After flying high after the rout over Kansas, the Cats needed to be pulled back →
Photo courtesy of Andrew Harrison’s Instagram
Last night was amazing. Last night is why being a Kentucky basketball fan is great. It wasn’t just the performance…although the performance was pretty amazing. It wasn’t just that it was against a good team…although it was against the #5 team in America. And it wasn’t just that it suggests great things are still to come…although undoubtedly great things are still to come. Last night was great because it allowed the rare chance for UK fans to have November unadulterated celebration, the thing we probably do better than anyone. Whether you were in Indianapolis (where the crowd was rowdy and all blue), in Lexington (where you could hear the cheers throughout town) or simply sitting at home by yourself and hugging your mama (as a caller to my Postgame Show said he was), it was the best kind of night for being a UK fan…fun and no worries whatsoever.
There are some pretty amazing things that came out of last night’s game. A few that impressed me:
**** I think it was the best regular season defensive performance against a quality opponent I have ever seen. Can you think of a better one? Kansas was ranked #5 (and yes they may be slightly overrated, but they still have 4 projected first round NBA draft picks) and the Jayhawks looked liked scared children next to the Cats. Everything got blocked…EVERYTHING. If a shot went up anywhere close to the paint, it was either blocked or altered. Kansas was so beaten down that by the end, they simply did not want to come inside. It was their lowest point total in the shot clock era…the fourth worse loss in the history of the school and you know what’s crazy…it could have been worse. I have never felt sorry for Bill Self, but if I was ever going to, last night would have been it.
**** UK dominated the paint as well as I can ever remember. Eric Crawford put out this statistic and it may be the most amazing one I can ever remember for a college basketball game. In shots within three feet of the rim (dunks, layups, etc), Kansas was 3-21. That is ridiculous. The whole goal of the game is to get good shots close to the basket. And when Kansas did, they shot less than 15%. Thta is dirty nasty.
**** UK was as balanced in scoring as a team possibly can be. No player on the team scored more than 11 points, but the Cats still won by 32. That is ridiculous. All Ten players in the platoon scored in the first half…and then followed that up in the second half by all ten players scoring again. There was a sharing of the basketball that was simply gorgeous to watch. There are 9 McDonalds All Americans on this team (and Willie Cauley-Stein), who have decided to sacrifice personal college glory for the creation of a super team. What could be better than that? For all the talk of “One and Done” and UK being a NBA factory, the whole notion of college basketball is supposed to be sacrificing yourself for the name on the front of the jersey. This team is doing that…will it get the credit for it by agenda-driven national media? Probably not…but they should.
**** Some guys played really, really well. Last night was one of the best games I can remember for Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. All three guys played within themselves, doing the things they are good at and making big time plays. Harrison controlled the team, Dakari controlled the paint and Marcus showcased unparalleled athleticism. It was a joy to watch. Throw in Karl Towns blossoming, Willie/Alex blocking, Tyler harassing, Trey driving, Devin draining and Aaron flexing and it was a pretty great night.
And with all that, this team can still be much better. While the Cats were decent on offense, they weren’t great. Think of how much better they can be. What if those threes that Booker/Aaron normally make go down? What if the Cats finish on some of those early missed layups? What if they don’t miss free throws? What if Karl gets beastly? What if the Twins decide to take everyone off the dribble? The possibilities are mind-blowing. Throw in the fact that UK just beat the team that is probably the biggest rival in terms of recruiting (virtually every top player each team signs had the other school in their Final Four) and UK’s win last night was not only special, it just wets the appetite for what could come.
Calipari says pump the breaks and I understand why he says that. But for a few days, I won’t do it. Last night was great. Celebrate and savor it…wins better than that don’t come around too often.
By Matt Jones on ©November 18th, 2014 @ 2:59pm
Just when you think that The University of Louisville can’t surprise you with the brazenness of their hiring practices any more, they go and do this. UL has hired Leslie Strohm as its new General Counsel, the same woman at the center of the UNC Academic/Athletic Scandal As this InsiderLouisville.com story showcases, Strohm was in the middle of one of the worst academic fraud cases in the history of American higher education. She guided the UNC legal staff through the publicity concerning the scandal and there have been allegations that she was intimately involved with the scandal. The main whistleblower of the scandal, Mary Willingham says that Strohm was part of the “cover-up” of the scandal saying:
“It’s pretty clear now that the general counsel was a part of the cover-up (of the athletic scandal),” Willingham said, saying Strohm’s office first investigated UNC’s athletic-academic scandal, but did not unearth the biggest pieces of information that were brought forward in the Wainstein report.
“I voiced my concern (in 2013) that we still weren’t getting to the truth with our academics and athletics. They should have uncovered the truth. The truth is in the transcripts — it’s that simple.”
And so now here, with the University under fire for not turning over documents related to an internal audit of potential misdoing (on a number of issues, including The Yum Center), the school has hired someone who is alleged to be adept at covering up wrongdoing. UL President James Ramsey said about the hire, “Leslie’s expertise and experience will be invaluable, as we continue our upward trajectory during difficult financial times.” That is surely true…she has been through the cover-up of one scandal…was she now hired to cover up another?
This UL Administration never ceases to amaze me.
I have had a really long week. And honestly, until five minutes ago I forgot I had the night post. So this won’t be a normal night post…it will be a much worse one. Nevertheless, it will exist because we always have night posts. The women above are two Bengals fans from Kentucky who went to the Saints-Bengals game. You may have seen a Cincinnati player attempt to give one of the women the ball, only to have a Saints fan take it first and then not give it to her. Well we can report that eventually she got a ball (from the Saints organization), she has had a bunch of national attention and they both are UK/KSR fans (the woman who was her friend wrote us). So we salute the women, say Go Cats and hope they enjoy their brush with fame!
Four quick things before I pass out asleep:
— The Cats had a great second half today. Yes the first half is what most people will focus on and I understand that. But this team is going to have its clunkers this season. They probably won’t involve being down five at home to a MAC team very often, but they will happen. But for me, the second half was quite impressive. The Cats only allowed 14 points from Buffalo and succeeded despite poor outside shooting. As Calipari said afterwards, if the Cats play with energy and effort, in the vast majority of their games they can win, even if the shots aren’t falling. The second half saw UK win by 24 points while still not totally being in sync offensively. That is a good sign.
— Calipari after the game was very interesting. On the Postgame Radio Show, he was a little testy, suggesting that if fans want to complain about who plays well and poorly each game, then they should look for a new coach or “bring Rick back.” While he was certainly kidding somewhat, the thoughts behind it are real. Calipari is going to do what he wants this season and that means playing ten guys a lot, even at the expense of some wins. I think the system Calipari is insisting on using will cause UK to lose a game or two it would otherwise win. But he is committed to it and wants fans to chill while he does it. I hope fans do chill and enjoy this….the reality is that the games for this team don’t really matter to March. Enjoy one of the deeper and more interesting UK teams you will ever see and don’t sweat the small stuff.
