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Cats Called Out, Respond with a Win

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

Hot air was blowing outside Commonwealth Stadium. Inside, a ticked-off group of Wildcats played their guts out to beat South Carolina 17-10. Carolina punched; the Cats punched back. Let’s take a look:

OFFENSE

— Kentucky racked up 351 total yards in spite of a minus 2 turnover margin while going up against the Southeastern Conference’s 4th best scoring defense. RBs Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp, and freshman sensation Benny Snell Jr. are proving to be a formidable trio. Williams went over 100 yards for the second time this season by rushing for 123 yards off 15 carries. Snell again seemed invincible and stubborn to be tackled by racking up 77 tough, physical yards. Kemp provided spark and a breather with 4 carries for 16 yards.

— Stephen Johnson was sacked 4 times but completed 11 passes for 135 yards. His steady impact was mostly felt in the Run/Pass/Option scheme through quick decisions and persistency. UK did not attempt a 4th quarter pass as it buckled down in the run game. This offensive philosophy change seemed to work well.

— UK won the time of possession battle 32:40 to 27:20. Third downs were not pleasant: 4/13. But, it converted a crucial 4th down to seal the win late in the 4th quarter.

— During the game I received several messages that the offensive line struggled. In actuality, UK rotated several front-line players while physically wearing down a good South Carolina front seven. One grouping included true freshman Landon Young, redshirt freshman Logan Stenberg as well as sophomores Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo Adjei. It faced a salty, veteran group. Overall, the OL played an operative football game.

— South Carolina came into Saturday allowing a 31% touchdown ratio in the Red Zone. Kentucky was 50% for the night as it scored on a WildSnell, 1-yard TD run.

— Kentucky rushed the football 50 times for 216 yards. My priority key to the game was for the Cats to rush for 200. Check.

— Turnovers continue to be this team’s own worst enemy. Kayaune Ross fumbled a Stephen Johnson pass in the first quarter which could have taken the wind out of the Big Blue sails. It didn’t. Johnson later overshot a wide open receiver which resulted in his first thrown interception of his career.

— This team’s lack of offensive physicality was called out during many pregame television shows. Kentucky countered by exercising a rugged, 2nd half game plan.

 

Pic by TheState.com

Pic by TheState.com

DEFENSE

We often discussed that either the Kentucky defense or the South Carolina offense were going to uncharacteristically win the football game. Chalk this matchup to the Cats’ D. It held Carolina to just 268 total yards (287-avg) and impressively stopped the Gamecocks on 3rd down by forcing punts or 4th down attempts on 3/13 occasions. Credit is due to the front seven. Yes, that same front seven that has taken an absolute beating by media and fans alike.

— UK’s defensive linemen had not registered a QB sack going into Saturday. DE Alvonte Bell and NT Naquez Pringle were both credited with one each. NT Matt Elam joined Denzil Ware for another. The DL answered the bell and criticism by playing their best football of the season. Much like their offensive line counterparts, Mark Stoops rotated defensive linemen on a regular basis.

— Linebackers are expected to make the majority of tackles in the 3-4 defense. LBs Jordan Jones, Josh Allen, Courtney Love, and Denzil Ware did just that. Ware sacked QB Brandon Mcllwain twice. He added 2 tackles for loss while totaling 5 tackles. Josh Allen played his best game as a Wildcat by accumulating 1 QB sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 7 tackles. Jordan Jones continues to be the heart and soul of the defense by leading it in tackles with 8.

— DEs Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell decreased containment errors that have plagued in 2016. Both stretched the option and managed to limit Mcllwain’s running lanes as the true freshman signal caller finished with 13 rushes for 41 yards. Miggins and Bell were obviously the two most improved defensive players on Saturday.

— The secondary was solid. It did break down on one zone coverage bust that allowed a free roaming Hayden Hurst for a long gain. QB Brandon Mcllwain finished the night 15-30, 177 yards, 0 TDs through the air.

— Defense played fast and intentional

— Mark Stoops coached his rear-end off. I’m happy for him and his coaching staff. Adjustments were made, mistakes corrected, and attitudes altered.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Austin MacGinniss found his range by nailing a 30-yard field goal, his first of the season. True freshman punter Grant McKinniss continued to be consistent by averaging 40.8 yards per kick. Coverage teams were sufficient, but did allow a punt return for a touchdown that was nullified due to a block in the back penalty.

