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Football Season Coverage

The Receivers’ Biggest Problem is No Longer a Problem

When Lamar Thomas arrived in Lexington two years ago, he could not attend a media session without hearing the D-word: drop.  He answered every question in stride, even in times of frustration.  Now, UK’s wide receivers coach rarely gets that question.  When he was asked “what happened to the drops?” earlier this week, he cracked a sheepish smile.

A stat that is not officially recorded, the anecdotal evidence is obvious.  Kentucky’s wide receivers are not dropping passes.  They are playing their most consistent football since Mark Stoops’ arrival.

“I think we’ve just been more solid,” Stoops said.  “There haven’t been any blatant drops. They’ve worked really hard; they’ve been unselfish; they’ve blocked.  They’re working and when their opportunity’s arise, they made some big plays.”

They aren’t too proud to let their teammates shine, but they are too proud to hear more criticism.

“Everybody at the beginning of the season, everyone talked about the consistency with the receivers,” Eddie Gran said it’s been a theme before each of his two seasons at UK.

“They’ve been challenged. They know. They read the stuff. I think they’re definitely responding. They’re making some plays and they’re being more consistent and being physical. It’s been really fun to watch.”

Lamar Thomas’ secret to their success is simple.  He’s replaced the D-word with the A-word: accountability.  

“One of the things I told ’em is that in this offense you have to be able to do your job,” Thomas said. “Whether it’s block or catch the ball, you gotta do your job.  That job also entails doing the right thing on and off the field.  I feel like it’s very important.  I once sat in the same chairs as those guys.  To get ready for the future, whether it’s the NFL, or going to a nine-to-five, or even after the NFL, you gotta learn certain things and have accountability.”

It’s not something that can be taught overnight.  It’s a tenet that has slowly been built into the receiving room over time.  Now it’s being handed down from the veterans to the underclassmen.

On the field, Juice Johnson and Lynn Bowden were graded as two of the SEC’s three best receivers last week.  Off the field, Juice has shown the freshman how to act.  The two are roommates on each road trip.

“Lynn is still learning, that’s the scary part.  It’s a great thing, he watches Juice a lot,” Thomas said.  “They room together.  It’s a great idea we put together, but it’s kind of scary. Juice is having a phenomenal year so far and he’s really stepping up to the plate as a leader.”

Lynn had a lot to learn when he got to campus.  Even though he had never played receiver before, it was not his greatest challenge.  He had to learn to become a great teammate and a great person off the field first.

“He wanted to make plays,” Thomas said.  “He wanted to get the ball.  Other than that Tweet at the beginning of the season, he’s been great.  He’s been one of the biggest cheerleaders on the sideline.  He loves the game. I like that.  I think it’s very contagious.”

As the receivers have faced criticism over the years, they’ve become their own biggest fans.  The unselfish attitude is necessary in this offense.  Juice is the only player with more than ten receptions, while five others have at least five receptions.  Stephen Johnson is spreading the ball around and the offense has never looked better under Mark Stoops.

“I think it’s just the connection I have with the receivers,” Johnson said.  “The whole offense is coming together.”

Fewer and fewer fans feel the need to say the D-word thanks to an efficient quarterback and accountable, consistent receivers.


Have a Good, Long Soak in Tennessee and Louisville’s Misery

Have a Good, Long Soak in Tennessee and Louisville’s Misery

Petrino via Jim Brown

To steal Captain Suntan’s line, “It’s a great day to be a Wildcat.” Not only did Tennessee and Louisville lose, they played pathetic football.

Butch Jones had one drive to get a touchdown and save the day by the hair of his little chinny chin chin.  The ball bounced Tennessee’s way.  A penalty gave them another perfect opportunity to score from inside the five-yard line and win by one.  Instead, the Vols lost to South Carolina 15-9, Butch Jones probably lost his job and this guy tried to break his own neck.

@Bubbaprog

Meanwhile in Louisville, the Cardinals proved they are nothing more than “Lamar Jackson and a bunch of dudes.”  UofL scored 42 points and couldn’t win.

Perennial offensive superpower Boston College dropped a cool 555 yards on UofL’s defense.  They didn’t just defeat UofL, they crushed their souls through brute force.

To make matters even more painful for Louisville fans, Jackson was able to carry the Cards back and tie the game, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath their feet with a game-winning field goal; 45-42 BC.

Take a victory lap, Patty Ice.

Secret to beating Loserville? Have Patrick Towles leave your team. Works every time.

A post shared by Patrick Towles (@patty_ice_8) on

The second half of Kentucky’s schedule is looking about as bad as Bobby Petrino after a long motorcycle ride.