— Heard some good basketball recruiting news today. It likely won’t go public until the Spring, but it is good. I know that people hate when one says these things and I get it…I hate when others do it too. But it cheered me up on an otherwise tough week. Over the years, I hope you have learned on KSR that when we feel good about something in recruiting, it usually happens. So I will just say, feel good with me and good news will come later. That is all.
— Brandon Knight is killing it in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks have been my random NBA League Pass Team this season, one that I have watched a great deal for no apparent reason. But I like Jabari Parker, the Greak Freek and the random assortment of talent they have…and most importantly, I really like Brandon Knight. He is having a great year and while he is most known for his bad highlight plays (getting dunked on or falling down), he is balling this season. He hit three 3 pointers late in the game tonight to beat the Miami Heat and he is probably the best player (or at least playing the best) on an improving team. I am happy for Brandon, maybe the smartest kid to play for Kentucky since I have been around.
I can’t talk about football tonight. We will do it in the morning, along with the two UK basketball games and previewing Kansas on the radio show. Now good night.
By Matt Jones on ©November 12th, 2014 @ 8:00pm
We haven’t had one of these days in a while have we? The day when the basketball world stops and we all wait around to hear an announcement of a major high school player considering Kentucky. Probably the last day with the fanfare of tomorrow’s big Skal Labbisiere (from here on out Skal) and Isaiah Briscoe announcement was the day Trey Lyles teased all the Card fans before making the obvious decision to join the Big Blue. Now here we go with a 6 pm Thursday television announcement on ESPNU, with two top ten players ready to let us know what they are going to do. I have read a lot of information, some correct and some not correct, about these two guys on the internet over the last three days so I thought it was worthwhile to go over what I know about both situations.
Isaiah Briscoe is the top pure point guard in high school basketball this year. I say “pure” point guard because some argue that Malik Newman is a point guard and if you are of that school of though, then he may be #1. But if you are just looking at traditional point guards, Briscoe is at the top of the list and by a good margin. He can do it all, score, defend, pass and run your team and he will be a huge impact player wherever he goes. Kentucky got into the proceedings a bit late with Briscoe (possibly due to Newman), and it was only recently that they went full court press on him (Slice was a big part of this as well). The Cats do however really want Briscoe and they believe that with he and Tyler Ulis in the fold, the position will be set for the near future. Briscoe has wavered back and forth for weeks, with those around him saying at various times that Kentucky leads and then the next day St. John’s leads. Almost everyone agrees it will be one of these two schools….either the coach who has produced the best run of Point Guards in college basketball over the last decade or the hometown squad where Briscoe can play in front of his family every day.
As of right now, I think Briscoe will pick Kentucky. Everyone I speak with is leaning in that direction and the folks I am talking to would know the situation. I can’t confidently predict he picks Kentucky however because like Terrence Jones, James Blackmon Jr and a couple of others in recent years, he is a kid who flips his leader a lot. While at 8 pm on Wednesday night I feel confident Kentucky is the pick, something could certainly happen that makes it go the other way. Most of the New York high school writers think he goes to St Johns, while most of the national guys (Evan Daniels, Jeff Borzello, etc) think it is Kentucky. I have a couple of these guys coming on (including Jason Jordan, who is doing a “running diary” with Briscoe about his recruitment) my radio show tomorrow to shed light. For me as of this moment, it reminds me of Julius Randle. Everyone I spoke to said Kentucky and my sources were good…the rest of the media around him said Florida/Kansas, etc. While this is subject to change (and like with Perry Dozier who flipped from UL to South Carolina literally last night), I go to bed tonight thinking UK will have a top 10 point guard joining the team tomorrow.
Few recruitments have had stronger opinions against in recent years than Skal’s over the past week. Many UK fans have become scared about taking Skal thanks to the circus that has developed around he and his guardian. If you don’t know the chain of events surrounding Skal, read today’s article by Tyler Thompson, as she summarizes it very well. There is no doubt that Skal becoming eligible will end up being a bigger issue than it is for other kids and drama will encircle his decision, especially if it is Kentucky. When you take Skal’s commitment, you are signing up for some drama until next fall. However you are also signing up for a tremendous talent, with possibly more upside than anyone outside of the top two players in the class (Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown). He has exceptional athleticism and could develop into a college basketball force. Add to that everyone who knows the kid (and I have had multiple people tell me this) says that he is a tremendous kid off the court…3.5 GPA, never been in trouble and a great guy to be around. As one recruiting guy said to me, “don’t let whatever sins those around him have reflect on Skal. He is as good as they come.”
So with that said, I am not worried if Skal commits to Kentucky (which I believe he will). Over the years I have spent a great deal of time learning how the UK Compliance office works and getting a good notion as to how players become eligible for UK Athletics. While this is surely true of every sport, it is triply true of basketball…the UK Compliance Department SIMPLY WILL NOT RISK this program’s future over one particular player. They just won’t. With UK’s history on the issues and the high profile nature of Coach Calipari, the requirements to become eligible for UK under Sandy Bell are higher than they are to be eligible for the NCAA. Read that last sentence again. If UK says the kid is eligible, I have more confidence on him being fine than if even the NCAA has said it. Today’s report from Gary Parrish that Skal’s guardian was asking people how to make money off Skal is terrible. I have no reason to dispute what Parrish says and it may very well be the case that he had those conversations. But it is also worth noting that his “source” on those allegations is himself a sketchy character and his comments should be considered accordingly. But whatever the guardian is or is not trying to do, it does not change this fact. UK has been the best program in America during the Calipari years…why risk it over one kid? It just wouldn’t happen.
UK has hired compliance directors from the NCAA for this very reason and it has led to there being virtually no issues during the Calipari tenure. The NCAA and UK disagreed on Enes Kanter, but that was more due to the personal nature of Mark Emmert’s position on Kanter, which was later shown to be inconsistent and actually incorrect. Simply put, if UK says Skal can play here, I am confident he not only can, but UK is not taking a risk in doing so.
Thus I see the Skal decision like this. UK will take his commitment tomorrow (he is almost surely picking the Cats)…if something comes up that makes him not eligible, he will never play a minute for the Cats. If he is found to have violated no eligibility rules, then UK will get the most athletic big man in the class, a game-changing talent and a tremendous kid who can fit into the culture of “Good guys” that Calipari has cultivated here in Lexington over the last few years. So I don’t see it is a major risk. Kentucky will continue to recruit other big men….they will likely get at least one, if not two more, and then Skal either will or will not suit up next fall. In my view, he is worth whatever hassles might attach to him and his commitment tomorrow will be very important.
As of this moment, I think Kentucky gets two commitments tomorrow. Absent a major change, they will get the best point guard in America and the most athletic big man. That is a HUGE day for the future of the program. However it isn’t done yet….the point guard might still change and some Skal drama (primarily media-driven) is sure to follow. The next 24 hours should be interesting, but make no mistake about it….tomorrow is shaping up to be one of Calipari’s best recruiting days in his entire tenure at Kentucky.
