At midnight, the embargo was lifted on the preseason Kentucky Basketball interviews, meaning your timelines →
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©October 01st, 2015 @ 11:00pm
At midnight, the embargo was lifted on the preseason Kentucky Basketball interviews, meaning your timelines were flooded with interviews with John Calipari and the Cats. Matt, Ryan, and Drew’s interviews with the players took place about a month ago. I listened to the recordings and came away with so many observations, I had to break them into two posts. If you missed Part I earlier, click here to check it out.
Marcus Lee has taken Skal Labissiere under his wing
When asked about the summer pick-up games, both Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere discussed how much they’ve learned from going head-to-head with one another.
“We play each other all the time,” Skal said. “It’s been really good. He’s been making me better. I’ve got a learn a lot from him. He runs the floor like a deer. He’s been really pushing me hard at practice.”
Marcus’ response, as you might expect, was incredibly thoughtful. Even as a junior, Marcus said he’s learning things from the talented freshman.
“It’s great,” Marcus said. “Going against someone that is so willing to work out, so willing to do better that when he does stuff, we can feed off each other. We’re of the same body type and know how to work around each other. When we go through things, I can teach him how Cal wants things. He can do a move I like and I can try it out. I can imitate that.”
Jamal Murray is really, really close with his dad
Murray maintains that his decision to come to Kentucky rather than Oregon came down to the last minute and the deciding factor was distance. After listening to him talk about family — his father in particular — I genuinely believe that.
“It mostly came down to distance and how easily my parents could come see me and my little brother. It’s not that far for them. I need my dad and he needs me. We’re very close. He’s been training me my whole life, so he’s put me in the position I’m in today. So I need him.”
I’ll never get tired of hearing other players rave about Tyler Ulis
I’ll be honest with you: I’m not ready for basketball yet. The excitement surrounding the football program and the lingering heartache from last year have me holding the round ball at arm’s length. …Until I hear Tyler Ulis’ teammates rave about him.
“Tyler, there’s so many good things you can say about Tyler,” Skal said. “He’s, in my opinion, one of the best point guards in the country. He’s just a leader on the court. He doesn’t like to lose and he facilitates the game for his teammates, makes it really easy for his teammates. He likes to win.”
Alex Poythress didn’t get many opportunities to play with Tyler last season because of his injury, but it sounds like can’t wait to get on the court with him this season.
“I feel like I play real well with Tyler,” Alex said. “I feel like he does a real good job of seeing when people are open, finding people, and just orchestrating the whole offense. So I’m really excited when we start playing to play with him.”
Ulis had the PERFECT answer when asked why he’s THE point guard on a team full of point guards
One thing Kentucky won’t want for this season is point guards. John Calipari currently has three on the roster in Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Briscoe; however, in every conversation leading up to this season, Calipari has only referred to Tyler Ulis as the point guard of his squad. Why? Ulis’ answer is perfect.
“Maybe it’s because I’m tiny,” Ulis quipped. “I can’t play any other position.”
Ulis also had one of the best breakdowns of how Kentucky will balance guard play this season.
“They’re both very good players. They’re point guards too and they’re on my team and they’re great,” Ulis said of Briscoe and Murray. “I’m a point guard. I’m going to be considered a point guard because I’m smaller and I’m a natural leader, I feel like, and those guys can score more, play off the ball.”
Ulis added there will also be a time when Murray or Briscoe will bring the ball up and he’ll play on the wing, similar to how he and Andrew played alongside each other at times last season. But to clear up any confusion, “I’m the smaller guy so I’m going to be the point guard.”
The bromance between Ulis and Briscoe is real
“That’s my boy,” Ulis said of Briscoe. “We’ve always been cool, but we’ve never really been around each other, so him here being with me, we’ve gotten real close. That’s my boy.”
Briscoe (Ulis’ boy) returned the love.
“We have a big brother, little brother relationship,” Briscoe said. “Of course, I’m the big brother, I have to be. But it’s just be fun. He’s been teaching me a lot, what to expect in the game, how to represent yourself outside of basketball, and becoming a better person overall.”
At the risk of this sounding like a bromance novel, Briscoe said the chemistry between himself and Ulis has been cultivated with several late night sessions at the Joe Craft Center.
“Amazing,” Briscoe said when asked how the two will play together. “We play now and I think we do pretty well. Even off the court, we’re always with each other. We compete with each other in here. One a.m., two a.m. in the morning, we’re in here playing one-on-one trying to get each other better. The only people in here. We’re going to push each other to be the best we can be and hopefully good things happen.”