How UK’s Final Six Opponents Started the Season

How UK’s Final Six Opponents Started the Season

Mississippi State

  • Record: 3-2 (2-1)
  • Signature Win: 37-7 vs. LSU
  • vs. UK: at Starkville October 21, 4:00 on SEC Network
  • Today’s Game: vs. BYU at noon on SEC Network

Dan Mullen’s ninth season at Mississippi State got off to a fast start, but has faltered through the last two games.  After a pair of big wins vs. lesser non-conference opponents, the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense led by Nick Fitzgerald rolled over Coach O’s LSU Tigers with a dominant 37-7 win.  Then, reality smacked them in the face on the road.

Georgia and Auburn, arguably two of the SEC’s three best teams, beat the brakes off the Bulldogs.  Miss. State lost the two games by a combined score of 80-13.  Georgia and Auburn did exactly what you have to do to beat Miss. State: slow down Fitzgerald.

State averages 422 yards per game and more than half of them (225) come from the big dual-threat quarterback.  Against Auburn Fitzgerald was held to 213 total yards and against Georgia he only had 130.  In each game he threw two interceptions.

Miss. State has an easy bounce-back game at home against BYU to build confidence ahead of Kentucky, but the formula to beat the Bulldogs will remain the same: stop Nick Fitzgerald.

Tennessee

  • Record: 3-2 (0-2)
  • Signature Win: Championship of Life
  • vs. UK: in Lexington October 28
  • Today’s Game: vs. South Carolina at noon on ESPN

It has been a joy to watch the Tennessee football program implode under Butch Jones.  Instead of going from good to dogcrap overnight, it’s been a slow drip of uncreative coach-speak and inept execution.

After an impressive come-from-behind overtime win over Georgia Tech, the Vols reverted to undisciplined Butch Jones football, the trademark of his tenure at Tennessee.  All they had to do was keep Florida in front of them to force overtime.  Instead, America laughed at them.

What a call from Brad Nessler. 

After that fateful play, the downward spiral has accelerated.  After the Florida loss they trailed for most of the game against UMass, only to squeak out a 17-13 win.  The following week they hosted Georgia and took a 41-0 loss.  It was Tennessee’s worst home loss since 1905 when Vanderbilt won 45-0.

Quarterback Quinten Dormady was one of the top passers in the SEC to start the season.  Now he’s benched and considering a transfer.  This week the Vols host South Carolina.  If they score first, it will be Tennessee’s first lead in regulation vs. a power five opponent this season (my favorite UT stat).

Next week they travel to Tuscaloosa.  Here’s to hoping Butch Jones survives until the Kentucky game so the Cats can end his time at Tennessee.

Ole Miss

  • Record: 2-3 (0-2)
  • Signature Win: 66-3 Loss to Alabama
  • vs. UK: in Lexington November 4
  • Today’s Game: vs. Vanderbilt at 3:30 on SEC Network

In the middle of an NCAA investigation Hugh Frieze was fired before the season, and not because of the NCAA investigation.  Despite the turmoil, quarterback Shae Patterson led Ole Miss to a pair of 40+ point wins to kick off the 2017 season.

Since then, it hasn’t been pretty. Ole Miss fell apart against Cal, then traveled to Alabama and Auburn for a pair of beat-downs.

There’s not a lot of good happening at Ole Miss besides Patterson.  The true sophomore leads the SEC in yards (1,792) and touchdowns (13), and is second in completion percentage (66.3).  Ole Miss has a trio of home games against beatable opponents (Vandy, LSU and Arkansas) before they travel to Lexington.  There’s talent on the roster, but their mentality and will to win may be completely eroded by November 4.

(more…)


(Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Week 7 in the SEC: Storylines to Watch

(Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

The college football season gets another week older, and many eyes will be focused on the SEC. Here is a rundown of the key storylines to watch for around the conference as Kentucky sits back and enjoys their bye week.

1. UK Fans Will Turn into Texas A&M Fans on Saturday

It may not be the biggest game in the SEC this week, but there won’t be a more important game then when Texas A&M travels to Gainesville to take on Florida. To put it simply, this is a must win for both teams if they want to keep their hopes for an SEC Championship berth alive.

Florida messed up in a big way last week by dropping its matchup against LSU, now they will most likely have to win out in the SEC (which means beating Georgia) to win the East.

This is exactly why UK fans should be rooting for Texas A&M victory on Saturday. If the Aggies can pull off the upset UK will actually have a shot at winning the East (believe it or not). The Wildcats conference schedule is relatively easy besides a road matchup with Georgia.

They play what could possibly be the four worst teams in the SEC (Miss St., Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt) all before that big game with Georgia.

For the Aggies to pull off the upset in Gainesville, freshman quarterback Kellen Mond will need to connect with star receiver Christian Kirk often. Kirk will be the best player on the field and the Aggies need to utilize him to have a chance like they did against Alabama:

 

2. The Dumpster Fire in Knoxville

No matter what team you are a fan of, just know that things could always be worse – you could be a Tennessee football fan.