A number of things on a beautiful Monday afternoon in the Bluegrass…
— The weekend was all over the place for UK fans, with the highs of the basketball game mixed with the lows of the football game in Columbia. Starting with the lows, I agree with Mark Stoops that the total disaster on offense at Missouri was bad enough for blame to be spread through a lot of places. I am not sure what exactly the offensive game plan was going in, but whatever it was, it didn’t work. The running attack against the defensive front had little hope of success and with the Offensive line unable to stop the defensive pressure (and no help added via a Tight End or Running Back staying home), Patrick Towles had little hope of getting off consistent passes. The Offensive Line had one of their worst performances of the year, the Wide Receivers dropped some passes right in their hands and Towles missed a few open receivers on big third downs. It was a complete disaster from start to finish and Kentucky not only didn’t deserve to win, they were lucky to be as close as they were. Today Stoops reiterated that he and Neal Brown are on the same page and that the problems were more execution than strategy. I guess that is possible, but for me, the bigger issue is a day where the offense was simply completely out of whack from start to finish.
Lee Greenwood says hello
— The story of the cheerleader yelling at the UK coaches is truly a bizarre one. Having talked to a couple of people that were there, it seems that a UK cheerleader was expressing his displeasure at the play calling on Saturday and then as the coaches walked by, he said it in their direction loudly. Before there could be any issues from the coaches/players, Mitch Barnhart went to the cheerleader and essentially told him to know his role and shut his mouth, and the situation diffused. But one has to wonder how in the world the cheerleader thought that was an appropriate thing to do, especially right after the game while representing the school. Poor form from whoever that was, and a bizarre end to an unfortunate day.
— To switch gears to something more positive, I was REALLLLLLYYYYY impressed with the UK basketball team last night. Yes, I know it was Pikeville. But the Cats still were might impressive. That Pikeville team can shoot the ball (and will be good when they get their two big men transfers eligible), but other than that, UK was able to basically dominate the game from start to finish. The Cats played at an unbelievable speed from the outset and the platoon system allowed them to push the ball offensively and apply non-stop defensive pressure from start to finish. It wore down Pikeville, but more importantly, set a tempo that almost no teams will be able to match. The 86 points in the paint are crazy, but what I enjoyed much more were the 29 assists. As Calipari said afterwards, that is the type of game where a player can decide “I am going to get mine” and none of the guys did. This is a group that genuinely wants the other players to succeed and that mindset is the only way this will work. I was impressed in ways that I haven’t been since the 2012 team beat Morehouse by 85. Pikeville’s coach Kelly Wells said afterwards that this may be the most talent UK has ever had on a team…that is a strong statement, but I think he could very well be correct.
— Andrew Harrison is a beast. He was nearly perfect on Sunday vs Pikeville. 9 Assists, 0 Turnovers and led the team almost as well as a person could do it. He is going to have a big year and his quote after the game (in which he said that his confidence was “sky high” and he was “having so much fun” this year) had to make everyone who watched him struggle last year so happy. This team is going to be crazy fun to watch this season and a happy, excited group of Twins will be a big reason why.
— The couple above got married on a Southwest Airlines flight on Sunday from Nashville to Dallas. The twosome is from Louisville and according to this story, the flight had 30 family and friends and 111 strangers. When they did the vows, they said if anyone sees any objection to this union, they should hit the flight attendant call button (no one did). We also found out today that the twosome listens to KSR and used KSR in their wedding vows. You people are crazy (and awesome)
It was a great weekend to be in Lexington with downtown business showing record profits. Garth Brooks (pictured with WKYT’s Steve Moss, otherwise known as “older Drew Franklin”) was amazing through his whole set of four shows and he visited the UK Practice facility to boot. These are good times in Kentucky basketball…get ready for the ride.
By Matt Jones on ©October 31st, 2014 @ 6:00pm
For Halloween, the Around the Horn crew dressed up as various oddities and the best had a UK connection. Israel Gutierrez went as Drake (he looks just like him) and over the course of the show represented a number of teams, including the Cats. It was good stuff and a big A+ from me for the costume.
By Matt Jones on ©October 26th, 2014 @ 10:15pm
I took the picture above about halfway through the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State. In part it showcases what a gorgeous day it was in Lexington, but I also wanted to capture the moment that UK football fully recovered from its five year hiatus from relevant status. Saturday was the day that major college football came back to Commonwealth Stadium. You could feel it during the pre-game tailgates as UK fans arrived early and celebrated, filling up the parking lots with the look of a real Saturday in the South. You could feel it in the stadium, where Kentucky fans packed it to the top, creating the first “no empty section” football environment in at least five seasons. You could feel it in the press box, where writers from major national sites ate the same mediocre food as the regular UK reporters and were joined by the big boys from CBS, making their first return to Commonwealth since 2007. You could feel it on the sideline, where Andre Woodson, John Calipari, Rich Brooks, Tim Tebow and even Toby Keith walked on the ground that is usually reserved for a few cameramen and Alan Cutler. And you could feel on it the field, where Kentucky played toe to toe with the #1 team in the nation and as Coach Dan Mullen said afterwards, “gave us everything we wanted.” UK football is back and Saturday, even in a loss, proved that to be true.
With that in mind, here are my SEVEN major takeaways from the weekend, along with the best pictures we have seen as well:
Matthew Mitchell killed it with the crowd between the 3rd and 4th quarter and even entered a gun show
1. PATRICK TOWLES IS A STAR
If you listen to my radio show, you know that I have been saying for the past couple of months that I think Patrick Towles is headed for the NFL. He has the frame, the arm strength and the mobility to be a prototypical quarterback on the next level. All that was left to do was to produce on the field. And Saturday he did just that. After a couple of missed throws early, Patrick was excellent, exploiting Mississippi State’s one weakness (down the middle of the field and deep) for three long passes and running the ball more efficiently, and impressively, that his Heisman Trophy contender counterpart. We said before the game that Towles needed to be perfect for Kentucky to win and while he wasn’t quite that, he was more than good enough to put UK in the right spots to pull off the upset. I firmly believe Towles is headed to a position where he could be First Team Preseason ALL-SEC Quarterback next year and on the national quarterback radar. If that happens, it will have begun in full during his best performance as a Wildcat, with a national audience becoming enamored with every gritty run and throw.
It was so loud this Mississippi State fan just couldn’t take it any more (h/t @jesseharrod)
2. GUYS MADE PLAYS, BUT NOT ENOUGH
What was most impressive to me about Saturday is that Kentucky probably had a B-level performance. They made a number of costly errors (fumbling inside their own 20, missed catches, terrible tackling at times), yet still were one executed kick or offensive drive from having a shot to tie the game. There were some tremendous plays made by UK’s players…Bud Dupree had a terrific game, Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson made super catches, Towles got key first downs and a Touchdown on a 3rd and 10 designed run that took a lot of guts to call….however the Cats were a few plays short from really getting to where they needed to be. Ryan Timmons had two big drops, guys missed tackles on plays that could have ended Miss State drives and Offensive Lineman couldn’t block well enough to establish a true running game. A B level performance won’t be the #1 team in America if you are Kentucky, but it says a lot about the program that it was enough to keep it competitive.
