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Going for two was the right call

Going for two was the right call

Kentucky had a chance to take the lead or tie it up with 37 seconds left and Mark Stoops elected to go for two; it may not feel like it right now, but that was the right call.

With no Benny Snell and Stephen Johnson hanging on by a thread, the odds of Kentucky stopping Northwestern and being able to mount a game-winning drive in overtime seemed slim. With momentum behind them, Kentucky took a shot; unfortunately, it slipped right through Tavin Richardson’s hands.

“It’s difficult,” Stoops said when asked about the two-point attempt afterwards. “I’m good with it. If you ask me if I could do it again, of course I would. We had the correct option. We had the look that we wanted and we were fractions off.”

After falling hard on his AC joint and leaving the game in the second quarter, Stephen Johnson gritted his way through the rest of the game and got the ball close to Richards, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Regardless, Johnson says he’s “100%” behind the decision to go for it.

“Bowl games like this, if you’ve got momentum going into that last drive, you definitely go for it. Regular season is different but in this game, you go for it.”

On the radio, Charles Walker said the team has been practicing the two-point play for “at least this whole month if not the whole year” and if it were up to him, he would go for it “100 times out of 100 times.”

Eddie Gran told reporters that the team has actually been practicing three two-point attempt plays over the last month, and this one gave them the best shot.

“Yeah, we had three of them and that one gave us a lot of options,” Gran said. “We’ve been running all three of them for the last four weeks, so there was no hesitation whatsoever.”

“[Stoops] didn’t hesitate either,” Gran said. “He had already said before I’d run the quarterback run play, ‘If you score, get the two point conversion.'”

Sadly, football is a… wait for it…

“We got hung up. You can’t get hung up right there. It would have been an easier opportunity for the ball if you don’t get hung up, but it’s a game of inches. It was inches.”


Benny Snell has “a very strong passion for the game”

Benny Snell pulled a Marshawn Lynch.

Facing reporters following his ejection, Snell was prepared to face the noise with a simple statement that mirrored his postgame Tweet.  “I got a very strong passion for the game.  I don’t feel like I did anything.  I don’t need help getting up.”

After that, it felt like the interview was taking place at the 2015 Super Bowl Media Day.  Instead of, “I’m here so I don’t get fined,” Snell said, “I got a very strong passion for the game,” and, “I like to play football.”

After about a minute, Snell eventually cracked to compliment his quarterback.

“Stephen, he’s like a quarterback god to me.  I’ve seen that man take too many hits that you don’t come back from.  He’s came back, he’s overcome so much adversity.  That’s one of the greatest quarterbacks that I’ve ever been beside of.  He has a lot of heart and I’m so happy for him.  He had a great journey.”

After today one thing is clear: Stephen and Benny have a lot of passion and love to play football.


Referee stands behind Benny Snell’s ejection

The referee who disqualified Benny Snell was made available to the media afterwards and stood behind his call.

“The player got up and grabbed my arms and pushed them away and contacted me,” The ref said, via Adam Sparks of the Tennessean. “That’s a foul.”

The official insisted the contact with Snell was intentional, not incidental, but said Snell DID NOT say anything to him that would have warranted an ejection. My gosh.

Mark Stoops told reporters that he didn’t see the interaction between Snell and the official, so he couldn’t comment on it.

“I really didn’t see it at all,” Stoops said. “The official told me that Benny grabbed him and shoved him. If Benny grabbed him and shoved him, then he deserved to be ejected. I don’t know.”

As you can see, Benny did not grab the ref and shove him:

Stephen Johnson also didn’t see it.

“I really didn’t see much. I was just looking for the play and all of a sudden, I see a flag in the air. Like Caoch Stoops said, somebody told me he grabbed him and shoved the ref, but whether that’s true or not, I didn’t see it.”

On the radio, Stoops relayed what Snell told him happened.

“What [the official] told me is that Benny shoved him. Physically shoved him and he had to call it. What Benny told me, ‘I got up and it was like any play. I rolled over and got up.'”

Meanwhile, Stoops was much more upset with what happened when Stephen Johnson was hit out of bounds, which took him out of the game.

“I don’t want anyone saying I’m crying over officiating. I was just upset that the procedure during that sequence was so jacked up. I had a quarterback injured four feet from the field and the clock was winding. I was contemplating going for it there and I have my quarterback lying on the ground and Drew wasn’t even warmed up.”

