson and Gran had to say today after the jump.  


Jordan Jones Returned to Practice

When the Kentucky football team took the practice field for the first time during the Bye Week, No. 34 made his first practice appearance in over a month.  All-SEC linebacker Jordan Jones rocked a red, non-contact 34 jersey in his return.

“He was out there moving around,” Mark Stoops said.  “He went through individual and he went through some reps without hitting anybody.”

Stoops expects to have Jones back in time for next Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.

“That’s the plan.  As long as we don’t have any setbacks, I hope to play him.”

Jones was back, but there were quite a few banged up Wildcats who sat out of today’s practice.  Naquez Pringle and Chris Westry did not participate after missing more than a half against Missouri.  Courtney Love also missed today’s practice.

“If all goes well we should have them back by the end of the week or the start of next week.”

Stoops could not get into any specifics regarding Luke Wright’s condition but he did note that he will still be able to stay with the team.


SEC reveals 2017 Football Legends; Northington to represent UK

The Southeastern Conference announced its 2017 SEC Football Legends class on Tuesday and Nate Northington will serve as Kentucky’s legend this year.

Northington will join 13 other stars from around the league to form the ’17 class, to be honored at the 2017 SEC Football “Weekend of Champions” Dec. 1-2 in Atlanta, Ga.  The group will also be introduced prior to kickoff at the SEC Championship, which will be held at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2.

Read Northington’s UK bio from the news release:

KENTUCKY – Nate Northington, Defensive Back, 1966-67

Kentucky defensive back Nate Northington became the first African-American to participate in a varsity football contest in the Southeastern Conference on September 30, 1967.  2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the year Northington integrated SEC Football.  He and fellow African-American Greg Page entered UK in 1966 and were stars on the Wildcat freshman team.  They were expected to make major contributions to the varsity as sophomores; however, Page sustained a neck injury in practice in August 1967, and passed away in September. Northington played his first varsity game against Indiana on Sept. 23, 1967; one week later, he made his debut in an SEC game vs. Ole Miss. He eventually left UK but encouraged the team’s African-American freshmen, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg, to stay at UK and continue his and Page’s trailblazing legacy.

Meet the entire class:

ALABAMA – Gene Stallings, Head Coach, 1990-96
ARKANSAS – Dan Hampton, Defensive Tackle, 1975-78
AUBURN – Carlos Rogers, Defensive Back, 2001-04
FLORIDA – Danny Wuerffel, Quarterback, 1993-96
GEORGIA – Roland “Champ” Bailey, Defensive Back, 1996-98
KENTUCKY – Nate Northington, Defensive Back, 1966-67
LSU – Glenn Dorsey, Defensive Tackle, 2004-07
OLE MISS – Terrence Metcalf, Offensive Line, 1997, 1999-2001
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, Offensive Line, 1997-2000
MISSOURI – Brad Smith, Quarterback, 2002-05
SOUTH CAROLINA – John Abraham, Outside Linebacker, 1996-99
TENNESSEE – Chad Clifton, Offensive Line, 1995-99
TEXAS A&M – Dave Elmendorf, Defensive Back, 1968-70
VANDERBILT – Don Orr, Quarterback/Safety, 1954-56

Go Cats.

Austin MacGinnis earns Lou Groza Award “Star of the Week”

The good news continues for Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer last Saturday.

Today, MacGinnis was named one of three “Stars of the Week” by college football’s top kicking award, the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award. It is his second star so far this season.

MacGinnis is tied for second among all FBS kickers with 13 field goals in 2017. At Kentucky, he already holds the records for most field goals in a career (63), longest field goal (54 yards), most consecutive field goals made (11), most points in a season (104), most field goals in a season (21), most extra points in a season without a miss (41 of 41) and most kickoff touchbacks in a season (25).

The Lou Groza Award will be presented as part of the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards in Atlanta, GA on Thursday, December 7. The three finalists will be honored during a celebration in Palm Beach County, culminating with the 26th Annual Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award Banquet on Monday, December 4.

The KSR Football Podcast’s Bye Week Celebration

There’s no football game this week, but there’s still a KSR Football Podcast.  The crew discusses the Missouri win in depth, ranks UK’s future opponents and sprinkles in some shenanigans, like…

—  The Best “Bye” Songs.