She was happy or terrified…hard to tell
3. UK COACHES HAD A GREAT GAME PLAN
It may be odd to say considering that UK allowed 45 points in the game, but I think the UK coaches did a really good job executing a game plan that gave Kentucky a chance to win. Neal Brown saw the week before on offense that Mississippi State was vulnerable to passes in the middle of their defense and deep…and he hit a number of big plays by attacking just these areas. In addition, a couple of UK folks told me that they thought they could make some hay with a delayed Quarterback run and the Cats did that all night with very little adjustment from Miss State. The two things UK couldn’t overcome, offensive linemen a bit overwhelmed and dropped passes, probably prevented more points, but UK put 31 up and probably should have had a few more. On defense, DJ Eliot wasn’t able to stop the Miss State running attack, but at times it was contained. UK has a poor run defense and they weren’t able to often win the battle at the line of scrimmage, but the best players made some big tackles and they limited the passing game effectively. The Cats couldn’t get big stops when they needed to, but in the coaching chess game, I thought they handled themselves very well.
KSR is looking for UK/KSR/SEC/UL, etc related Halloween costumes and we got this one early. This young man is Coach Naivar, with the backwards hat, wristband and all. Well done young man!
4. THE ONSIDE KICK WAS A BACKBREAKER
That isn’t exactly a groundbreaking observation, but after the problems at LSU, watching the onside kick be returned for a touchdown was a brutal beat for UK fans. I have no problem with the decision to call the kick…after the penalty on Miss State, the kick was from the 50, so even if you don’t recover, you are putting them at the 40 (or farther back), which is only 15 yards ahead of where a kick in the endzone would be. That is worth the risk. I also don’t have a problem with the two kicker strategy as the new rules don’t allow you to load up on one side and two kickers seems to be a growing movement now. The problem was with the execution, an unlucky bounce and two players simply running past the play and missing the tackle. Why that happened is something the coaches can answer, but it was unfortunate that a chance wasn’t even given to make a play. For Coach Naivar (who has become the most known Special Teams Coach here maybe ever), it is somewhat unlucky as the unit played pretty well otherwise but the notion of two bad games in a row will linger with much of the fanbase.
Ok well, not everyone was excited during the game
5. THE ATMOSPHERE WAS ELECTRIC
That my friends is what Commonwealth Stadium should be like. Not only was the place filled to the top, but it was loud and raucous from start to finish. UK has done a tremendous job since the start of the season making the music and in-stadium experience much better and that improvement has helped exponentially. But the fans have also stepped it up this year and Saturday may have been the culmination. During the period towards the end of the 4th Quarter, the Mitchell/Brooks/Calipari/Woodson/Pakulak introduction and start of the 4th, many on the field who have been to games for years were saying that they don’t remember it being any louder ever. Fans stood throughout on big plays, made noise on third down and kept the energy in the stadium even during down times. It felt like a special game and a special experience and that made everyone, from players to fans to recruits excited. I was sick throughout the game but stayed basically because I wanted to feel a UK fan experience at its best…we got it on Saturday.
Others may do the Petrino/Volleyball player costume this week, but I am not sure any will do it better than the two above
6. THE RECRUITS LOVED THE EXPERIENCE
From a recruiting perspective, this was the last “big day” for the UK Football staff until the UNC basketball home game in December (when a huge load of recruits will be brought in). It is always a risk to bring players to a game against an opponent as tough as Miss State, but doing so paid off immensely. Two players in the 2016 class committed, Roland Walker, a top 20 ranked Linebacker nationally and Quentin Baker, a Running Back from Ashland, whose dad Al Baker played here as well. Both are big time gets and represent the best in what UK is trying to do in recruiting. Walker is a top talent who will likely explode this summer when he attends the camps (I am told his athleticism is tremendous) and UK has made its impression early before the top programs almost surely come calling. And Baker is part of the 2016 Kentucky High School class, one that is being called possibly the best in a generation in the state. At this point UK has commitments from four of the top five players in that class and the fifth (Woodford County’s Drake Jackson) is said to be leaning UK. At this point, UK’s 2016 class is ranked 5th in the country and Stoops couldn’t have asked for a better start. With other top 2015 guys there as well, it was a perfect weekend. One of the visitors was also Damien Harris, who I still believe will pick either Kentucky or Alabama…and if he were picking today, I think Kentucky is the leader.
James Young’s shirt and pants make no sense to me…but if you are in the NBA and making NBA money, it probably needs to make little sense. Still, if I had my druthers, this would be my Halloween costume
7. OH YEAH, THE BLUE/WHITE GAME IS TOMORROW
Lost somewhat in the football excitement is the fact that tomorrow night is the Blue/White Game. The best assortment of talent UK will see on the court at one time (I firmly believe this) all season will happen tomorrow night. We will get our first look at what the platoons will likely be (I am guessing Twins/Lyles on one side, Ulis/Booker/Poythress on the other…then Willie/Dakari are put with one group and Towns/Lee the other) and just how UK will be playing this year. Amazingly to me, only 13,000 tickets have been sold for this, which makes no sense considering how good the game and event will be. But fans have been conditioned to make Big Blue Madness the big event and the Blue/White Game takes a back seat. The game will be on the SEC Network, we will have a LIVE BLOG on here and there will be more coverage than you can handle. It is the kickoff to the season where we will win our 9th Championship so I hope you are as excited as I am.
With that, we will call it a night. Tomorrow morning, we are back on radio, live from Amazon in Winchester, Kentucky (where you should go work by the way…if you need a job, otherwise you might get tired). Tune in to discuss all this and more. And until then, Aaron Harrison and his Magical Quill are ready for the Ride to #9:
For a period of time late Friday evening, Kentucky fans could have been forgiven for feeling that they were collectively on top of the world. Think about it, Big Blue Madness had just finished with one of the biggest musical artists in the country not only stopping by, but clearly wanting to be a part of the team. The rock concert portion of the event was great and on the court, the scrimmage showcased once again that this team is going to be crazy good in unprecedented ways. The UK Football team was taking the field the next day, with a legitimate shot to pull an upset in Death Valley (even Kirk Herbstreit was picking the Cats to win) and if that victory manifested itself, College Gameday would be rolling into town in one week. The dream of the two major sports programs, each competing at the highest levels in the country at the same time, was right on the precipice of occurring, at least a full year before any of us thought it possible. The city of Lexington was abuzz and excitement was definitely in the air.
Then came Saturday night. Like a giant smack across the face, we were given a stern dose of reality in Baton Rouge, as Kentucky was destroyed in every phase of the game, 41-3. The Cats were dominated, literally from the opening kick, as a bizarre formation started a series of events that left me wondering why college football games have to be so long. It was a good old fashioned SEC road butt whooping and as UK fans went to bed that evening (or called into my postgame show slightly inebriated), the unadulterated joy of the night before was long forgotten.