Butch Jones is fighting for his job on a literal week-to-week basis, and to make matters worse former starting QB Quinten Dormandy almost quit the team this week after losing the starting job.

The Volunteers are still winless in the SEC and this week they will take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Neyland Stadium. Make no mistake about it: for the sake of Jones, this is a must win for the heavily criticized head coach.

South Carolina just isn’t as talented of a team as Tennessee is in my opinion, and next week the Volunteers will be losing to the Crimson Tide. Lose this game, and Butch Jones will be coaching a team that’s 0-4 in the SEC heading into the matchup with Kentucky.

If Tennessee loses this game, he will probably not be around when the Volunteers take on the Wildcats.

3. Signs of Life in Baton Rouge?

There is no question that LSU has had a bad start to the season with bad losses to Troy (HOW??) and Miss St. However, the Tigers got a huge road win last week against a formerly ranked team in Florida.

That’s the type of win that could potentially turn a season around. Remember, the Tigers are only 1-1 in the SEC this season and they still have one of the most talented players in the conference in Derrius Guice.

Guice has had a rough start to the season due to him being banged up with injuries. However, that hardnosed back is starting to show some signs of life.

The bad news is that this week The Tigers will be tasked with taking on the 10th ranked Auburn Tigers in Death Valley. They are sizable underdogs, but if Guice can provide a big game on the ground and quarterback Danny Etling can be dependable through the air then maybe the Tigers can pull off the upset.

Which leads us into the next must-watch storyline….

4. Coming Out Party for Stidham?

I have spoken about the maturation of Auburn quarterback in previous weeks as he may be the most talented player at the position in the conference.

But Stidham has been very inconsistent when trying to showcase that talent. Through the first 3 games of the season he posted single game QBR’s of 45.0, 34.0, and 75.7. However, in his last 3 games he has finally found some consistency as his QBR has been between 95.0 and 97.5 in each game.

Granted, those games with a near perfect QBR were against Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. Stidham will finally get a true test this week in Death Valley against a fast Tiger defense.

This will be his first real test since his disappointing showing against Clemson, and Auburn’s matchup with LSU will be on national television as well. All of this adds up to what could be a huge showcase for Stidham to finally assert himself as the best quarterback in the conference, or he could fall on his face like he did against Clemson.

Personally, I think this will be the game in which he finally busts onto the national stage. Stidham is playing well at the right time, and he is making some ridiculous plays like this one:

5. Miss St. Gets an Interesting Non-Conference Challenge

The Bulldogs will be the only SEC team this week playing out of conference as they invite a struggling BYU team into Starksville this week.

Miss St. started off the season in a big way as they dismantled LSU back in September. But since then the Bulldogs lost to Georgia and Auburn by a combined score of 80-13.

Thankfully for them, Miss St. is coming off their bye week so they will be well-rested before Saturday’s game with the Cougars. Also, it bolds well for the Bulldogs that BYU has struggled incredibly this season. The Cougars only have one victory to their name and it came over Portland State.

Look for Nick Fitzgerald and the rest of the Bulldogs to get back on track this weekend in a huge way. If the Bulldogs fail to convincingly beat a bad BYU team, then that LSU win may have just been a bad night for the Tigers and it could be a long season for Miss ST.


YAHTZEE!! Three-star WR Meechi Harris commits to KENTUCKY

We interrupt Big Blue Madness to inform you three-star wide receiver Meechi Harris has committed to KENTUCKY!

The talented Ohio native has long been rumored to favor Kentucky, but decided he couldn’t wait any longer to pull the trigger.

Here is a video of the pledge:

With the commitment, UK’s recruiting class will move to No. 18 in the nation (Rivals), ahead of schools like LSU and Louisville. Rivals lists Harris as the No. 22 prospect in the state of Ohio.

Harris held offers from 16 different schools, notably Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Purdue before ultimately choosing the Wildcats.

Vince Marrow gave us a Yahtzee warning last night, telling the BBN to “get them dice ready.”

Welcome to the BBN, Meechi!


Revisiting Kentucky Football’s 2017 Statistical Benchmarks Halfway Through the Season

Pic by Food+Tech Connect

We’ve made it to the halfway point in the season. Kentucky is recuperating from six close, physical football games. The Cats are getting some well-deserved rest this weekend prior to jumping back into conference play against Mississippi State. Mark Stoops and his coaches are in the process of self-scouting which will reveal strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and other avenues for improvement.

This majority of this post was written in the preseason as we provided suggested statistical goals for certain categories. The three classifications utilized in this analysis were: Non-Negotiable Improvements, Advantage (Critical) Developments, and Sustains (Explanation below). The following is a comparison of expected goals vs. updated, current numbers through six games. Let’s take a look:

— Non-Negotiable Improvements are self-explanatory. For UK to enjoy a successful season it must address and immensely improve upon the listed statistical classifications.