Isaiah Briscoe claims he’s stopped talking trash
Isaiah Briscoe was voted the biggest trash talker in the 2015 class by his peers, but the freshman guard insists that’s in the past.
“That was my high school days, you know,” Briscoe said. “I’m maturing my game, I’m a different person. I’ve just gotta remain hungry and humble.”
Yeah, I don’t buy it.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©October 01st, 2015 @ 1:00pm
At midnight, the embargo was lifted on the preseason Kentucky Basketball interviews, meaning your timelines were flooded with interviews with John Calipari and the Cats. Matt, Ryan, and Drew’s interviews with the players took place about a month ago. I listened to the recordings and came away with so many observations, I had to break them into two posts.
Here’s Part I:
Tyler Ulis isn’t over The Loss yet either
One of the most poignant and telling quotes I’ve ever heard from Tyler Ulis came after the Wisconsin game when he told reporters that because of one loss, none of UK’s 38 wins that season mattered.
“It takes everything away,” Ulis said. “All the wins, to me, mean nothing.”
Five months later, Ulis said the loss still haunts him.
“I’m still not over it,” Ulis said. “I feel like we should have won that game. We fell short of our goal and it still haunts me today.”
The team is talented, but may take some time to gel
This team kind of came together at the last minute, and in turn, fans should expect some bumps and bruises early on as team chemistry forms. Have no fear, the players say, the wheels are already in motion.
“It’s happening, we can feel it,” Skal said of the team’s bond. “The guys really like each other. We just make each other better as a whole.”
“They’re a really cool bunch of guys that I think I’m going to really like getting to know,” Isaac Humphries said. “I think they’re all such great players. I’m going to learn a lot from them, and to be able to go up against them everyday in training is great. Off the court, they’re just very genuine people. We always talk about becoming brothers and I think that will happen once we gel to know each other a bit more.”
Alex Poythress is embracing his role as a mentor
I feel like I’ve written “Alex Poythress is ready to lead” a lot in my blogging career, but I finally believe it. Tyler Ulis will be the vocal leader of this group, but as a senior, Poythress, who is currently working on his masters in sports leadership, has finally found his niche as a mentor.
“I embrace it, I welcome the challenge,” Alex said of his role. “I’m comfortable doing it now, talking to people, doing what I need to do. A couple of years ago, I don’t know if I was comfortable with it, but now I’ve matured and I’m real comfortable with it.”
Excellent to hear.
Isaac Humphries’ friends from Australia may come to the Louisville game
The Big Aussie hasn’t been a Wildcat long, but he already knows how important the Louisville rivalry is; in fact, he’s telling his buddies from Australia they need to come see it for themselves.
“The Louisville game is just going to be crazy,” Humphries said. “I’m telling all my friends from Australia ‘You have to come over for that game, it’s going to be a big one.’”
Humphries said his friends finish high school in November, making the trip a real possibility, and they’re excited to check out the basketball culture in the Bluegrass, which is unlike anything they have at home.
“They really have no idea about much that is happening over here. They don’t understand because basketball isn’t really a big deal over there—well, it is, but it’s not like this.”
The only thing Charles Matthews doesn’t like about college is walking to class
Matthews is pretty soft-spoken, reminding me a little of Alex Poythress when he first arrived in Lexington. He did liven up a little bit when Matt asked him if he likes college so far. He loves it — except for one thing.
“I don’t really like walking to class,” Matthews laughed. “I’m used to being in a building. It’s crazy, I used to complain about having class on the third floor and having to go all the way to the basement. Now imagine having class in one building and having to walk 15 minutes to get to the next building.”
No wonder he’s on that scooter so often.
You’re going to love Mychal Mulder
Mulder reminds me of Julius Mays in that when he talks about being a Kentucky basketball player, you can hear genuine appreciation and gratitude in his voice. Mulder played at Vincennes University, a junior college, before enrolling at Kentucky, and he already loves the spotlight that comes with being a Wildcat.
“I love it,” Mulder said. “You don’t go anywhere where nobody knows who you are, right? Everyone loves basketball. I love it. It’s not something that makes me uncomfortable at all. It makes me grateful. I’m in a great city with great people and amazing fans and that’s truly special.”
Don’t worry guys, Mychal Mulder appreciates this.