“It’s just not safe. You have a guy four feet out of bounds laying there severely hurt. I was looked at like I had three heads and they didn’t care or whatever. This was my fault, I had the official come look and see that he’s hurt and one of my guys [Kendall Randolph] said something.”

Unfortunately, officiating will overshadow a gritty performance by Kentucky tonight, and that’s a damn shame.


Benny Snell tweets he doesn’t “need help getting up”

Benny Snell tweets he doesn’t “need help getting up”

Benny Snell wasn’t available to reporters after the game due to his ejection, but he made his feelings on the matter known via Twitter.

Kentucky’s star running back was disqualified in the second quarter for “contact with an official,” which was really him refusing a referee’s help to get up after that ref failed to call a late hit on him. Snell just tweeted that he doesn’t “need help getting up,” thank you very much:

Mic drop.

Benny Snell just got thrown out of the game and it’s absurd

 


Kentucky Loses Crazy Music City Bowl 24-23

Kentucky responded to obscene adversity but could not complete a comeback.  The Cats dropped to 7-6 for the second consecutive season with a 24-23 loss to Northwestern.

Benny Snell’s first half ejection was the beginning of the chaos.  Fifteen-yard penalties flew frequently and injuries abounded.  Stephen Johnson was forced out of the game on two separate occasions.  Despite it all, Kentucky still had a chance to win the ball game.

Trailing by ten at half, Johnson returned from an injury to rush for a touchdown and cap off a six-play, 74-yard scoring drive at the start of the second half.  Following a goal line stand, Johnson had a chance to work another comeback miracle, only to throw a pick six two plays later.

Even though they were down by ten with less than eight minutes to play, Kentucky did not quit.  Johnson got the Cats close enough for Austin MacGinnis to drill a 48-yard field goal and cut the lead to seven.  Unfortunately, it was too little too late.

Kentucky’s defense made a stand and stopped Northwestern on fourth and one.  The Cats drove 40 yards in less than two minutes.  It all came down to one play after Johnson’s nine-yard touchdown run. Mark Stoops made the right move to go for two, but the pass was just out of Tavin Richardson’s reach.

It was so close, so painfully close to a Music City Miracle.

The Cats could’ve easily thrown in the towel when the ish hit the fan.  Instead of replicating another Louisville-like performance, they laid it all out on the field.  Kentucky came up short, but their persistence deserves praise.


Music City Bowl LIVE BLOG

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Live Blog Music City Bowl LIVE BLOG
 


Twitter Reacts to Benny Snell’s Ridiculous Ejection

The call that will define Kentucky’s 2017 Music City Bowl shook the Twitter world, and it wasn’t just UK fans.  Every person watching college football could not believe the official decided to toss Benny Snell out of the game.  Here were the best responses:

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Stephen Johnson cleared to return for the second half

How about some good news from the Music City Bowl? Stephen Johnson has been cleared to play in the second half after leaving the game with an arm injury.

Kentucky’s starting quarterback went down hard on his right arm on this tackle out of bounds:

When the refs didn’t call the late hit, it appears Kendall Randolph said something about it, which earned Kentucky another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

On Johnson’s way to the locker room, he shared some choice words with a referee:

At halftime, Stoops voiced his displeasure as well:

Can you blame them? So, if you’re counting at home, the following players are now out due:

  • Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson (knee)
  • Kentucky RB Benny Snell (BS ejection)
  • Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher (ejection)

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: Stephen Johnson is one tough dude.


Halftime Stats from a Strange Music City Bowl

Halftime Stats from a Strange Music City Bowl

Well that was weird.  At this point, nothing really matters.  The game has turned into a side show.

Benny Snell and Northwestern’s Paddy Fisher were ejected.  Both quarterbacks are injured.  Our pets heads are falling off.  Here are the stats, if you still care.


Benny Snell just got thrown out of the game and it’s absurd

Benny Snell just got thrown out of the game and it’s absurd

Benny Snell just got throw out of the Music City Bowl for “contact with an official,” which, if you know Benny, sounds ridiculous enough, but when you look at the replay, it’s absolutely absurd.

After Benny was tackled (with a few late hits that weren’t called), the ref reached down to help him up and Benny pushed his hands away. Apparently, that’s enough to get you thrown out of a bowl game.

A closer look:

Snell walking through the tunnel to the locker room:

Absolutely ridiculous.