—  How Mizzou contained C.J. Conrad with “bracketing.”

—  Why Freddie and Jared hated Bye Weeks.

—  Who wanted Stoops to go for it on 4th and 2?

—  Comparing Saturday’s game to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Today on KSR: Madness guest list, Star Wars trailer, ugly Florida uniforms

Today on KSR: Madness guest list, Star Wars trailer, ugly Florida uniforms

Shoutout to these fans for repping the Cats at 10,900 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park a few weekends ago. Based on the pictures I saw on the news yesterday, that vista is probably covered up with snow right about now. Yet, it was still 85 degrees here in Nashville yesterday. Sigh.

Here’s what you can expect in the wonderful world of UK sports today…

The guest list for Madness takes shape

With football on a bye, we shift into basketball mode this week. Media Day is Thursday, and on Friday, Kentucky will host a bevy of elite recruits for Big Blue Madness. Here’s the guest list thus far:

  • 2018: Immanuel Quickley (committed), Bol Bol, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland
  • 2019: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Keion Brooks, Tyrese Maxey
  • 2020: Jaemyn Brakefield, Jalen Johnson
  • 2021: Zion Harmon

Between Bol, Zion, and James Wiseman (No. 1 player in 2019), I don’t think we can overstate how important this weekend is for recruiting. We’ll have a primer for you later this week.

Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran, and the offense will address the media

Because it’s a bye week, we didn’t get Mark Stoops’ weekly press conference yesterday, but today, he’ll join Eddie Gran and talk to reporters after practice. Check the site this evening to see what he has to say about his team after watching the Mizzou tape.

If you missed it last night, Stoops sounded optimistic that the team would be healthy by the Mississippi State game:

Mark Stoops Shares an Optimistic Injury Report

Speaking of that Mississippi State game, we found out yesterday it will kick off at 4 p.m., so make your social plans accordingly.

Hopefully they get the wildfires in wine country under control

It’s been tough to see the pictures and videos of the California wild fires this week. So far, 11 people have been killed, 1,500 structures destroyed, and over 100,000 acres burned. Wine country is some of my favorite country, so here’s hoping they get the fires under control before there’s no Pinot Noir and Cab Sauv left.

Did you see the new Star Wars trailer?

If not, you may be the only one. The new trailer was must-see TV in our house last night:

I’m nowhere near as big a Star Wars fan as my husband, but that little creature hanging with Chewbacca — a Porg, I’m told — is pretty cute.

How about the new Florida uniforms?

Just when you thought Florida couldn’t get any more Florida. All that’s missing is a pair of jean shorts. They’ll sport those monstrosities on Saturday vs. Texas A&M.

I’m recording a new episode of The OTT Podcast

Fake Barney and I will record a new podcast tonight to catch up on all the happenings the past few weeks, which reminds me, why haven’t we heard anything about the UNC final report? Surely the major fundraising event in Chapel Hill is over by now?

Radio in an hour. Until then, tackle your morning with the fierceness of the BYU cougar:

UK Top Plays: How Kentucky got to 5-1 at the break

UK Top Plays: How Kentucky got to 5-1 at the break

It’s the bye week and the Cats are 5-1, so let’s celebrate with a look back at some of the big plays that got them here.

In the season opener, Denzil Ware scooped up a Southern Miss fumble and took it 20 yards for the score. It would prove to be the game-winning touchdown for Kentucky in the end…

Against Eastern Kentucky, Stephen Johnson scrambled for 21 yards to put Kentucky up by eight late in the game…

At South Carolina, the Kentucky defense, playing without linebacker Jordan Jones for the first time all season, held the Gamecocks on a 4th-and-Goal stand in the fourth quarter. It was the second consecutive drive the Cats forced the Cocks into a turnover on downs…

Later in that same game, Stephen Johnson broke free for a 54-yard run on third down to stretch the drive and put Kentucky in position for a field goal to extend the lead to two scores…

In yet another tight one, this time at home against Eastern Michigan, true freshman Joshua Paschal made the play of the game when he blocked a punt deep in Kentucky territory. Benny Snell would run it in for six on the very next play to give Kentucky a 10-point fourth quarter advantage…