Still, all hope should not be lost. The game on Saturday was the worst game of the season, but not a predictor of what is to come for the rest of the year. Everything that could go wrong went wrong for Kentucky and all involved, from the offense to the defense to the special teams to the coaches, had one of their worst performances of their UK tenure. However Mark Stoops said afterwards that he intended to make certain that the game did not “define” the team and he expected a top-level effort versus #1 Mississippi State next week. I agree with Stoops and still think (in an opinion that seems to have me in the distinct minority) that Kentucky can win on Saturday. I don’t expect them to but I believe it will be a very competitive game with the nation watching along on CBS.
With that as a backdrop, here are the 5 biggest takeaways from both the football game and Big Blue Madness:
THE LSU GAME
— The Cats are still one year away from being a factor in the SEC race: We went into the LSU game with two very different scenarios for Kentucky emerging. On the one hand, it was reasonable to say that the Cats controlled their own destiny in the SEC East. Split the games against the two SEC West schools and UK had three winnable games to finish the conference slate in order to gain a trip to Atlanta. On the other hand, UK would still be an underdog in all six of its final games, thus giving no obvious victory to ensure a Bowl berth and a six win season. So which of these two realities was Kentucky closest to? A trip to the SEC Championship game or needing an upset to make a Bowl game. It turns out that the latter of these two is a better indicator of this team’s level. There is no shame in that reality. Most of us coming into the season thought five wins was a realistic goal for the year and making a bowl game would be a HUGE success. The Cats already have those five wins and getting one more is definitely within the realm of possibility. But the notion of making the SEC Championship game was a pipe dream this year (although I think they will be in the hunt next year), and our expectations can now be reset a bit closer to reality.
— The Special Teams were not very special: Kentucky was really bad on special teams Saturday…and probably had one of the worst special teams halves in the history of the program. From the bizarre opening kickoff formation (still not sure what they were doing), to the terrible coverage of punts, to the decision by a number of players to not even field the kickoff, it was a complete disaster that otherwise overshadowed a fairly even half. The score was 27-3, but at least 17 of those points were the direct cause of special teams errors. The mistakes became so depressing that the only thing left to do was collectively debate why our coach was wearing his hat backwards (probably slightly too old for that Coach Naivar…unless you are Samuel L Jackson or Dale Earnhardt Jr, wearing a hat backwards after the age of 40 may be a no-no). I assume these are errors that will be corrected as the special teams have generally been ok so far this year. But for one night, it was as bad a cluster as we have ever seen any time a kicker found his way onto the field.
— No Rhythm could be found on offense: With the exception of two first half drives, which collectively only ended in three points, UK’s offense could find no consistency and the game plan seemed a bit inconsistent. It was unclear exactly how UK wanted to attack LSU’s defense, with understandably few attacks on the Tigers’ great secondary utilized and no ability to get a regular run game showcased. The most bizarre moment of the first half may have been the key 4th down with UK down 17-3 and beginning to get a little momentum, when the Cats called timeout after LSU brought nine in the box to defend the Wildcat formation. UK came out of the timeout still in the Wildcat, LSU again used nine in the box and the play predictably went nowhere. It wasn’t clear what the goal was or what happened during the timeout, but the play symbolized a night of frustration for an offense that simply couldn’t get its feet under itself at any point.
— The Defense Had Some good Moments: By the time LSU scored early in the second half to go up 34-3, the rout was on and the game lost its competitiveness. But before that moment, the UK defense actually handled itself pretty well. The Cats made some big stops to halt LSU drives that began with good field position. LSU didn’t overpower the Defensive front until well into the third quarter and UK’s Linebackers had one of their best performances of the year. A lack of depth, fatigue and the overall score ultimately wore them down but the defense did its best to keep UK in the game despite the early errors throughout the first half. That is at least some positive for the staff to build upon on tape that might otherwise be best left in the garbage dump for the week.
— The Attitude of the team is still good: One positive about such a young team is that they don’t let these losses keep them down. One player after another has gone to social media today to say that they are moving past this loss immediately and are ready to bounce back. With arguably the best team in the country coming into town next week, that is good to see. But such a good opponent and a nationally televised game may actually be helpful in making this team get over the humiliation in Baton Rouge. Pride will be tested and a chance to make a quick redemption on an even larger scale now exists. I firmly believe they will showcase a completely different mindset next week and the game will be very competitive, further proof that this is a different UK football program than we have been used to in recent years.
BIG BLUE MADNESS
— This Team is Really, Really, Really Good: The show aspect of Big Blue Madness was good and we will talk about that in a minute, but the real highlight for me was the scrimmage. Look, I know it isn’t a secret after the Bahamas trip, but this team is crazy good. With Willie and Trey Lyles now on the floor, it is hard to imagine teams stopping this group. Watching a 6’10” Trey Lyles at the three was amazing, not just because of the size but because it works. On the offensive end, these guys are almost impossible to stop, with tons of scoring options and offensive sets available to John Calipari. The big guys are defensive nightmares, Andrew Harrison is about 20 times better than he was last year, Derrick Willis and Dominique Hawkins are probably the best 11th and 12th players in school history, the pace of play that can be accomplished with this roster on a platoon system is astounding to comprehend and the total athleticism on display is truly special. I know we thought the group last year would be historically good but they were saddled with many unknowns. Not this group…we know how good they are because we have seen it. One never knows if a title will occur because randomness and luck do matter. But over the course of the season, I am not sure how many teams in this school’s history will have been better than this one. It is going to be a heck of a ride.
— Drake was quite the show: While some aspects of Drake’s appearance at Big Blue Madness were understandably mocked on the internet (his attempts during the layup line were cringe worthy and the picture I took above of his shooting form became an internet meme within about an hour on Friday), the effect of his attendance cannot be understated. This is a college basketball event and Drake is one of the biggest music stars in the world…and he attended, wearing UK gear and calling our coach one of “the most important men in my life.” That matters…even to those that know or care little about his music. The star power it adds further cements the reputation of Kentucky as the “cool” program in college basketball and showcases that playing here is just on a different level than playing at even the other top schools in America. While he didn’t perform or do anything really except introduce Calipari, his presence further feeds into the marketing job that has been done over the years in the Calipari era. Kentucky is the “it” place to play college basketball and there isn’t really anywhere else close.
— Calipari is so confident right now: He literally dropped the mic. While I thought he might use his current Vince McMahon state to give another “we are college basketball” speech, instead he took another, better approach. With all of us waiting for him to talk, he instead said “enough talking, let’s ball.” The mic drop caused even Calipari to smirk and the crowd was left screaming. At this point after five years, there isn’t much left for Calipari to say. It was a perfect start to the season and confirms once again just how confident Calipari is in this group I think he believes is as good as any he has ever coached.