The Strength of the Northwestern Defense

The Strength of the Northwestern Defense

Picture of Paddy Fisher by Inside NU

Northwestern ranks tenth in the nation by allowing 111 rushing yards per game. As you’ve most likely read or heard by now, the Purple Wildcats are a fundamentally sound team with a stingy rush defense. Like most stout Ds, the middle of the field is normally a team strength; NU is no different. Here are four players that will operate between the hashes and could play a significant role in Friday’s Music City Bowl:

 

42 Mike Linebacker Paddy Fisher

— 6’4, 250 pounds. From Katy, Texas

— Led all FBS first-year players with 110 tackles to include 62 solo stops

— Second Team All-Big Ten

— Big Ten Freshman Defensive Player of the Year

— Led the Big Ten with 4 forced fumbles; good enough for 7th in the nation

— Registered 8 tackles for loss

— Posted four double digit tackle games. Had 18 vs. Duke and 19 vs. Michigan State

— Considered by many to be the top freshman defensive player in the nation

— Plays downhill. Physical linebacker with excellent speed for a player of that size


Picture of Nate Hall by Inside NU

32 Sam Linebacker Nate Hall

— 6’2, 230-pound junior from Toledo, Ohio

— 2nd on team with 79 tackles

— Led the Big Ten and ranked 13th nationally by registering 16.5 tackles for loss

— Accounted for 11 tackles and 3.5 TFLs vs. Maryland

— Recorded 5 quarterback sacks and 6 pass breakups


Picture of Kyle Queiro by Northwestern Athletics

21 Safety Kyle Queiro

— 6’2, 220-pound senior from Verona, New Jersey

— Had 58 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss in 2017

— Led the team with 8 pass breakups and 4 interceptions

— Career-high 9 tackles vs. Duke


Pic of Godwin Igwebuike by Inside NU

16 Safety Godwin Igwebuike

— 6’0, 212-pound senior from Pickerington, Ohio.

— 2nd Team All-Big Ten.

— Led NU defensive backs and finished 3rd on the team with 72 tackles.

— Had career high 14 stops vs. Duke.

— Recorded 2 interceptions.

— Excels in run-support.


Why is this important?

Northwestern utilizes a four-man front. This means that on most downs, there will be two defensive tackles and two defensive ends that start the play in a three-point stance (hand in the dirt). Four defensive linemen protect its inside linebackers (Fisher and Hall) by taking up space in assigned gaps and occupying blockers. Paddy Fisher is considered by many that I trust to be the best freshman defensive player in the nation. Fellow linebacker Nate Hall’s 16.5 tackles for loss is notable and indicates that the junior is a sideline-to-sideline defender with top-level speed. Fisher and Hall will be tasked to stop or slow Benny Snell.

Notice the size of safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro; both are 6’2 or taller, 210-plus and are prototypical Big Ten, back-end defenders that are physical against the run. Queiro and Igwebuike will also be focused on immediate run support in order to stop Benny Snell. NU will often times load the box and dare Kentucky to pass the football. All four of the aforementioned defensive players are sure tacklers. This could pose a problem for Kentucky and force Eddie Gran to be creative in his game plan.


LOOK: Kentucky’s Music City Bowl Uniforms

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky football team is bringing out their best for the Music City Bowl.

To combat the Northwestern Purple People Eaters, the Cats are wearing their sharpest uniform combination: blue pants, white jerseys and blue helmets.  If you don’t believe they’re the best uniform combination, this combo is exactly what Kentucky wore when the Cats took down Lamar at Louisville as 28-point underdogs.


The Music City Bowl will be Decided by a Running Back Duel

The Music City Bowl will be Decided by a Running Back Duel

The Music City Bowl’s featured running backs have never played a college football season without rushing for at least 1,000 yards.  A veteran with a complete skill-set, Justin Jackson will try to end his illustrious Northwestern career by upending the SEC’s most powerful underclassman, Benny Snell.

Snell’s surprising start has rewritten the Kentucky record books.  The SEC’s leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns at the conclusion of the regular season, Snell’s carried a heavy workload along with a giant target on his back.

“We go as Benny goes,” Mark Stoops said at the Music City Bowl press conference. “He’s been rock steady for two years now. He’s mature beyond his years. He’s that guy we need. He’s extremely disciplined, hard-nosed tough, blue-collared, like Pat and I like both of our teams to be. He certainly is that.”

Stoops’ praise was overshadowed by Pat Fitzgerald’s remarks.  The Northwestern head coach and former All-American linebacker believes Snell is one of the best running backs in the country.