— Advantage (Critical) Developments examine actions that were not listed in the upper half of the league but needs to show improvement in order for Kentucky to better its win/loss record from a year ago.

— Sustain is easy. No change, continue status quo, keep on keeping on, keep on truckin; you get the picture.

 

Non-Negotiable Improvements

Turnover Margin

Preseason Remarks-Recovered 8 fumbles, intercepted 13 passes for a +21 margin. Conversely, UK lost 16 fumbles, threw 12 interceptions for a total of -28. Combined, it formulated a -7 total turnover margin (14th or last in the SEC).

2017 Goal: This number needs to be in the +2 level at a minimum. Mid-pack in the league was a +3 a year ago. This digit’s reduction will assist most all other statistical areas of concern. Last year’s turnovers twisted potential blowout wins into nail biters (Vanderbilt) and potential close game victories into losses (Georgia).

THROUGH 6 GAMES: Exceeding Goal. Kentucky is 2nd in the SEC with a +8 turnover margin.

Punting

Preseason Remarks: 201661 punts, 2335-yards, 38.3 yards per, allowed 125 return yards for a 2-yard average, kicked 5 touchbacks which equaled a total 34.6 net yards per punt (SEC-14th).

 2017 Goal: Again, just shooting for mid-level production, a 39-40-yard net punt average would greatly improve field position and ease strain on the defense. Strategic, inside the ten-yard line punt placement also needs immense upgrading. Regardless, punting has to drastically improve.

THROUGH 6 GAMES: Exceeding Goal. Matt Panton is averaging 42.48 yards-per-punt and has placed opposing offenses inside its 20-yard line on many occasions.

Third Down Defense

 Preseason Remarks: 2016-Opponents converted 80 of 180 3rd down attempts for a 44.4% success percentage (SEC-13th)

 2017 Goal: 39% would provide Eddie Gran’s offense with more possessions which could translate to additional points. 39% ranks in the middle of the SEC. Plus, getting off the field has been a struggle for Stoops’ defense throughout his tenure. Personnel shortages have greatly impacted this deficiency. 3rd down defense improved down the stretch in 2016 which could act as a precursor for this number to drop even further.

THROUGH 6 GAMES: Exceeding Goal. Allowing 33.71% conversion rate on 3rd down.

Rush Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016-Opponents had 576 carries for 2966-yards, 25 TD’s. 5.1 yards per attempt and 228 yards per game ranked 12th in the SEC.

 2017 Goal: A realistic goal and more likely a blue lensed view would be for the Wildcats to allow 195-200 yards per game. Lack of proven defensive line depth significantly factors in this estimation. However, UK has an upper-level linebacker corps and secondary which includes the conference’s top two returning tacklers: LB Jordan Jones (109) and Safety Mike Edwards (100). I’m least confident in rush defense improvement than all other statistical projections within this study.

THROUGH 6 GAMES: Exceeding Goal. Kentucky is ranked 3rd in the SEC by surrendering 97.17 rush-yards per game.

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Courtney Love recognized for outstanding dedication to community service

Courtney Love recognized for outstanding dedication to community service

Courtney Love is used to being recognized for helping his teammates on the field. Now, he’s being recognized for helping his community.

Love has just been named to the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, one of the most esteemed off-the-field honors in college football. Only 22 college football players received the honor this year. He was awarded the trophy based on his dedication to community service.

Love thought he was attending just another regularly-scheduled event with his mentees. But when he arrived at the park, he was surprised by the kids he mentors, plus some of his teammates, members of the UK athletics department and a representative from Allstate (plus a few dozen journalists).

The senior has spent countless hours volunteering with various organizations around Lexington, namely, Amachi. The program pairs “caring, positive adults with children and youth in the bluegrass who have one or both parents in state or federal prison or are affected by incarceration in some way.”

The program is especially important for Love, as he was impacted by incarceration as a teenager. At the age of eight, Love ran away from home due to a complicated relationship with his mother, and he wound up living with his grandmother and great-grandmother while his father was serving time in prison.

“In 21 years of being with UK athletics and nominating guys for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, Courtney has probably been one of the most deserving athletes that we’ve had,” UK athletic’s Susan Lax said. “It was a pleasure to nominate him for this award. He’s one of the most selfless student athletes that we’ve ever had.”

Allstate has revamped the neighborhood basketball courts on Love’s behalf, relining the court and adding new goals with nets and new benches.

“It’s amazing because the kids are going to be able to come here and have a brand new court,” Love said. “They’ll be able to play with confidence and just do their thing.”

One thing is obvious: these kids love their mentor.

“Awesome,” is how one of the kids responded when asked to describe Love. “He’s fun and nice. And he has manners.”

Love and his teammates stuck around after the ceremony to play some basketball with the kids. Stephen Johnson, Nick Haynes, Naquez Pringle, Greg Hart and Alex Montgomery were all in attendance.