In a game that saw Missouri go for several long scores on the UK secondary, Stephen Johnson and Garrett Johnson got one of their own to put Kentucky up by a touchdown in the beginning of the fourth quarter…

Then on Kentucky’s next drive, Mark Stoops rolled the dice on a fake punt call to keep from giving the ball back to Mizzou in a tie game. Kash Daniel took the snap and rushed for six yards up the left side to reward UK with a first down for the gamble…

A blocked kick proved to once again be the play of the game when Lonnie Johnson got into the Missouri backfield and deflected a game-tying field goal attempt. It was Johnson’s second blocked field goal of the young season…

With those winning plays and several others, the Cats are happy to be 5-1 at the much-needed break…

Kentucky responds to fan complaints on sound issues at Kroger Field

Kentucky responds to fan complaints on sound issues at Kroger Field

For the past several games at Kroger Field, the music volume throughout the stadium has been minimal, and fans haven’t been happy about it. We’ve received countless messages, calls, and comments on the matter with those in attendance hoping for a louder, more energetic experience on gamedays.

Guy Ramsey at UK Athletics sent a response to these sound (or lack thereof) complaints, saying the speakers have been on, but they are still adjusting volume at games. He also mentioned that Kroger Field only has speakers in one end zone, and a permanent fix to sound issues would be to purchase a brand new (and expensive) sound system.

Here is Ramsey’s email:

On the radio show today, Matt, Ryan, and Shannon brought up the point that the sound issues could have to do with the marching band’s ability to hear and communicate to perform.

This afternoon, a member of the band reached out to KSR and said the band does communicate with the press box/sound people at UK, but stadium music doesn’t interfere with their performances in the slightest.

“The band does communicate with the people in the press box. In my opinion, it sucks that the speakers aren’t on because it ruins the experience,” he said.

Fans want the music, it doesn’t interfere with the band, and it improves UK’s home-field advantage each game.

It may be expensive, but it’s worth it. We need Kroger Field rocking.

Is a 9-1 start possible for the Kentucky Wildcats?

Going into the bye week, the Wildcats sit “pretty” at 5-1. We’ve seen some ugly victories, injuries pile up, and production struggles from various position groups, but the football team now has two weeks to regroup.

Luckily for them, the next several games following the bye week are absolutely winnable, and if they play their cards right, we could be set up for the best regular season since 1977.

Here is the blueprint to Kentucky’s 9-1 start and a shot at Atlanta.

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs started the year 3-0, and after an annihilation of the LSU Tigers, many analysts felt they may be the team to beat in the SEC West.

Since then, however, Mississippi State has been blown out in two consecutive games, and the team as a whole has looked extremely mortal.

After a bye week this past weekend and an upcoming game against BYU (1-5), they could be coming into their matchup with the Wildcats in two weeks fresh and firing on all cylinders.

As we saw last season, Nick Fitzgerald is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback and could put a hurting on Kentucky’s defense.  That being said, the Bulldogs have not dramatically improved from last season. They are well-coached, talented, and deep at most positions, but they are not an elite football team.

If the Wildcats come out of the bye week loose and play up to their ability, they will win. Make careless mistakes, commit turnovers, and they’ll go home 5-2.


As of today, the Tennessee Volunteers are an absolute dumpster fire, and there are no immediate resolutions to put the flames out.

If Butch Jones is still the head coach of the Volunteers when they come to Lexington, I’m extremely confident in Kentucky pulling off the victory. The Wildcats are better at most positions, they’re better coached, and almost no one still supports the UT administration for tolerating it. Yet they’ve adamantly stood behind him as the orange-tinted fanbase slowly crumbles into nothingness.

If Jones is fired, I’m a little more hesitant. Teams get weirdly confident and rally around interim head coaches, so I’d rather watch the collapse continue.

Kentucky sends Jones into unemployment with a victory over Tennessee.

Ole Miss

This is an absolutely winnable game for Kentucky, and they will almost certainly be favored going into it. But it won’t be a cakewalk, especially if the Wildcat defense slacks.

Similar to Missouri, the Rebels have a prolific offense and a mediocre defense. They gave up 27 points to South Alabama, 23 to UT-Martin, and 27 on the road against California. In their first two conference games, they gave up a combined 110 points to Alabama and Auburn.