— The Recruits Loved It: We will hear more about this as the week goes on, but from all indications, the recruits were blown away by the experience. Malik Newman said the UK fans were even more passionate than he thought they would be, Stephen Zimmerman’s mother commented on how it was as exciting event as she has ever attended and Carlton Bragg spoke about how all the players talked about what it would be like if they played together. It was as good a group of talent as Kentucky has had at Big Blue Madness in many years and if they were to all come, or even if two of the group were to come, Kentucky would be loaded again next year. But as Evan Daniels pointed out on the radio with me on Friday, none of these guys are assured at this point…thus making the visit this weekend so very important. I still think Kentucky is in very good shape with Zimmerman, I like where they stand with Newman, Jaylen Brown is a complete mystery, I expect Brandon Ingram to stay in the Carolina area and I think Carlton Bragg picks Kansas (maybe soon). But no matter what happens, if Kentucky gets any of the five 2015 recruits that were here, the excitement of the Madness event itself will be a big reason why they pull the trigger and come to Lexington.
— Matthew Mitchell kills it once again: I am still amazed by Matthew Mitchell. While I knew what he was going to do (we filmed that video about a week ago…and Ryan’s part still makes me laugh), seeing him get up and sing to the crowd as he did was quite impressive. The man can sing, he can dance and he is a great showman…but he does it while also knowing that at any point it could all blow up in his face. That is part of what makes these performances so good every year. I am not sure how he tops this one, but it will be very hard. The performance (and two minute KSR-included entrance video) are below if you missed them:
So there you have it…big week ahead, including a KSR appearance in Ashland on Wednesday at Mattress Warehouse for a remote. It all culminates in one of the biggest games in Commonwealth in a decade on Saturday as the #1 team in America comes to town. Should be fun….
One of the cool things about working in a building with multiple radio stations is that occasionally you will walk outside and a random celebrity happens to be in your building. This occurred on Friday in Lexington when I left my studio after our show and Steve-O from “Jackass” was in the building talking to some fans. He was in town for a comedy show in Lexington and was doing a meet and greet with fans who had won a chance to meet him on WKQQ. Steve-O was extremely nice and his talk was interesting, focusing on his life and his battles with various addictions. During a spot in the conversation (with Lexington rock DJ legend “Dead Air Dennis”) in which he was going into some detail about entering rehab for sex addiction. He became emotional talking about his struggles and how he still battles with them to this day, even as most mock the notion that such a problem can exist. Right at the moment of emotional crescendo, a woman decided to take it upon herself to simply walk on stage, interrupt him and declare that she had something to do. She said, “I am sorry and I hate to do this, but I have to go back to work but I need to get a picture before I go.” She then turned her selfie cam on, snapped a picture of a somewhat furious Steve-O (who may or may not have been flipping her off at the time) and left the room, leaving everyone in shock with her rudeness. Steve-O proceeded to let her have it as she left and the whole event became somewhat odd quickly. He recovered well, finished the interview and met with all the fans afterwards but it once again reinforced to me something that I long ago learned. Just when you think you have seen the most strange and rude behavior imaginable, you look up and someone else will blow your mind.
With that, here are some thoughts on the big week ahead for both of the two major sports:
The win over La-Monroe ended up being impressive, as the Cats took it to the group from the Sun Belt handily after a struggling first quarter. There was much consternation among the fans after the Cats fell down 14-3 and gave the ball back to Monroe, leading to a growing uneasiness at the game. But some of that is clearly a lingering effect of our old UK Football mindset, the belief that doom and gloom is almost certainly around the corner. This group does not believe in such negativity and as such, they easily came back for the win. One play seemed, to me, to change the game. With La-Monroe up 11 and driving, a third and nine was stopped when Bud Dupree made a key tackle from behind on their QB, moments before he took off running for what would have been a sure scamper to a first down in UK territory. The stop caused a punt, two plays later Javess Blue went 83 yards and the game was on. Without that stop, more points could have gone up and the game may have been different. Bud Dupree was the MVP all day and he is having a big season.
Now the Cats take off for LSU and the question becomes, just what should our expectations be from this point on? With six games to play, it is still likely the case that Kentucky will be the underdog in all six (although a slight chance might exist that if UK keeps winning and Missouri or Tennessee keep losing, that could change). One looks at the schedule and sees no definite win, but also no game that Kentucky is without a puncher’s chance at a victory. On paper, the two most difficult games are the next two. The Cats are 10 point dogs on the road at LSU, playing at night in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football. Then the #1 team in America will come to town along with, if UK could upset LSU, potentially College Gameday and a national spotlight square on this team. Tom Fornell’s plan to win the SEC East for Kentucky includes going 1-1 in these two games and it isn’t totally clear to me which will be more difficult for UK. LSU is clearly a much worse team, but winning there will be very difficult and I like the crazy atmosphere we might get in Commonwealth for Dak Prescott in two weeks. Neither is likely victory, but squeeze one out and all of a sudden there are dreams squarely on the table for UK to chase.
I think it is legitimate to still ask, just how good is this Kentucky team? Yes, we are 5-1, but outside the win over South Carolina, none were games that even a bad Kentucky team should not win (remember Vandy only beat Charleston Southern yesterday by 1 point). UK’s best performance is likely the road loss at Florida and with LSU only squeaking a victory out there Saturday night, that performance has risen in my eyes since last week. The reality is that in two weeks, we will know where this team is and likely where it is going. My goal at the beginning of the year was to see Kentucky win five games and then pull off an upset over the last six games to get to bowl eligibility. That is still my goal today, although now I think it (and more) is much more achievable. Basically everyone left on UK’s schedule (LSU, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisville) outside of Mississippi State, is worse than we thought they would be going into the season. UK could win all of these games…they could win none of them. It is that type of scenario that will make the next two months so much fun. For now, we should all dream of the impossible and a magical run to Atlanta, but even if a more sobering reality hits us, the mere fact that this is in play shows just how far we have come and how great a hire Mark Stoops was for this school.
It’s a testament to how good this UK football season has been that basketball has gone under the radar since the Bahamas trip. It came back in for a bit with the NBA Combine on Friday, a great event at UK that will have some long-lasting implications for the program. Thon Maker already called it a “game changer” and it is my guess that the 2016 class of recruits will be mentioning this a great deal over the next two years as they make their decision. We head to Big Blue Madness this Friday on the verge of #9 but with little of the normal preseason pressure. With the BBN’s attention focused on the gridiron, Calipari is getting to actually prepare these guys under the radar, something that NEVER happens at this school, no matter the year. Even with arguably one of the great assemblages of talent that this program has ever known, the UK team is able to practice with little pressure or hype and get ready to take care of business on the court. One source around the program told me that it has been “blessedly quiet”, allowing a huge weight off a team with such gigantic expectations.