 

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

What does all this mean?

I totally understand that South Carolina is not Alabama, Florida, or Tennessee. But, after the game, I saw a happy group of Wildcats meet and greet appreciative fans on their walk from the stadium to the new training facility. This team responded after being continually beaten down by their own fanbase, on message boards, blogs, talk shows, social media, and so forth. National talking heads had been equally as brutal. A CBS head, name unknown, referred to UK as a junior college following a lackluster performance in the Swamp. College Gameday’s Lee Corse said, and I paraphrase, that Kentucky’s defense may the worst in the history of football. Perspective=reality; regardless of opponent or situation, an SEC win is a SEC win.

— Yes, Kentucky has surpassed South Carolina in the SEC East. Said it two years ago. Said it last season. Said it again on Saturday. UK has now extended its winning streak to three consecutive victories over the Gamecocks.

— BBN: hats off, kudos, well-done my friends. Students packed their section and were rowdy throughout. I count folks in seats; I don’t fixate on those that are unoccupied.

2-2 is not the start many wanted or predicted. Truth of the matter is that Southern Miss is a much better football team than South Carolina. Remember the uniform sterilization theory that I constantly preach. 3-1 would have been optimal. But that’s not the case nor can history be altered.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and overplay a win over an average football team with the Tuscaloosa Juggernaut on deck; however, UK should celebrate a much needed and hard-fought triumph. Will Kentucky win another game this season? Yes; especially if it plays like it did vs. Carolina. Will UK lose another game in 2016? Yes. But it doesn’t matter what happened before or who-what is next. Mark Stoops’ team tasted success on Saturday night. It’s perfectly ok to savor the moment. Kentucky is 2-2.


Landon Young Was Spectacular

landon-young

One player that will not get the attention that he deserves because of the position he plays is Landon Young. The offensive tackle played one of the greatest games I’ve seen a freshman offensive lineman play at Kentucky.

Granted, I know South Carolina’s defensive line is not like Florida’s, but it’s still an SEC defensive line and he is true freshman.

Young (#67) makes a great block to clear space for Boom Williams.

Young must have been hungry because he flattened two South Carolina players like pancakes.

 


Some Optimistic Defense Notes Going Forward

Mark Zerof / USA Today

Mark Zerof / USA Today

 

Kentucky had a season-high four sacks 

Putting pressure on the quarterback had been an issue for the Kentucky defense in the first three games. Coming into Saturday’s game, Kentucky had recorded only four sacks in three games. The four sacks against South Carolina were the most against an SEC opponent since Nov. 1, 2008.

The defense limited South Carolina to only 16 first downs 

The last time the defense allowed 16 or less first downs was against Vanderbilt last season. Kentucky’s third-down defense was the best we’ve seen all season. The Gamecocks went 3-of-13 in third-down conversions, a season low for South Carolina.

Jordan Jones is third in the NCAA in solo tackles

The sophomore linebacker is everywhere. Jones recorded eight tackles in the win over South Carolina, and leads the team with 43. Jones has the third most tackles in all of FBS college football with 30, nine behind the leader from Kent State. Jones is ninth in total tackles with 43, 30 solo and 13 assisted.

South Carolina had seven drives that went for less than 20 yards 

The secondary played its best game of the season limiting South Carolina to only two pass play of 20+ yards. Derrick Baity tied a season-high with five tackles, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry. The run defense which has struggled all year did not allow a rushing play longer than 12 yards.

South Carolina had its lowest scoring game of the season 

South Carolina’s 10 points was the lowest for a Kentucky opponent since 2014 when Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 17-7.

 


Benny Snell Jr.’s Sunday Morning Wakeup

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

The true freshman running back from Westerville, OH carried the Cats to victory in the fourth quarter, picking up 77 yards on 11 straight run plays chewing up 10:21 on the way into the end zone. Snell showed determination on each of his 11 carries, never being tackled by the first defender and fighting for critical extra yards. After a seven yard run by Stephen Johnson to get the Cats on the one yard line Snell took a direct snap and shook off one defender into the end zone to take a lead that wouldn’t be surrendered. The combination of Snell and Stanley “Boom” Williams was lethal for Kentucky in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night.