@MaggieDavisKSR


Free Money with Matt and Drew: Episode 7

Matt Jones and Drew Franklin are here to bring you another week of excellent gambling advice for college football Saturday.  Before they get to this week’s picks, Matt and Drew share their thoughts on the Calipari/Jerry Tipton media day feud and do a little role playing.  Other highlights:

—  Phil Steele’s Brag of the Week.

—  An “Academic Tease.”

—  Matt is done with Duke.

—  Drew’s must-watch game of the week.

—  A Middlesboro historical golf fact every Kentuckian needs to know.

—  Should Drew get Bitcoin?

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.


Five Football Notes for the UK Fans of the Day

Five Football Notes for the UK Fans of the Day

Stephen Johnson is a Unitas Finalist

It’s been said before on the site but it’s worth saying again: Stephen Johnson is one of the 20 best quarterbacks in the country.  A finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Johnson ranks third in the SEC in completion percentage (63.9) and fifth in yards per game (206.3).

See all 20 finalists here.

High Grades from PFF

Every week across the country, college football coaches grade players for their weekly performance.  Pro Football Focus does the same thing (I’m sure with a different set of criteria from the coaches).  Some like to knock their methods, but their methods put a number on how players perform that don’t always receive the spotlight.  This week, quite a few Kentucky Wildcats were highlighted.

Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden and Juice Johnson were two of the three best receivers in the SEC last week.  Juice received the highest grade in the conference with an 86.9.  Bowden, the SEC Freshman of the Week, was third with a grade of 83.5.  On the other side of the ball, Derrick Baity was the second-best cornerback in the league with an 86.9 grade.

Two Kentucky defenders rank near the top of their positions through six weeks of SEC play.  Mike Edwards is the SEC’s No. 3 safety with an overall 85.2 grade.  The SEC’s best edge rusher through six weeks is Josh Allen.  With an 87.4 grade, he’s out-performed all of the headline grabbers who entered the season with NFL Draft hype.  Enjoy Edwards and Allen while you can.

Cats Near the Top 25

Kentucky isn’t receiving much love from the talking heads in the polls, but one metric has the Cats right where they belong: near the Top 25.

Remember Tom Fornelli?  The CBS writer appeared on KSR two years ago when he made the bold prediction that 5-1 UK could win the SEC East. That remark was made on a podcast and used to point out how terrible the East was.  That’s not the case this year.

Fornelli has created a mathematical formula in an attempt to objectively rank all of the teams in the FBS.  Throwing opinion out the window, Kentucky is ranked No. 27, up 11 spots from 38.  Fornelli does add a little opinion for each team.  On Kentucky: “Have you looked at the rest of Kentucky’s schedule? Its, uh, it’s pretty manageable.”

See how far UK is ahead of UofL in this week’s Fornelli 50.

Four-Star Tight End Sets Official Visit

Vince Marrow is searching for his third tight end commit in the 2018 class, and it might just be his best.  Leonard Taylor of Springfield, Ohio is a consensus four-star prospect who has visited Kentucky multiple times.  After visiting for the Florida game, Taylor told Rivals he will take an official visit to UK on November 4 when the Cats take on Ole Miss.  Taylor’s rapport with Marrow is about as good as it gets.

“That’s my main dude,” Taylor commented. “He is just a good coach and we have a good vibe together. He knows how to work with his players.”

Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Michigan and Louisville are also in the fold for Taylor.  He’ll visit UofL for the first time this weekend.  Kentucky currently has an 82-18 advantage over Ohio State in the 247 Crystal Ball.

Check out some of Taylor’s senior highlights as a QB/DE.

[Rivals]

More Drake at Center?

Drake Jackson played in his first game vs. Eastern Michigan.  After just two games, he might command most of the center snaps moving forward.

Against Missouri, Jackson was the primary center after the game’s first two series.  That will not always be the case, Nick Haynes and Bunchy Stallings will still rotate into the center spot and at right guard.  Stallings will play wherever he’s put, but he admitted that last year’s experience at right guard helps this year.

“Since I’ve gotten the reps last year and had the chance to play guard, yes, I’m more comfortable with playing guard,” Bunchy said.  “This year I’m a lot more comfortable with it, ready to go.”


One year later, Stephen Johnson is my quarterback.

One year later, Stephen Johnson is my quarterback.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, and a “memory” of one of the articles I shared exactly one year ago popped up.

“It’s not time to jump off the Stephen Johnson bandwagon… not yet at least,” it was titled.

Kentucky was coming off a close victory against Vanderbilt at the time, but questions surrounding the team’s starting quarterback were starting to mount.