We will see another fun Madness I am sure, but the big impact of the weekend will be on recruiting. Big time players will be on campus, ranging from Jaylen Brown to Stephen Zimmerman to Carlton Bragg to a ton of 2016 kids as well. It will be a massive group of talent and from this weekend, the major pieces of the next two recruiting classes could follow. I still really like where UK stands with Isiah Briscoe and Zimmerman, feel good as of now about Malik Newman (while acknowledging that situation changes every week) and think UK has another 2-3 guys on the horizon, although it is unclear which ones are most likely. But regardless, the feeling I get from those I speak with is that a great deal of time is being spent in the lead-up to this version of BBM, because of the huge implications for the future in recruiting based on what happens on campus over this weekend. Unfortunately for many fans however, the event will NOT be on television and is available online only on ESPN3. The SEC Network chose not to show the full event, meaning that all UK fans will see are the cut-ins on ESPNU (which will be part of visits to other Madness events as well) and the coverage on the internet. I think this is a very unfortunate part of the new SEC Network deal, as it means UK-only events (like the Blue-White game, which will also not be on television) get kept from fans who desperately want to see them.
That is all for now. We hope you like the new changes to the KSR Comment section, requiring people to register in order to help curb trolls and negativity. Please register if you will and participate…our goal is to slowly build it back to what it once was, when it was a place for UK fans to chat and many clever commenters to make you laugh. The “LIKE IT” button should be used to approve comments that you think are particularly great…five votes and the comment shows up bold and everyone wins. Join in if you get a hankering…
Until tomorrow on radio, I leave you with this from Taco Bell:
As many of you know, Friday will be the UK NBA Draft Combine, the first event of its kind done in college basketball and the chance for NBA scouts (and you) to see the Cats before the season starts, in a series of workouts designed to showcase them for the NBA. It will be a huge event and it will air on television on ESPNU at 3 pm on Friday. Everyone should (and I assume will) be watching, but before we go into it, a few notes about what you are going to see:
— The Cats will be doing the exact same sets of drills that they will be doing at the Draft Combine in May. This includes tests of speed, agility, leaping and other physical tests, along with the ability to play in game setups. Before the television cameras turn on, Kentucky players will do a lot of the preliminary drills for the scouts only, but then when the television coverage begins, you will see the guys showcasing their vertical, doing shooting drills, playing three on three and then a full court five-on-five scrimmage with referees. It isn’t a traditional practice but it will be a good chance to evaluate the UK guys and see them in their element as they work out for the scouts.
— All the UK players will go through the drills and they will then do the same event at the end of the season as well, thus giving the ability to showcase improvement and essentially create a “Pro Day” for UK Basketball, similar to what nearly every college football program undergoes. Word on the street is that many folks at other schools are upset not only about the event, but also the tv coverage (more on that in a minute). But it is a huge win for the players who will get to have their skills showcased in a comfortable setting for them, with literally every NBA team in attendance at the time. It is also a positive for the NBA teams, who get to do a “one stop shop” in Lexington and get information for players that is actually useful to them early in the season.
— As of now, I am hearing that 85 NBA scouts/Personnel are scheduled to come to the event, with the potential for more to join later in the week. That is a massive gathering and likely represents the largest single gathering of NBA personnel for a college event, outside the official combine, anywhere in basketball.
— The players have been preparing these last two weeks for the event, testing themselves at all the various drills during practice. UK has also begun their regular basketball practice as well (it started last Friday), but in part because of how much extra work they were able to do this summer, they have been able to do these other drills/activities as well.
— The event will take place primarily in the Craft Center on the men’s basketball court. Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Avery Johnson are the announcers, with Tony Delk also adding some commentary. I am hearing there will be some special decoration in the gym for the occasion (I won’t spoil that surprise), but it should look pretty great on television.
— Word from the grapevine is that the event has caused some anguish from other coaches, who are upset about the “advantage” UK gets by doing this. They are aided in part by a certain local reporter for a certain Lexington newspaper (Terry Jipton) who a source tells me has contacted ESPN often about why UK is getting such “special” treatment from the network for its summer games and Combine (by the way, isn’t it great to have a local newspaper that takes up for the views of opposing coaches over the local team…good business decision). From my perspective, the issue amounts to simple whining from those that don’t have the ability/foresight to pull off what Calipari has. Why were UK’s games in the Bahamas on television? Because people watched them (the ESPNU games got higher ratings than all but the Finals of TEAM USA’s games at the World Championships). If the other schools could draw ratings, they would be on too…they can’t. And why don’t other schools have Combines on television? Because (a) they didn’t come up with the idea and (b) they don’t have enough players for the NBA to care. Any complaints without acknowledgement of those facts is simply whining.
So there you go…should be interesting stuff on Friday. More info as we get it for what should be a good taste of basketball in the middle of a very exciting football time.
By Matt Jones on ©October 06th, 2014 @ 10:49pm
A pretty major change is coming to KSR’s comment section in the next couple of days, and with it, the end of anonymous posting. That means it might be the last of gems like the one below from “TruBluFan” who had this rant in my night post last night…nothing has been changed, be it spelling, grammar or paragraph usage. Enjoy:
Im a real UK fan and im sick of Matt Jones’ opinions. Horrible for the UK program. REAL talk! Couldn’t compete in the SEC? Thats the cancer of ur typical UK football fans. All u need is a good coach, a great fan base and an A.D. who puts money back in the football program. Then the talent will come. And we got that. I mean where do u get off? Or have the right? Its comments like those that make me wonder is he even a real UK or sports fan? Or is he a lawyer turned band wagon? R u an ex football coach? An ex basketball coach? An ex player? After the Billy G era what we can’t contend in the SEC in basketball either? U r not the voice of BBN. No matter how much u wana try to be. Its like u wana hear ur own voice. Like u think ur opinion matters u can hear it n the way u talk. I quit watching WKYT’s sports extra because of the Matt Jones’ opinion for a minute. As soon as u come on channel flip.Cant even listen to the pre or post game because of him. I think. I think. I think. How about if u do think u keep it to yourself. How bout u write story’s without ur opinion in it. U were upset that they chose Rob Bromley over u last yr for the b-ball comentator? Really? If u were on it I would of watched the neutral channel. Us real UK fans don’t like ur commentary. I love KSR but u individually r bad for UK. U don’t think recruits c or hear ur comments? U keep it up and they’ll ban u from the UK program. U and ur must be heard opinion’s make me sick. I know alot of people who feel the same way. Just give us the facts and quit. Not ur opinions. Not ur opinions. I repeat not ur opinions! Bobolopolis and classof68 got it right. Im just hopping this rant reaches u, wrote a similar 1 last night and y’all deleted it. Its funny Loserville fans can say bs on hear and it gets posted but a real UK fan writes about how fed up with Matt Jones’ opinions he is and naw they can’t have that. Maybe y’all didn’t xbox1 is glitchy. Seariously keep ur negative opinions to urself. I listen to the other radio show with Skywalker on it I resect his opinions. All I ask is keep em’ to urself I love KSR im on here everyday to get my UK fix but this sight gives its opinions and I can’t stand that. Im a huge UK fan. Im such a big UK fan that I would never say im the #1 UK fan cause I know what it feels like to hear other fans claim to be #1. Im from Fl and had to hear John Morgan say he was the biggest UK fan in the state of Fl. on his commercials growing up. I was proud to hear he was a fan but insulted at the same time. Same goes for Ashley Judd. People ask me all the time why did u move here from Fl? Simple UK. And a wierd look usually follows then they realize im dead serious. Plus all my fam is from hear even my bro and younger nephew too. I wana like ya Matt just take note of what im saying is all I ask. This or any sight should just give the facts and if u must only positive opinions. That is the end of my rant. Just finally getting it out there.