Shea Patterson has put up over 340 yards in four of five contests, with a total of 1792 yards, 13 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a QBR of 156.2. Three Ole Miss receivers have touchdown receptions of 70 yards or more, and five receivers with over 250 yards on the year.

If Kentucky’s secondary doesn’t get it together, the Rebels will put up massive numbers. If the Wildcat offense struggles, this could set up to be an embarrassing loss at Kroger Field.


After starting the year 3-0, fans held up signs with “We want Bama” plastered over the front.

The Crimson Tide then went to Nashville and knocked off the Commodores by a score of 59-0. It was an obliteration in all facets of the game.

The following week, they lost to Florida 38-24 in the Swamp, and then Georgia slaughtered them 45-14 this past Saturday.

Derek Mason is a solid coach and this isn’t the same Vandy program of recent memory, but they’re nothing special on either side of the football. Kyle Shurmur has thrown for 1157 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just one interception, but Stephen Johnson has put up similar stats. Ralph Webb was supposed to be one of the best running backs in America this season, but he has only rushed for 245 yards on 87 carries, good for just 2.8 YPC.

The Wildcats will have to make it happen on the road, but they will be favored in the second weekend of November for a potential ninth win of the season.

Kentucky vs. Georgia for the SEC East title.

Both teams ranked in the top 15.

November 18.

Be ready.

Mark Stoops Shares an Optimistic Injury Report

The Bye Week eliminated Mark Stoops’ usual Monday-morning press conference, but Stoops still had time to talk to the Big Blue Nation on his call-in show.  He used the opportunity to share some optimistic news.

An injury has forced All-SEC linebacker Jordan Jones to the sidelines for the last four games.  The Cats did not practice today but Stoops said he hopes Jones will be back at practice some time this week.  That wasn’t all he had to share.

During the Missouri game, it felt like there was an injury every five plays.  The Cats were banged up and needed the Bye Week break.  Stoops does not believe there will be any players sidelined by injuries for next Saturday’s game at Mississippi State.

A completely healthy football team will make a big difference in Starkville.  We’ll learn more as we get closer to gameday.

After Action Review: Missouri


An After Action Review is an Army method utilized to analyze an intended action. Let’s apply a version of this process to the Kentucky vs. Missouri football game to determine what caused the final outcome as well as addressing the Cats’ need to sustain and improve:


Win the football game.


Won the football game 40-34.


Opportunistic Special Teams

— LB Kash Daniel executed a fake punt for a first down.

— CB Lonnie Johnson blocked a Missouri field goal.

— Kicker Austin MacGinnis was perfect on the night: 4/4 FGs, 4/4 PATs, and kicked 5 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

— MacGinnis’ touchback kickoff with 1:48 remaining in the game was critical.

— Lynn Bowden recorded a 35-yard kickoff return.

Redshirt Freshman Offensive Linemen

— Center Drake Jackson surfaced in the lineup and didn’t relinquish snapping duties. He more than held his own against a good Missouri defensive line.

— Guard Luke Fortner’s block was key in Benny Snell’s 71-yard touchdown run and played at a high level. 

Fourteen Passing First Downs

— UK moved the chains through the air on 14 occasions compared to just 7 on the ground. This is the identity of the 2017 Wildcats.

— Steady quarterback play and the re-emergence of Blake Bone to go with a vastly improved receiving corps greatly factor.

— WR Garrett Johnson remains Stephen Johnson’s primary target on 3rd down.

Allowing Explosive Passing Touchdowns

— Missouri had touchdown passes that covered 58, 75, and 50 yards. QB Drew Lock threw for 172 yards in his other 19 completions.

— Long, touchdown passes have developed into a trend which is concerning with several highly ranked quarterbacks and receivers in the back half of the schedule.

Defensive Back Tackling on the Game’s Final Drive

— Efficient tackling and kept pass catchers in bounds which continued the game/play clock.

— CB Lonnie Johnson-3 tackles.

— CB Derrick Baity-2 tackles.

— S Mike Edwards-1 tackle.



Kicker Austin MacGinnis

— The senior kicker was clutch on Saturday to include a 53-yarder. He also became the program’s leading scorer. MacGinnis is an All-Timer.