You can read the entire article here, but to give you the Spark Notes version of his performance against the Commodores, it wasn’t great. He finished the day 10/24 for 49 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He rushed for one touchdown and converted on a massive fourth-and-one to put the Wildcats in position to win, but he was putrid in the passing department. At least six times throughout the contest, the SEC Network commentators said “That ball was nearly picked off,” or some variation of the phrase, with one of Johnson’s misfires easily landing in the hands of a Commodore defender.

Drew Barker was out with a back injury, and at the time, it was uncertain when he would return to action. Johnson was struggling, and with talented freshman Gunnar Hoak impressing in the Spring Game, many fans felt it might be time to pull his redshirt and give him a shot.

The memory instantly brought me back to the day I wrote that article, and honestly, I didn’t know if I truly believed in what I said at the time.

I believed Johnson was far too skinny, inexperienced at the division-one level, and above all else, had an average arm. In his first three games as a Wildcat, he beat a mediocre New Mexico State team, the running backs carried the weight against South Carolina, and though the Wildcats showed fight, they lost to Alabama by four touchdowns. When he looked out of place against Vandy, I wanted to believe in him, but my doubts for Johnson as a long-term option outweighed the optimism.

But still, I wanted to trust the coaching staff, and give him a shot to right the ship.

And right the ship, he did.

Johnson led the Wildcats to seven regular-season victories, their most since 2009, a road win against rival Louisville and eventual Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson, and a New Year’s Eve bowl.

We saw a resurgence of excitement around Kentucky football that we haven’t seen since the Rich Brooks era. We saw a dominating run game develop before our very eyes, a reliable and effective deep ball, and most importantly, victories. Kentucky just learned to win football games.

This season, Kentucky is off to a 5-1 start with a legitimate shot to manage the most regular-season victories the program has seen since the 1970’s. At least one bowl projection has the Wildcats playing in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

As for Johnson? He’s currently a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Award, the award given to the nation’s best quarterback at the end of the year.

On the field, Johnson has proven to be calm, efficient, and intelligent. He may not have the sexiest arm in the nation, and he’ll make some mistakes from time to time, but he always manages to bounce back.

In his career under center at Kentucky, Johnson is 12-5. In his last 16 regular-season games, he is 12-4, the best Kentucky record since 1977-78. He has helped lead the Wildcats to victories in eight of their last 10 home games, and six of their last 10 SEC games, the first time for both since the 2006-07 season.

Above all else, he’s a winner, and that’s something this football program hasn’t seen in quite some time.

Off the field, Johnson has been everything you can ask for out of the face of your football program, and then some.

As a child, Johnson was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, an adversity that helped shape his faith and the man he is today.

After winning his own battle with Tourette Syndrome, he’s now helping other children overcome theirs, including 10-year old Wildcat fanatic Samuel Doster.

Former UK quarterback, KSR writer/podcaster, and dear friend of mine Freddie Maggard had his heart ripped out on the final day of September when his 11-year old nephew, Dalton, was rushed to the ICU, and soon became mostly immobile and unresponsive. He was later diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called Acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.

One day, Dalton was having fun at soccer and golf practice. Three days later, he was in a hospital bed with excruciating pain, diagnosed with a condition seen in just 10,000 cases a year, the first of its kind at the UK hospital in 13 years.

After hearing the heartbreaking news, Johnson showed up with Mark Stoops to give Dalton and his family whatever support they needed, a gesture that would be appreciated more than they ever realized.

In an interview with Jen Smith of the Herald-Leader, Maggard went in detail about the impact Johnson’s presence made on not only Dalton, but the family as a whole.

At one point, the Kentucky quarterback handed the 11-year old boy a signed football he and Coach Stoops brought along as a get-well gift. Dalton immediately made an effort to gesture to Johnson that he wanted to play catch, a moment that made the entire room fill with emotion.

“At that moment, it was just two kids wanting to play catch,” Maggard said. “I had to stand back because I was getting too emotional.”

“He kept getting in Dalton’s ear and telling him he’s a warrior, he’s going to get through this, he’s praying for him,” Maggard said. “And he talked about how he got through a tough time at about the same age and was just talking to him like they were having a conversation.

“I could see the care in his eyes, the empathy in his eyes.”

This wasn’t just a photo-op for retweets and likes. Video cameras weren’t rolling for the latest heartwarming TV feature. This wasn’t about the publicity. It was a child, a father, and a friend, coming together and fighting this battle together. It was bigger than football.

This goes without saying, but this kid is unlike anything we’ve seen in quite some time. He’s special.

One year later, be thankful the coaching staff stayed the course and allowed Johnson to find his groove.

One year later, Stephen Johnson is my quarterback, and I’m proud of it.