Kentucky Football needed last night

The Cats picked up a huge SEC victory beating South Carolina 17-10 in a game that wasn’t all that pretty but hey we’ll take it. Mark Stoops had his team ready to play on Saturday night as we saw the defense give its best performance of the year sacking freshman QB Brandon McIllwain four times and only giving up 10 points to the Gamecocks. Denzil Ware had his best performance at Kentucky on Saturday night finishing with five tackles and two sacks. Bring on Alabama!

NFL Cats in action today 

The NFL season rolls on as Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson lead the Titans against the Oakland Raiders today. There are five more Kentucky alumni in action today as Randall Cobb’s Packers take on the Detroit Lions, Za’darius Smith and the Ravens travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars, and Josh Forrest continues his rookie season against Jameis Winston and the Bucs. Jacob Tamme and the Falcons face the Saints on Monday Night Football.

Jose Fernandez dies in boating accident 

Incredibly sad news coming from ESPN this morning as Buster Olney has reported that Marlins star pitcher has died at the age of 24 in a boating accident. Prayers to the entire Marlins organization and the Fernandez family.


Mark Zerof / USA Today

Kentucky wins with defense (Yes, defense)

Mark Zerof / USA Today

Mark Zerof / USA Today

The Cats are back to .500 on the season and in the SEC East race with a big win over South Carolina in Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky held South Carolina’s offense to only 10 points in the game and the offense did the rest to get the 17-10 win for the third consecutive victory over the Gamecocks. Kentucky hadn’t won three straight games over a non-Vanderbilt SEC opponent since 1959, so kiss that streak goodbye! We can officially say UK is ahead of Wanna-Be-USC in the conference.

What do you say we do an even 10 takeaways from the game and then call it a night because it’s already past my bedtime. I’ll number each one so I don’t short you or overwork myself. Here we go…

 

1.) Kentucky put pressure on South Carolina’s quarterback.

Getting to the QB has been an enormous problem for the Cats this season. The pass rush has been, well, nonexistent. There’s not a better way to put it. UK’s defense hasn’t spent a lot of time in the opposition’s backfield, if any.

But that wasn’t the case Saturday night against the Gamecocks. Kentucky was all over Brandon McIllwain and that pressure created four sacks and several other breakdowns for the South Carolina offense. The pressure was at its best in the most critical moments, too. With the Gamecocks driving late in the fourth quarter and looking to tie, Josh Allen got to McIllwain for the sack to create a 3rd and 17 situation. More pressure forced an incompletion and then Denzil Ware pulled McIllwain down for a 19-yard loss and a turnover on downs, which essentially ended the game.

2.) Thanks for the motivation, Lee Corso!

When Lee Corso said “Kentucky may have the worse defense in the history of football” on College GameDay, the Cats were listening. It did not fall on deaf ears in the UK pregame.

Then once the smoke cleared and the win was on the board, Matt Elam was quick to tweet out Corso’s comment to his followers.

It’s safe to say Corso’s words served as motivation for the Wildcat D.

So thanks for that, Scooter.

3.) Kentucky’s defensive line recorded its first sack of the year.

Continuing the defensive praise, let’s point out that Naquez Pringle and Alvonte Bell’s first quarter sack was the first by a UK defensive lineman this season. It’s not good that it took until the fourth game to get one, but it’s good that they got one.

That’s now eight sacks on the year for the defensive, led by Josh Allen and Denzil Ware with three apiece.

4.) You better bring some help if you plan to tackle Benny Snell.

Benny Snell had another big game on the ground for Kentucky, this time totaling 77 yards on 16 carries and the game-winning score. The true freshman does not have a very dominating physique, but when he gets those legs churning, he has a dominating attack. I’m not sure my man has ever gone down at first contact; it takes all the defense has to pull him down. Those legs just keep pushing and pushing, fighting and fighting, until he’s gang tackled. He gets every single yard he possibly can before going down. He’s a special player and he’s only a freshman. Love the effort on every carry. Love me some Benny.

5.) Boom did Boom things.