Total Offensive Yards and Balance

— The Cats totaled 486-yards off 76 plays.

— Eddie Gran called 39 running plays (51.3%) and 37 passes (48.6%). 

Offensive Explosive Plays/Receivers

— Benny Snell 71-yard touchdown run.

— Garrett Johnson 64-yard reception.

— Lynn Bowden 22-yard run after catch.

— Tavin Richardson 27-yard receptions

— Blake Bone 14-yard touchdown catch.

— UK receivers have improved on a weekly basis. Coach Lamar Thomas is to be credited with player development. The 2017 group is collectively better than it was a year ago.

Quarterback Stephen Johnson

— Passing: 22/36 (61%), 298, 2 TDs, 1 INT. Rushing: 11 carries, 44-yards.

— Season results: Johnson has accounted for 1382-total yards (65.9%) of total offense and 11 out of UK’s 18 touchdowns (61.1%).

Benny’s 100 and 2

— Benny Snell surpassed the century mark for the eighth time in his career with 117 yards off 20 carries.

— His night included 2 touchdowns. One was a Red-Zone run play with Stephen Johnson under center. Snell appeared comfortable in that formation.

Linebackers Courtney Love and Josh Allen

— Love racked up 10 tackles and 1 fumble recovery. The senior leader is playing like a senior leader.

— Mizzou effectively schemed for Josh Allen. But the junior still managed 5 total tackles, 1 QB sack, 1 TFL, and a Forced Fumble.


Pass Defense

— Surrendered 355-passing yards to include touchdowns of 50, 58, and 75 yards.

— Safety support was not timely or accurate in support of cornerbacks in 2/3 long scores.

— Cornerback injuries factored. Developing depth at that position critical.

— Credit Missouri for game planning UK’s pass rushers out of the equation.

Run Defense

— Kentucky entered the game 3rd in the nation allowing 74 rush yards per game. Mizzou had 33 carries for 213-yards.

— UK’s defensive line strength lies within its numbers (9-10 rotate in 3 positions). Tempo denied the Wildcat defensive line from its normal rotation.

Rushing Offense

— 39 carries, 188 yards, 2 touchdowns appear to be a positive. However, 71 came on a Benny Snell scoring run.

— Kentucky averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

— Play action passing is more productive when a run game is established. Offensive line continuity could help going forward.

— A third running back needs to surface. Going with just two (Snell and King) is a dangerous proposition.

Red-Zone Touchdowns

— Cats settled for field goals on three Red-Zone trips.

— 11/20 Red-Zone possessions have resulted in a touchdown through six games (55%).

Short Yardage Offense

— 8/17 on 3rd down (47%) but an excessive number of unsuccessful attempts were in short yardage situations. This especially applied in the Red-Zone.

— Kentucky is converting 39.53% on 3rd down for the season.

Delivering Knockout Punch

— Missouri was willing to surrender on two occasions when the Cats were up 13-0 and 20-7.

— Up 13-0: 50-yard touchdown pass from Drew Lock to J’Mon Moore.

— Leading 20-7: 58-yard touchdown pass from Drew Lock to Emanuel Hall with :40 remaining in 2nd quarter.

— Momentum shifted after both plays. The latter propelled the Tigers into the second half.

What does all this mean?

Kentucky is 5-1 and several teams are not. Saturday was a win and advance scenario as the Cats entered the game battered and fatigued from playing five close games. Mizzou traveled to Kroger Field fresh off a bye week, healed up, and seeking to right the ship. UK sustained the Tigers’ best punch and found a way to win. Bye week focus: Heal up, clean up, and develop a running game.

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State Game Time Announced

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State Game Time Announced

After the Bye Week, Kentucky will hit the road to play Mississippi State in Starkville.  The SEC announced the game will be in the afternoon at 4:00 on the SEC Network.  The Cats will avoid a night crowd filled with cowbells.

Here’s the rest of the SEC schedule for October 21:

I’ll see you in Starkville.

Lynn Bowden is the SEC Freshman of the Week

After six weeks of the 2017 football season, Lynn Bowden has picked his first honor as a Kentucky Wildcat. The SEC named Bowden Freshman of the Week for his performance against Missouri.