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR


Updates from the Bye Week: the Good, the Bad and the Goofy


Although fans may have a week off from buying tickets, tailgating and cheering on the Cats, the football team is still practicing and already preparing for next Saturday’s matchup against Mississippi State. Following today’s practice, defensive coordinator Matt House and a few members of the defense spoke with the media. Even though there’s no game this week, I know you’re still interested, because, c’mon, we’re 5-1. Here’s what you need to know:

Denzil “Wares” a Cast

When he came out to answer questions from the media, Denzil Ware had his left wrist wrapped.

“This? Oh, I don’t know, man. Just got a little aggravated, a little injury,” Ware said. “It ain’t nothing. I’m just going to play through it – be tough. It’s just a little cast.”

The OLB was all laughs when discussing the cast, so it doesn’t seem to be an injury worth worrying about, at least at this point.

(Sorry for the Ware/Wear pun… I had to do it).

What they’ve done Right

For just the seventh time since Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1973, the Wildcats have started a season 5-1. Although some fans are frustrated with the closeness of the games or even the “conservative play calling,” something has to be moving in the right direction. Not one for ego-building, Coach House had just a single line to say about what the team has done well so far this season.

“I think we’ve played team defense well, and we’ve played base defense better,” House said.

What they’ve done Wrong

Coach House mentioned that the team has given up five explosive runs this season, three of which came during the Missouri game.

“The common denominator, to be honest with you, was lost leverage and missed tackles,” House said. “In the pass game, it’s been a variety of different things – whether it be a finish on the ball, a guy out of position – but they’re all correctable things.”

During the Bye week, the team will continue to work on those frustrating missed tackles. But Coach House finding just five “explosive runs” throughout six games is a big deal, at least for one player.

“For it to only be a single digit number, I’m really proud of that,” Denzil Ware said of their opponents’ explosive runs.

Fun with the Defensive Backs

During Coach Steven Clinkscale’s time with the press, he had to pause and quiet a few of the players joking off in the background. Instead of quieting down, Mike Edwards and Lonnie Johnson decided to join in on the fun. What does Coach Clinkscale say they need to work on? “Growing up.”

I’ll let you watch the interaction for yourself:


@MaggieDavisKSR


Since It’s BYE Week, Let’s Talk A Little Week 7 GAMBOL

Since It’s BYE Week, Let’s Talk A Little Week 7 GAMBOL

Matt and Drew are the head honchos when it comes to KSR sports betting, they have a great podcast called Free Money that you should check out on the podcast feed, if you haven’t already. They both have their own strategies that work well, and if you’ve listened to them you’ve probably made a little cash. I too am interested in this aspect of college football and am writing today to add a strategy of mine to the mix. Now sports betting is illegal in Kentucky, but if I hypothetically used my strategy in the past weeks games I would be 17-10 on the year and making some nice cash.

My strategy has less to do with game by game match-ups and more to do with what the money in Vegas is doing. I strictly limit myself to looking the way money is being bet, and making a decision based on several factors.

First, I look for teams that have home games in which they are the underdog. Home field advantage is huge in college football. For those games, I then turn my attention to where most of the public bets are going. Once I know where the money is going, I look for what is called “reverse line movement” which basically means the spread is going one way when it should be going the other. For instance, let’s say Team A opens at -12 against Team B and all the money starts going Team A’s way but the spread moves to -11 when it should’ve gone to -13 because a majority of the money has been wagered on them. That’s reverse line movement.

There’s value in knowing reverse line movement because when it occurs, it is a reaction from Vegas when a large sum or sums of money have been placed on Team B. This could indicate someone betting in Vegas may know something about Team B that a majority of us do not.

Keeping this in mind, I look for games that exhibit all these factors and use what little match-up knowledge I have to make a bet. I generally always wager against where the public money is going. So if Team A is -11, on the road against Team B, with 65% of public picking them with reverse line movement. In this instance, I generally always go with Team B.

So here are the games this weekend I like:

Florida St. @ Duke

The Seminoles are 7-point favorites on the road at Duke. 61% of the money in Vegas is going to Florida St. after the spread opened at Florida St. -8. This means reverse line movement is occurring and it’s probably a decent idea to go against the money. So I like Duke at +7.

Colorado @ Oregon St.

Colorado opened up at -12 and since then 76% of the wagers in Vegas have been placed on them. This may be due to OSU’s coach Gary Andersen no longer being on the sidelines. However, there is reverse line movement, so someone with a lot of money likes the Beavers this weekend and I too, like them to cover the +11 spread this weekend.

Texas A&M @ Florida

Texas A&M is a +3 underdog at the Swamp this weekend and had the most respectable showing so far against Alabama. I yield caution taking Texas A&M because 60% of public money is on them, and I think their showing against Bama may be the reason for it. Florida has been good against the spread at home this year, so I like Florida at -3 at home.

Michigan St. @ Minnesota

The Golden Gophers are +4 at home against Michigan St. Michigan St. is fresh off a good win against rival, Michigan, and it appears the public likes them a lot as 71% of wagers are on them. This is a big game for PJ Fleck and Minnesota, and Fleck is a master motivator who will have the whole state fired up to take on the B1G’s second best team. I’m picking the Golden Gophers at +4.