Before Snell won the game and then put it away with his fourth quarter runs, Boom Williams tallied up plenty yards of his own. Boom finished with a game-high 123 yards and a score, plus a staggering 8.2 yards per carry. He and Snell combined for an even 200 on the ground.

Smash and Dash?

6.) Stephen Johnson did enough to win.

Johnson is undefeated as a starting quarterback, but he has plenty of room to improve before we start putting him on billboards. He took too many sacks and had too many errant throws, one resulting in an interception when he had a wide open receiver as a his target. That being said, his scramble to the one-yard line late in the game was huge and he did enough for 60 minutes to earn the win. Can’t complain about that.

7.) What the hell was South Carolina’s tight end trying to accomplish here?

A hurdle? With no momentum?

I bet he’d like to have that one back. Speaking of backs, get some ice on that.

8.) KENTUCKY DIDN’T GIVE UP A SCORE BEFORE HALFTIME!!!!!!

Although, if not for a pass interference call, we wouldn’t be saying that. South Carolina picked off a pass with 21 seconds left and took it all the way down to the goal line. Luckily it got called back.

9.) The music in Commonwealth Stadium was much better.

Kudos to whatever changes were made in the DJ booth. Saturday’s night in-game music received universal praise and it’s no coincidence it came with a win. Let’s hope someone saved that playlist and then let’s run it back for the Vanderbilt game here in two weeks.

10.) Bowl hopes are still alive.

Say what you will about all the negative talking points we’ve beaten into the ground the last month… the bowl hopes are still alive and well.

Sure, it’ll take a big run through the remainder of the schedule but there are plenty of winnable games ahead. Throw Tennessee, Louisville and Alabama aside for a moment and there’s not one game Kentucky couldn’t theoretically win. Of course, doing it is one thing, but the opportunities are there. Let’s. Go.

 

A few more quick thoughts before shut-eye:

— Still missing tackles and opportunities for stops at the line of scrimmage. That can fly against a bad offense like South Carolina, but not when a real team comes to town. Can’t let those chances go by and give up extra yards.

— I like the new anthracite (coal) uniforms.

— Jordan Jones is a tackling machine. He now has 43 on the season for almost 11 per game. He is literally everywhere on the field. And he’s slightly crazy, in a good way.

— Kentucky should look into hiring Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard was the sideline’s hype man in the first half until he had to fly back to Nashville to meet curfew. Maybe there’s a way he can be at games when the Titans are at home on Sunday? Make that happen, UK.

— I’m now 0-4 ATS in UK games. Very happy to be wrong in this one.

— WE WANT BAMA!!!!!


What Benny Snell, Eddie Gran and Stephen Jonson had to Say After the Win

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

Benny Snell was happy to put the team on his back during the crucial fourth quarter game-winning drive.  “Keep feeding me, keep feeding me,” he told himself.

When I asked him after the game what his favorite nickname was, he likes all of them, but ‘Benny and the Jets’ goes way back.  “All of my lunch ladies in high school and college, they love calling me that.”

Eddie Gran discussed what went right on the game-clinching drive. He also discussed the “talking-to” he had with his quarterback after the bad interception.

Johnson reacted exactly how Gran wanted him to.  “He was unbelievable. He looked me right square in the eyes and he said, ‘I know coach, you’re exactly right.'”

“I don’t think I’m ever really satisfied with how I play,” Stephen Johnson said after the game.  “I’m my own biggest critic.  I think I can do a lot better.”


Mark Zerof | USA Today

The Defense Heard Exactly What They Needed to From Mark Stoops

Mark Zerof | USA Today

Mark Zerof | USA Today

Mark Stoops minced no words after Wednesday’s practice.  He described the defense as “bullcrap,” and called them out for not being tough enough or smart enough.

Some thought Stoops was out of line, but Denzil Ware thought it was exactly what they needed.

“I’m not gonna say that’s what we need, but you could tell tonight that’s what we needed.  It opened up some people’s eyes on the defense,” Ware said.  “I thank him for that.”

Ware said the game didn’t change much schematically.  It call came down to execution, intensity and the belief that they could get the job done.  He missed a few tackles for loss early in the game, but that belief is what willed him to make the game-winning sack.

“This game as because of Coach Stoops.  We did this for Coach Stoops.”