After playing a reserve role to start the season, he played his best game yet filling in for the injured Charles Walker as UK’s primary slot receiver and returner.  He returned three kicks for 79 yards — one 35-yarder had the chance to go the distance — and caught three passes for 49 yards.  His ability to turn nothing into a 22-yard gain on UK’s final offensive possession was spectacular.

To use Mark Stoops’ words, Bowden is just getting started.

The Cats Need a Break After Beating Missouri

The Cats Need a Break After Beating Missouri

Kentucky moved to 5-1 on the season and 12-4 over its last 16 regular games with a gutty victory with a banged up depth chart against an inferior opponent. My concern all week was that the Mizzou offense and all that talent would “wake up;” it did so in a big way by amassing 568 total yards and exceeding its scoring average by 9-points.

Most wanted to see more offense after the Cats scored just 24 points against Eastern Michigan a week ago (Who has a much better defense than Missouri by the way; not talent wise, but in relation to execution). Eddie Gran’s unit answered by totaling 486-yards and hanging 40 on the Tigers. It arguably left another 21 on the Kroger Field turf.

Full disclosure; Missouri was allowing 40-points per game so let’s keep Saturday’s offensive performance in perspective. But, did you know that Kentucky has won 8 of its last 10 home games? There was a sense of testiness following Saturday’s win. But; perspective.

The defense struggled. Missouri is to be credited for its offensive game plan which all but negated UK’s key pass rushers: OLB’s Josh Allen and Denzil Ware.

The Tigers were assisted by a sketchy pass defense and that’s being kind. Of its three long touchdown passes, one was a schematic flaw which matched up linebacker Courtney Love on Mizzou’s top pass catcher Johnathon Johnson that resulted in a 75-yard pitch and catch for six points. J’Mon Moore’s 50-yard score was a result of a great throw from quarterback Drew Lock that was perfectly placed behind the cornerback and in front of the safety in a Cover 2 look.

Hey, football happens. Sometimes the bad guys win. The third came when WR Emmanuel Hall just flat-out ran past the cornerback on a go route to the end zone at the end of the first half.

Missouri’s offensive line was rated as one of the SEC’s top 5 going into 2017. It played so on Saturday night as the Tigers rushed for 213 net yards against a Wildcat defense that was allowing just 74 per game. Kentucky had not faced two dynamic runners on the same team like Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett. Crockett was the foremost concern but it was Witter who ran for 139-yards off 17 carries for an average of 8.2 per.

Yet another game was decided with the opposing team possessing the football in the game’s final drive with the contest in doubt. Mark Stoops’ decision to kick a field goal on 4th and goal at the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter was the right call and forced Mizzou into scoring a touchdown and an extra point for the win with just over a minute to play with no timeouts.

Kentucky won the football game 40-34. Its 5-1 going into a necessary break in action to heal up, clean up, and develop a run game. Now let’s dive deeper:

Hello Drake Jackson

The redshirt freshman center played the majority of offensive plays and more than held his own against future pro defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. Jackson’s snaps were accurate and he was a key blocker in several of the Cats explosive plays. Plainly, given the status of the Mizzou defensive line; Drake Jackson played his guts out. Having the rookie solidify that position frees up Bunchy Stallings to move back to guard, a position that he played at a high level in 2016. Perhaps Jackson’s performance could be a step forward in answering offensive line questions. Time will tell.

Johnson to Johnson

See the first sentence of this post. Kentucky is 12-4 in its past 16 regular season games with Stephen Johnson at quarterback. The senior was 22/36 (61.1%), 298-yards, 2 touchdowns, and was intercepted once. He also rushed the football for 44-yards off 11 carries; many of which were drive extenders. I don’t know how others evaluate quarterbacks but I’d describe his game as solid, motivational, gutty, and indispensable. Remember, Johnson is also beat up and has taken several shots over the course of six games.

Senior receiver Garrett Johnson led the team with 7 receptions for 111 yards and 1 score. Juice has proven time and time again to be UK’s go-to pass catcher during critical 3rd down plays. He’s also continuing to climb the program’s record books in several receiving categories.