More coming tonight…
By Drew Franklin on ©October 01st, 2015 @ 9:00am
Back in early September, John Calipari held a roundtable discussion with a select few members of the Lexington media in a conference room outside his office. The preseason interview lasted about an hour and was embargoed until October 1.
Well, today is October 1 and we are free to release Calipari’s comments to Big Blue Nation. And rather than boring you with the entire transcript, I hand-picked the most interesting and newsworthy quotes and pieces of information.
“We will probably be slow early.”
It’s a brand new team for John Calipari, per usual; but unlike last year, this group does not have six competitive preseason games in the Bahamas to get an early start on basketball. This year’s team will likely come out of the gate a little slower, as they find their footing and most productive style of play.
“We will probably be slow early,” warned Calipari. “That November and probably early December schedule, we’ll probably struggle some.”
Calipari wishes the NCAA would allow summer trips every year — or at the very least, more practice time in the summer.
“If you want to bring a team in or go (on a trip), I don’t understand why we wouldn’t do it every year. You have 10 days with your team. Bring teams to you and play. Bring foreign teams in. If you want to take a foreign trip, take one. But then there’s no advantage. We had an advantage last year, a big advantage.”
The Cats have only two exhibitions and two non-conference games before meeting Duke in mid-November. Knowing how bad Cal wants to win that game, it’s crucial to avoid too slow of a start this upcoming season. Gotta win that game and regain some of the momentum Duke has captured in the last year.
“We play positionless.”
The word of the summer returns!
“We play positionless,” Cal said, for like the billionth time this offseason. “We can play with three point guards. We can play with three centers, as long as you can play basketball. And guys like Tyler (Ulis) and Isaiah (Briscoe) and Jamal (Murray) and those kids who are comfortable in their own skin, they’re not in competition with the guy on their team. They are, but they’re not. So, good kids like that, they’re not worried about the other guy. They’re comfortable in how good they are.”
“I just want them ready for October.”
There is truth to the cliche “peaking too soon.” Calipari knows that and he wants his players to improve over time, not too early in the year. That gradual progression is why he believes his former teams play so well late in the year, when it matters most.
“I just want them ready for October,” he explained. “I don’t want them to be in December shape in October because the season is too long. I’ve always done this and, hopefully, that is why my teams have historically played well down the stretch.”
Calipari did very little work with his players over the summer, relegating the individual coaching to his staff, who he trusts.
He said, “I’ve got a great staff of people. We’ve got everybody we need for conditioning to weight strength. They can do all this stuff. I don’t need to be on top of everything — even though I know everything that is going on; I’m just not there.”
Cal will take over today when the Cats begin practicing for the season as a team.
“It will center around Alex.”
Despite having two projected NBA lottery picks and one of the two or three best point guards in college basketball, Kentucky will go as Alex Poythress goes. He is the centerpiece of this year’s team, according to Calipari.
“What we do, it will center around Alex, I believe. Tyler and the guards are going to be what they are. Charles (Matthews) and Mychal (Mulder), Derek (Willis) — one of those guys will step up and break through a little bit. You’ve got: Marcus Lee’s way better, way more confident. Skal (Labissiere), seven-foot, and Isaac (Humphries), seven feet. But you don’t have a beast, and that’s Alex. So a lot of what will happen for us and our team is how quickly he can–you know–start being who he is.”
“You don’t have anybody like him. You have no one that is that physical, that tough; that–you know–the ability to just go get balls and make plays. We have no one like that on the team. So if he does what he can do, the rest of the guys will fall into what they are.”
The key to Poythress’ success will be getting him comfortable with his role. When he was recruited three years ago, Calipari knew he would have to mold him into a small forward, because he lacked the skill set. But now, the game is evolving and going smaller. Poythress can be a power forward in the NBA, and a very good power forward at Kentucky next season.
“That’s exactly what he can play and play well, and be a skilled four. And be a beast four.”
“He will lead this team in his own way.”
Continuing his analysis of a senior Alex Poythress, Calipari said, “I just want this to work for him. He’s a great kid. He will lead this team in his own way. But he’s got to get completely where he’s comfortable just letting it go. Right now, he goes but you know he’s still — there’s going to be tentativeness. But the mental part of that, for awhile, it will be there.”
“Skal’s not there yet.”
Calipari is hesitant to name Skal Labissiere the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, as he’s projected by several services. The freshman big man still has a lot of work to do, much like Karl-Anthony Towns, this year’s No. 1 pick, did when he arrived on campus last summer.