“As a former linebacker, when I studied running backs when I was a player, you first look at the tough yards, short yardage, goal line, you look at those times when you got more people in the box than the offense can block. What does the back do? Every time, not only does he fall forward, he drives forward. To see that leg drive, the power and the explosiveness, it was great…Another great challenge for our defense.

“Then you pop on, you start watching personnel tape, formation tape, situational tape, you see how they use him in multiple ways. They get him downhill in the run game, they use him as a Wildcat quarterback, they use him in the passing game. He’s just a complete back.”

‘Complete back’ is how most describe Northwestern’s Jackson.  The senior is an excellent pass-catcher who has totaled more than 1,000 yards for four consecutive seasons.

“He’s a real challenge,” Stoops said.  “He’s just a complete running back. He does things right. He’s explosive. He gets tough yards. He gets explosive yards. We got our hands full.”

Just 17 yards away from becoming the No. 3 all-time rusher in Big 10 history, behind just Ron Dayne and Archie Griffin, Fitzgerald said Jackson means “everything” to his program.

“He’s irreplaceable. Once-in-a-coaching-lifetime young man,” Fitzgerald said. “I know Saturday night I’ll be asked, How are you going to replace Justin Jackson? You’re not. That just doesn’t happen. Someone is going to have to step up and make their mark after he’s gone.

“It’s an honor, a privilege. He’s a dual-major. He’s just the full package. He’s a special young man.”

It’s difficult to discern who is the best back.  Jackson’s historic career is a balanced work of art, while Snell has already scored more touchdowns in half the time.  We’ll know who is the best by the end of the day.

Snell vs. Jackson

Snell Jackson
2017 Yards 1318 1154
2017 YPC 5.1 4.5
2017 TDs 18 9
Career Yards 2409 5283
Career YPC 5.4 4.76
Career TDs 31 29
2017 Rec. 10 43
2017 Rec. Yards 72 266
Career Rec. 12 121
Career Rec. Yards 111 848

Today on KSR: Beat Louisville then beat Northwestern

Today on KSR: Beat Louisville then beat Northwestern

I don’t need to tell you today’s a big day; one of the biggest ever for UK Athletics, in fact. Beat Louisville and you save face from an embarrassing loss to UCLA; beat Northwestern and save face from whatever that was we saw vs. Louisville. Win one, lose one and people will inevitably grumble. Lose both, and, well…that’s not going to happen, right?

Let’s jump right into the schedule, because it’s a busy one.

RIGHT NOW: Doors open at Tin Roof Broadway

If you’re in Nashville, head on down to Tin Roof Broadway to enjoy today’s show. Early reports suggest if you hurry, you’ll be able to secure a table.

10:00 – 11:30 AM ET: Kentucky Sports Radio live from Tin Roof Broadway

Matt, Ryan, and Drew will get you ready for today’s games in the most ridiculous manner possible.

11:30 AM – the end of the night: UofL & Music City Bowl Watch Party sponsored by Country Boy Brewing

In Nashville and don’t want to sit in the cold at Nissan Stadium? Watch both games from the cozy confines of Tin Roof Broadway, where they’ll keep you plenty warm with Country Boy beer specials and all the quesadillas you could dream of. I recommend the Cliff Jumper IPA, but keep in mind, it’s a marathon, not a sprint; a few light beers may be in order.

1:00 PM ET: UK vs. Louisville, Rupp Arena

No way we lose to Louisville two years in a row, right? Not when John Calipari’s issuing challenges like this to his squad.

“I have to get you to play? I thought you wanted to do this for a living. And I’ve gotta get you to play? Then you’re kidding yourself. No, no, no. You’re going to play, but it’s YMCA; it ain’t going to be NBA. You’ve gotta want this. It ain’t me pushing you.”

Kentucky opened as a 6.5-point favorite, but that’s now down to 5.5.

Five things to get you ready:

Throw the ball up now.

1:15 CT/2:15 PM ET: Cat Walk at Gate 2

That’s on the Northeast side of Nissan Stadium (closest to the Shoney’s):

3:30 PM CT/4:30 PM ET: Kentucky vs. Northwestern, Music City Bowl

No one liked how the regular season ended, but beat a good Northwestern team and it won’t matter. ESPN’s Matchup Predictor only gives Kentucky a 29.5% chance of beating Northwestern this afternoon, but give me a healthy Stephen Johnson, a determined Benny Snell, and a defense ready to prove itself and I can see the path to an upset. It would help matters greatly if Northwestern plays like they think they should be in a better bowl.