So true…so true
Stoops’ Postgame celebration interview included a mustache-adorned photo bomber of the highest quality
Saturday night is what it is all about.
Saturday night is why every Saturday you and your friends get up way too early, drive way too far and grill mediocre food (some of your food is pretty amazing, but let’s be honest…not everyone) in the middle of a parking lot, sometimes in the freezing cold, when you could do all of those things much easier and more comfortably, at home.
Saturday night is why you spent years mapping out scenarios as to how UK might one day contend in the SEC if they just had “that” coach (some of you even thought that was Bobby Petrino…shame on you) or could find a way to recruit just a little better.
Saturday night is why you spend hard-earned annual money to sit on cold metal seats that simply aren’t comfortable no matter how much you wiggle, especially since the guy next to you seemed to get fatter during the offseason and take up even more of your elbow room.
Saturday night is why you are thankful you are in the SEC, even though your reasonable side often thought (you know you did), “well maybe if we moved to the ACC, we might be able to compete for a conference title occasionally.”
Saturday night is why you sat through 66-0, 73-7, 40-0 to Vanderbilt of all teams and ugly “only a mother could love” games like that awful 3-0 win over Indiana.
Saturday night is why you kept coming back after the Doering catch, the Bluegrass Miracle, the 7 OT game, when Joker wouldn’t give Cobb the ball inside the 10 versus UT, the entirety of the Tennessee streak, the Florida streak, the terrible calls, the tipped passes, the Third and long absurd conversions, the missed kicks and the general feeling of dread that always accompanied the Fourth Quarter of virtually any game where UK was competitive against a good team.
Saturday night is why, no matter how much others around the country have mocked the mere mention of “Kentucky football”, you have remained a fan and live for fall Saturdays in Lexington.
Saturday night, on a perfect fall evening for high level football in a state that has desperately craved it, everything changed. I firmly believe that. When Kentucky came back from 14 down twice to beat South Carolina, it confirmed what Mark Stoops has slowly gotten me to believe over the last two years. We are about to enter a new era of Kentucky football. Over the next 3-5 years, we will look back at UK football as it does things that we never really believed were possible and remember this night in October when Mark Stoops and Kentucky announced to the college football landscape (at least those that were paying attention on an otherwise crazy Saturday of football) and more importantly to its fans, that this would no longer be the Kentucky of old. Rather than a group that was often a step slower, a bit too small and with the collective luck of a group perpetually walking under ladders looking into cracked mirrors while being stalked by black cats, the new-look Kentucky overcomes adversity, rocks Commonwealth Stadium and makes UK football fun and, dare I say it, cool in the process. The new music, uniforms and helmets symbolized something much greater, something that showcased itself permanently when Bud Dupree caught the tipped pass and ran it in for the winning touchdown. The old mindset of Kentucky is out…great things are on the horizon.
Those are strange words coming from me of all people. I once believed, with righteous confidence and history on my side, that Kentucky could never win the SEC or truly be consistently competitive in football thanks to structural defects that would make it impossible. I often argued that the best UK fans should hope for is being competitive for a bowl game every year and occasionally striking gold once every 6-7 years like in 2007, riding an abnormally talented group of skill position players to special heights and victories. It never occurred to me that Kentucky could actually compete with the SEC big boys. Now I think I am wrong. I don’t know for certain the timetable when it happens and I am not confident as to what the rest of this season will showcase. Kentucky might not have another night like Saturday this year…they might struggle to find a sixth win…if things go really bad, they might get upset next week against La-Monroe. But so long as our red-haired coach is roaming the sidelines with a swagger that is approaching Calipari levels, I feel certain that great times are on the horizon. The question is not if, it is when.
On Saturday night Kentucky showcased on the field, what Stoops and company have been proving off of it since they arrived. They are playing on another level from any UK teams in my lifetime. That doesn’t mean they are the best team of my years yet, but I think it is clear they are becoming the most talented. In years past, Kentucky might have one RB like JoJo Kemp, one WR with the potential of Blake Bone, one QB with the arm like Patrick Towles, one DE who can explode like Bud Dupree or one secondary member who can hawk the ball like AJ Stamps. But this group also has Braylon Heard, Boom Williams, Ryan Timmons, Drew Barker, Jason Hatcher, Matt Elam, redshirt players we haven’t even seen and new recruits ready to come in and make their own names known. They aren’t there yet because the vast majority are very young and as young players, they can at times look downright poor (as for long stretches of both halves last night). But as we saw last night, when reaching their potential they can hit a level that UK teams simply don’t reach. Spending the whole 4th Quarter dominating a Steve Spurrier team on offense so thoroughly that even when they KNOW THE PLAY OVER AND OVER, they can’t stop it? Not Kentucky…that isn’t how we win. Except we did win that way…by simply for stretches being the better team. That is a new era.
Don’t get me wrong. Success is not guaranteed. The reality is South Carolina may not be very good…they were unranked, lost at home to Missouri and Spurrier is now just hoping they make a bowl game. There will probably be a couple of stinkers thrown in over the rest of the season and the Cats will still see their next two SEC home games showcase some powerhouse teams (Miss State and Georgia). But I firmly believe that regardless of how this year ends, Kentucky football has turned around and is on the path to major success. We have better players than we have ever had. We are recruiting at levels we have never seen. We have investments in facilities and infrastructure that has never existed at this school. We have a President, AD, Athletics Department and coaching staff that is “all in” and ready to make the impossible possible on this campus. No matter what happens this year, I know next year will be better…when did you ever think that about UK football before…that the future is not only bright, it is near certain? Kentucky football is different and Saturday night was the moment that proved to even the most skeptical of cynics that change is coming.
On the KSR Postgame Show, I congratulated Stoops on the victory and noted how it hasn’t felt like this around UK football ever before in my lifetime. Before I could even finish the thought, Mark Stoops said “hey Matt, We’re just getting started bro.” Not only is that a great line (and needs to be on t-shirts soon), I also believe it. We are just getting started and Saturday night was just this play’s thrilling opening act.
After the game last night, everyone was happy. The Mark Stoops/Matt Elam picture from UK may be the best of the celebrations, but fans were excited too. And the fans who stormed the field had one idea in mind…get a selfie. It is the “you were there” moment for a new generation and we found some of the best of them for you:
Patrick Towles was happy
A youngster making memories
By sheer numbers, no one took more selfies than Zadarius
Bud Dupree poses like LT
Ryan’s motivational speech pre-game deserves at least some credit
Those were a lot of pushups
When it doubt, just lie in the middle of the field