“Skal’s not there yet. The coaches tell me Skal is further along than Karl. I don’t believe so, but I can’t remember. But he’s got a ways to go.”
Labissiere has drawn early comparisons to Anthony Davis, and though it’s good to hear, it is extremely farfetched.
“He’s not that, believe me,” said Cal, emphatically. “Anthony Davis is a freak of nature. Anthony Davis, I’m guessing within the next few years, will be the best player in the universe. Like, the universe. Okay? All these kids are different. They have different mental makeups; they have different work capacities; they have a different toughness about them because how they were brought up. They’re all different. All I want him to do is be the best he can be and I’m not comparing him to anybody. I’m telling you, he’s got a ways to go. He knows it, though. He’ll be the first to tell you.”
That being said, Labissiere’s development is critical to Kentucky’s success. He may not be Anthony Davis, but he will need to be great in his own right.
“For us to be what we can be as a team, he’s gotta have a presence. Like, people gotta know: ‘Oh man, look at this kid.’ He’s got a jump shot; he’s really skilled — that you start saying this kid is for real.”
“I want everybody to eat, but this is not communism.”
Playing time will be earned, whether that be a rotation of five, six, seven, eight or nine players. Things will not be distributed equally in a communistic system.
“This is not communism. I’m not sitting here telling you 10 guys play. We may play six guys. If six guys are way better than the others, then I’ll play six guys. I’ve done it before. I’ll play seven. I’ll play eight, but they have to find their way.”
If someone wants to see the court, they will need to ask themselves, ‘What does this team need me to do?’ If their value is to make shots, they’ll need to make shots. If they’re a lockdown defender, they’ll need to lock down defensively.
“When someone deserves to play more, they play more,” Cal explained. “If someone deserves to get the most shots, they do. I want everybody to eat, but this is not communism. This isn’t the eighth grade league.”
“I did what I did last year because I had no choice.”
When asked why the platoon system is not an option in 2015-16 — by Jerry Tipton, of course — Calipari was quick to say last year was the exception and it won’t be done again.
“I did what I did last year because I had no choice,” he said. “Everybody deserved to play; there was not a whole lot of difference between guys and that’s what I did. I did that for the players. But some of my best teams, I’ve played five guys, six guys — some of my best teams. Last year was a good team.”
“Some of my best teams have been where you’re playing less guys,” he continued. “Last year’s team was an anomaly… That may never happen again, where someone has that many good players on a good team. And they’re all good kids and selfless and make it work.”
“Wish we would’ve won all 40, it would’ve been nice.”
You didn’t think he could talk for an hour and not mention the Wisconsin loss, did you?
Unlike us, Cal moved on from the heartbreaking exit in the semifinals, one game shy of a title shot against Duke. However, he does wish the 40-0 pipe dream had become a reality.
“Wish we would’ve won all 40,” he said. “It would’ve been nice. But we did something that, in all likelihood, will never be done again.”
“That team did stuff that — the reason it can’t be done is because, if you’re in a bad league and you get in the tournament, you’re going to get banged somewhere. Or if you’re in a bad league and you’re playing other really good teams, one of those teams is going to get you. You’re just not doing it. And then to do what we did, in the league we were in, with the schedule we played; to get that close and every game, every team played out of their minds.”
“Think about how well Notre Dame played. Notre Dame should’ve beat us. They played one out of five games like that, but that one was us. Wisconsin — we get somebody down and they go away — they were fighting for their (lives). It was every game we played. I can remember the Georgia game. I can remember the Texas A&M game. How in the world did they do what they did? You come up a little bit short. But that team, what they accomplished, and individual players got better? You look at each guy; they all benefited. Every one of them benefitted by it.”
“Isaac is a seven-foot Josh Harrellson.”
Isaac Humphries is the second coming of Jorts, according to Cal’s early observations of the seven-footer.
“I’m not talking Josh Harrellson my first year, I’m talking Josh Harrellson my second year.”
Humphries is only seventeen, and his body reflects that, so he’ll need to bulk up before he is a major contributor. But he already has the touch around the rim and his late addition to the roster filled a major hole in the front court.
“The biggest thing is it gives you some depth,” said Cal of Humphries reclassifying and committing to UK. “God forbid Alex doesn’t come back the way he needs to, we didn’t have enough guys. We just didn’t. But Jamal played with him and told me what he was. Then I see him and the kid is really skilled, like, he can make 15-footers and he’ll make his free throws. Anything around the goal, he makes. If he shoots it, you’re thinking it’s going in.”