Going to the game? A reminder that the Clear Bag Policy will be in effect at Nissan Stadium:

Night time: Hey Kentucky! bowl special, postgame show, chaos on Broadway

Regardless of what happens today, the BBN will be in rare form tonight. Chicago Bears fans famously drank downtown Nashville dry back in 2012; a jubilant or angry Kentucky fanbase could do the same. If you’re staying in tonight, be sure to tune in to Hey Kentucky!‘s live recap show, which will start right after the bowl game is over. And then, things will really get crazy on the postgame show.

So…what’s going to happen?

Thankfully, we’ll know in less than 12 hours.


Cole Mosier via UK Athletics

From Bowl to Bowl, The Evolution of Kentucky’s Offensive Depth Chart

UK Athletics

ex·pec·ta·tion

ˌekspekˈtāSH(ə)n/
noun-a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

Expectation management. As I sit here in the beautiful and delightful city of Nashville (That’s for you Tyler Thompson) I can’t stop thinking about what was going through my mind a year ago. Kentucky had just defeated Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals. It finished the season with an unexpected 7-5 record and earned a date with Georgia Tech in the Taxslayer Bowl. All was well in the Big Blue Nation. The future was brighter than the old Parkette Drive-In sign on New Circle Road.

at·tri·tion

əˈtriSH(ə)n/
noun -the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.

One overbearing factor for the BBN’s amplified positivity was that Eddie Gran’s record breaking offense was expected to return nine starters. The Cats had finished 2016 by roughing up opposing defenses with a punishing running game and by deploying an explosive play-action passing attack. Running backs Stanley Williams and a freshman sensation by the name of Benny Snell both topped the 1,000-yard mark. John Schlarman’s offensive line was tabbed as the league’s best by talking heads. It was losing just one starter to graduation, All SEC center Jon Toth.

Homerun hitting receiver Jeff Badet was poised for a breakout senior season after averaging 21-yards per reception. He was to be joined by fellow senior pass catchers Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker. Tight end CJ Conrad was an acclaimed threat with enormous potential. Gran’s O was to be led by rising senior Stephen Johnson who out-dueled the Heisman winner in the Governor’s Cup.

  • Expected attrition: Graduation, scholarly manner for early NFL entrees.
  • Unexpected attrition: Injury, suspension, transfer, injudicious early NFL entry.

Then, unexpected attrition happened. Boom’s puzzling quest for the NFL did not pan out. Badet was developed in Lexington but departed for Oklahoma for his final season. Veteran and multiple game starting offensive guard Ramsey Meyers chose not to participate in his final year of eligibility after graduation. Starting left tackle Cole Mosier was lost to a season ending injury in fall camp. Mosier’s name was being mentioned in all-conference conversations. WR Dorian Baker fell victim to a leg injury and missed the season. All SEC guard Nick Haynes battled Diabetes and was unable to contribute at the same level due to weight loss. Former Freshman All American CJ Conrad was missed the Governor’s Cup and pending bowl game due to a foot injury.

The Wildcats remained balanced despite all the missing parts. 2016 and 2017 marked the first time in school history that the Wildcats rushed for 2000 and passed for 2000-yards in back to back seasons. Gran accomplished this by revamping his offense in both seasons. 2016 was intended for the Drew Barker air-attack that was restructured to a power-run game during the New Mexico State contest. 2017 saw patience while establishing a run-game rhythm and without a receiver that could consistently stretch the field.

Cole Mosier via UK Athletics

Prior to taking on Northwestern, the Music City depth chart indicates that Eddie Gran has lost six of the projected nine starters from last year’s postseason exhibition game. I get it. Attrition is a part of football. But six of nine is an extraordinarily high number.

Let’s take a look at the Wildcat offense dated December 27, 2016:

2016 Taxslayer Bowl Depth Chart

Quarterback Stephen Johnson  
Running Back Boom Williams Declared for Draft
Tight End CJ Conrad Season ending injury
Left Tackle Cole Mosier Season ending injury
Left Guard Nick Haynes Illness/no longer with team
Center Jon Toth Graduated
Right Guard Bunchy Stallings  
Right Tackle Kyle Meadows  
Receiver Jeff Badet Transferred
Receiver Ryan Timmons Graduated
Receiver Dorian Baker Season ending injury

*Red=Projected 2017 starter

Below is the Kentucky offensive depth chart as of December 27th, 2017:

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