The Receivers and the Emergence of Lynn Bowden

I said in the preseason that the receivers would be better in 2017 than it was a year ago. I stand by that statement. Kayaune Ross played his best game as a Wildcat with 4 catches for 77 yards. The resurrection of Blake Bone continued as the senior grabbed 3 passes for 30-yards including a touchdown. True freshman Lynn Bowden’s route running has drastically improved. A specific instance impressed as he executed a flawless three-move corner route for a catch. He’s starting to understand the position. Bowden finished the game with 3 receptions for 49-yards and had one explosive play called back due to penalty. The BBN got a glimpse of his special playmaking abilities with spectacular runs after catch. There was a dropped potential touchdown on a post route. UK cannot afford missed touchdown opportunities especially in a season that scoring points and connecting on explosive plays have proven to be a challenge.

Kentucky Can’t Deliver the Knockout Punch

Cornerback Derrick Baity, “I think our instinct to destroy an opponent, we don’t really have it. We’ll jump out on them and it’s good, but we’re not consistent enough to keep going on them…. We’re letting up ourselves.  We’re getting complacent once we take a good lead and I think that’s why it’s coming down to the wire.”

Up 13-0, which could have easily been 21-0 with more efficiency in the Red-Zone; Missouri was ready to quit. UK didn’t oblige when Lock hit J’Mon Moore down the sideline for a touchdown strike. Up 20-7, the Cats allowed its opponent back into self-esteem land by giving up a 58-yard TD pass with :40 prior to halftime. This was reminiscent of Southern Miss-2016.

Quarterback Stephen Johnson, “It’s just execution on our side, putting the game out of reach.  That’s something we have to work on this Bye Week and the following week after that get it all together.”

Benny Went Back Over 100 and into the End Zone

Snell’s night included 117-yards off 20 carries and two touchdowns. That involves a 71-yard scamper to pay dirt. The sophomore averaged 5.8 tough yards for the game. Reality is that he’s not gotten the same level of offensive line support as he did a year ago when he rushed for over 1,000-yards. But seeing him break a 71-yarder had to be considered encouraging. Another positive was seeing Stephen Johnson go under center to hand off to Snell for a touchdown. He looked comfortable in that role.

Austin MacGinnis is the Kentucky G.O.A.T

The senior kicker became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 314-points. MacGinnis made all four of his field goals and four extra points, totaling 16 for the night. The 16 points tied his career high for a game and is the second-most points for a kicker in one game in school history. He also became the first player in school history with three career field goals of at least 53 yards.

Pass Defense Deficiencies 

That’s been covered throughout this post. Starting cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have both battled injuries. Not an excuse, but relevant. Depth must continue be developed at that position. Safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards have both played an enormous amount of snaps through six games. But, the trend of surrendering explosive plays through the air is alarming. Missouri QB Drew Lock was the SEC’s 2nd rated passer entering Saturday’s contest. We knew that the Missouri receivers averaged 15 yards-per-catch which ranks high nationally. J’Mon Moore was averaging 26 yards-per-catch entering Saturday. However, giving up homerun grabs for points has to stop or at least slow.

Run Defense

Kentucky entered the game 3rd in the nation by allowing just 74 rush yards per game. Missouri gashed the Cats for 213. Missed tackles again reared its ugly head. But, give credit to Missouri and that mammoth offensive line for opening running lanes for RB’s Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett. Preseason All SEC tackle Paul Adams was excellent. The running backs ran through arm tackles. Mizzou won the line-of-scrimmage for the better part of sixty minutes.

What does all this mean?

Simple; UK is 5-1 going into the bye week. I may have been wrong with my assessment that the 2017 schedule was more challenging than 2016. But, there are teams left on the slate that are very Missouri-like. This means that even though records and recent results aren’t extraordinary; there are still very talented individual players and especially quarterbacks remaining in the back half of the season. Saturday’s pass defense didn’t exactly sanction confidence. This team has simply found ways to win.

The first half of the season has produced a heartbreaking nightmare against Florida, impressive road wins at South Carolina and Southern Miss, two ho-hum home wins over EKU and EMU, and a scarier than necessary victory over Missouri. As we are at the halfway point in the season; I think most would have taken 5-1 going into the bye week and labeled that outcome as a success. Style points don’t count in football. At the end of the season only W’s and L’s matter. Right now Mark Stoops’ team sits at 5-1 and a whole bunch of teams across the nation are not.