Hear everything Ware had to say after his coach and the game after the jump.

(more…)


It’s time for the postgame show

It’s time for the postgame show

phpdss2uzimage

After that game, you may have a few buttons undone on your shirt, like our comrade up there. If so, let it fly and listen to tonight’s victorious postgame show, which starts RIGHT NOW. After an exhausting and, ultimately, exhilarating, day for UK Football, there’s a lot to talk about, so give Matt a call at 1-800-444-8484 or 502-571-8484.

Tune in to 630 WLAP in Lexington or 840 WHAS in Louisville to listen.

Listen online here.


Matt Elam on that Stoops rumor: “We will go to war for him”

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

By now, if you’re a Kentucky football fan, odds are you heard some rumors flying around the program today. We’re happy to report those rumors are NOT true, and after Kentucky’s huge win over South Carolina, Matt Elam took to Twitter again to poke fun at the rumor and stand by his head coach:

And that’s all we’ll say about that.


Hey Lee Corso: Kentucky’s defense looked pretty good tonight

Hey Lee Corso: Kentucky’s defense looked pretty good tonight

lee-corso-ncaa-football-2012-espn-college-gameday-kickoff1

On “College Gameday” this morning, Lee Corso proclaimed Kentucky’s defense the worst in the history of football. Kentucky proved Corso wrong tonight, holding South Carolina to 268 total yards, including only 91 yards rushing. It was BY FAR Kentucky’s best defensive performance of the season, and afterwards, nose tackle Matt Elam shot back at Corso with this tweet:

Nick Haynes, who reweeted Corso’s comments earlier in the day, did his talking on the field, taking out both the blocker and the runner on this play:

Denzil Ware also told reporters that when he heard what Corso said, he called his teammates and demanded they come to play tonight. Also, about Corso…

“Didn’t he coach at Louisville or something?” Ware asked.

Keep talking, Corso. Seriously, it seems to be working for us.


Mark Stoops was a happy, happy man after tonight’s win

Mark Stoops was a happy, happy man after tonight’s win

img_1904

Tonight was a MUST-WIN game for Mark Stoops, so as you might expect, he was happier than anyone when Kentucky closed out the 17-10 win over South Carolina. In the final seconds, Stoops turned to his longtime friend Eddie Gran and shared a high five that would make Maverick and Goose proud:

During Stoops’ postgame interview with Kaylee Hartung, Boom Williams ran by and playfully rubbed his head:

Darin Hinshaw was so excited he lifted Eddie Gran off the ground on the way back to the locker room:

@KSTV_Sports

@KSTV_Sports

There have been plenty of great UK/South Carolina postgame locker room moments in the Stoops era, including tonight’s:

Huge, huge win.


LIVE: Mark Stoops’ postgame press conference


Your victorious box score: UK 17 South Carolina 10

Your victorious box score: UK 17 South Carolina 10

stats-142396-195856


UK Athletics

Kentucky Outwills, Outlasts South Carolina 17-10

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Kentucky beat South Carolina for the third consecutive year, and took down Will Muschamp for the first time, behind exceptional play from the defense and freshman running back Benny Snell.

A slow starting game, the Cats only had three points at half.  0-23 while trailing at half under Mark Stoops, the outlook was bleak behind a struggling offense.  Insert Benny Snell.

With the game tied 10-10 at the start of the 4th quarter, Kentucky ran it 11 straight times, with Snell receiving most of the carries.  Snell chewed up 10:21 of clock and 53 yards before walking the game-winning score into the end zone.

It wasn’t what we expected, but there is still hope the Cats can salvage this season.


Boom congratulating Benny Snell on his touchdown

Benny Snell cannot be stopped

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

Benny Snell burst onto the scene last week with 136 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s not letting up tonight. Snell just took over the game on Kentucky’s last drive, getting the ball on every snap and moving the team down the field 65 yards for a touchdown. Snell even took the scoring snap in the Wildcat position, running it in from a yard out to put UK up 17-10:

Who was there to congratulate him on the sideline? His partner-in-crime, Boom Williams, who has 123 yards and a touchdown himself:

benny-boom

As you would expect, Snell was hyped on the sidelines:

As were the players and fans:

Now let’s close it out.