Hopefully, my strategy holds strong and helps you out when considering your wagers for this weeks slate of games. Good luck.


Tough Love: Courtney Love’s Path to the University of Kentucky

Before he was a Kentucky Team Captain, Courtney Love was a kid struggling to grow up in a tumultuous household in Youngstown, Ohio.

KY Wildcats TV tells the story of how Love learned through tough love how to become a better person, teammate, leader and friend.  Now a member of the SEC Community Service Team and the All-State Good Works Team, Love is an example of how someone can make the best out of a bad situation.


I really like this bowl projection

I really like this bowl projection

With Kentucky still one win away from bowl eligibility, it’s a wee bit too early to focus on bowl projections, but this one from Brett McMurphy got me so excited I just had to share. McMurphy is projecting Kentucky to play Michigan in the Outback Bowl on January 1 in Tampa, Florida.

With Alabama presumably headed to the playoffs, McMurphy predicts Georgia will be the only other SEC team going to the “New Year’s Six” bowls (Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl). From there, here are his SEC projections:

Rose Bowl Jan 1 Alabama
Orange Bowl Dec 30 Georgia
Citrus Bowl Jan 1 Auburn
Outback Bowl Jan 1 Kentucky
Liberty Bowl Dec 30 Tennessee
TaxSlayer Bowl Dec 30 Florida
Belk Bowl Dec 29 Texas A&M
Music City Bowl Dec 29 Mississippi State
Independence Bowl Dec 27 South Carolina
Texas Bowl Dec 27 LSU
Birmingham Bowl Dec 23 Vanderbilt

ESPN’s projections have Kentucky in the Belk Bowl on December 29 at 1 p.m., but it’s important to note that the basketball team plays Louisville at the exact same time that day. That may also rule out the Music City Bowl, which kicks off that afternoon at 4:30 p.m. I doubt the TaxSlayer Bowl would want Kentucky two years in a row, which leaves the Liberty Bowl as another popular option, albeit a less appealing one.

First things first: let’s get to six. And then do our best to get to Tampa, because I wouldn’t mind another trip to Clearwater and a blooming onion.

[TheScore.com]


Today on KSR: One step closer to Madness

Today on KSR: One step closer to Madness

How did you celebrate Kentucky moving to 5-1 after beating Missouri? Probably by complaining about another close win. Today’s Fan of the Day had the right idea and went to a hot spring in Iceland instead. I want to go to there.

But first, we’ve got to go over today’s agenda.

Mark Stoops on the SEC Teleconference

After getting defensive on his call-in show on Monday night and addressing reporters after practice last night, Stoops will take a couple of questions on today’s SEC Teleconference. Hear what he has to say around lunchtime.

UK Basketball Media Day is TOMORROW

Believe it or not, Media Day is almost upon us, which means your favorite reporters from across the state will descend upon the Joe Craft Center to complain about free food, listen to John Calipari talk, and ask the players boring questions. Drew, Jack, and I will do our best to only do one of those things (to be fair, it’s pretty hard NOT to complain about the food). I’m going to spend part of my day brainstorming interesting ways to cover the event, so if you’ve got suggestions, we’re all ears.

Which season poster did you guys like the most?

After UK’s season poster was revealed yesterday, I ranked my favorite posters of the Calipari era and asked you guys to do the same. Your top three? Last season’s mirrored portraits, followed by the 2014-15 “Succeed & Proceed” poster, and this year’s “Embrace the Challenge” poster:

ICYMI, here’s another look at this year’s poster, which will be available Friday night at Madness and at Krogers statewide starting Saturday:

Prepare yourself for a lot of talking on the Madness telecast

Props to Sean Farnham for giving Kentucky fans a heads up that the SEC Network crew will be forced to talk a little more than usual on Friday night:

Consider yourself warned.

Volleyball takes on Texas A&M

The UK Volleyball team is ranked #3/#8 in the country right now and tonight, they’ll host Texas A&M at 8 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. If you can’t make it down there, the match will be televised on SEC Network. On Saturday, they’ll travel to #2/#1 Florida.

A new episode of The OTT Podcast drops

Get ready for a special midweek edition of the OTT Podcast as Fake Barney and I ponder a very important and timely question: as a fan, how much would you put up with as a fan before breaking ties with your team?

The US is not going to the World Cup

@espnfc

Barnes and I taped last night’s podcast during the first half of the US/Trinidad and Tobago game, which makes the result especially painful. The US lost 2-1 thanks to an own goal and will not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time we will miss the event since 1986. Embarrassing, pathetic…any way you slice it, it’s bad, especially since the sport is finally picking up traction in this country. This Sports Illustrated writer put it best:

Ouch. Radio in an hour.