“You want a general out there that you want to follow, and you want to follow him.”
Speaking of his point guard, Tyler Ulis, Calipari said, “He’s got a toughness about him. He wants to win and he makes everybody better. You want a general out there that you want to follow, and you want to follow him.”
But you knew that already.
“Derek and Dom, I hope look at this and say: ‘This is the best opportunity since I’ve been here to play.'”
He hopes they take advantage of their best shot at minutes since they’ve been in Lexington. It’s what they do and how they play that will decide if they create opportunities.
“You want to break through? You’ve got a chance.”
Regarding Willis’ prospects for playing time, Cal said, “He could break through as a three or a four; he’s just gotta have confidence and want to do it. Do you really want to do this? Then just go do it. There’s nothing holding him back — go for it. I’m going to play the best people. If you’re one of the best people, go do it, go show it.”
“What he’s going through, normal kids go through,” Cal reminded us. “They don’t play the first couple years and then they get their opportunity. It’s just normal. But at some point, there is no excuse. Either you want to do this or you don’t. And that’s with all these kids. At some point you break through and do it.”
“Now it’s his time. Let’s go. You want to break through? You’ve got a chance.”
“Let’s figure out who we have.”
It’s way too early to label this team. With so many new pieces and very little time together, there are several unknowns heading into fall practice.
Cal will figure that out in time.
“I still don’t know how we’re going to play pick-and-rolls. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do in transition, what we’re going to flow into. I don’t know how much zone we play, if we play zone and how we’ll play against zone. Don’t know yet. I mean, will we press? This could be a good pressing team, and would it be a good pressing team because the guards can just pick up and play? Or do you press with one of those big guys on the ball, like a Marcus Lee? Or Skal? Do you put Alex on the ball? Or do you just say let’s all pick up our guards and we’ll look to run and jump and run and trap. That’s why a summer trip with this team would’ve been good, but–you know–you can only do that every fifteen years or whatever they do.”
Though the style has yet to be determined, this may be the Year of the Dribble-Drive in Lexington. With Kentucky’s skilled and trustworthy guards, it may be time to give them the ball and let them do their thing.
“Now you’re talking playing the dribble-drive stuff I did in Memphis, where you really let go of some of the ropes as a coach and let them make some of the decisions.”
More from Calipari throughout your Thursday. If you can’t wait, here is the entire audio from the preseason Q&A:
We’ve been doing these for about six weeks now. They keep getting better and better, but I don’t know how we’re going to top this one. Not only do we spend over an hour discussing Stoops’ first victory over a Top 25 opponent, but it begins with Lorenzen’s Hall of Fame story. It doesn’t get much more candid or intimate than this. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the first 30 minutes. You’ll also hear:
– A thorough analysis of DJ Eliot’s multiple “amoeba” defense that stifled Mizzou.
– The difference between a soliloquy and a centipede.
– The reason why Jared wears number 22.
– Who we haven’t seen yet that could make an impact against EKU.
Seriously, it’s the best of the best. I promise the hour and a half will NOT be a waste of time. Subscribe to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or click here to listen.
With four games under our belt, allow me to get an early start on the midseason reviews and take the Commonwealth’s pulse on all things football. What better way than in the language the kids speak these days: emoji. So, through the tiny little faces and figures that even your mom is using in texts now, here’s my take on how things are going with Mark Stoops and his squad.
As one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the league, Patrick Towles came into the season with sky-high expectations. He faltered a little bit in his debut, looking shaky in the second half vs. Louisiana Lafayette and giving life to the contingent of fans calling for Drew Barker. After a reassuring performance against South Carolina, Patrick looked awful against Florida, completing only 33% of his throws. In what may have been the most important game of his life, Patrick delivered, turning in one of his most efficient performances, going 22-27 for 249 yards, two touchdowns passing and one on the ground. Patrick’s haters aren’t totally gone, but they have been silenced…for now.
Arguably the most solid and consistent unit on the team. UK’s trio of running backs (Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp, and Mikel Horton) has kept the Cats’ offensive attack balanced. UK’s only game without a rushing touchdown was Florida, but that was a pitiful outing for the entire offense, so I’m willing to overlook it. Each of UK’s three major running backs have had their moments: Boom’s 75-yard season opening touchdown, Mikel Horton’s game-winning touchdown later that game, and JoJo’s performances against South Carolina and Missouri. It speaks to the depth of the unit that Stoops can motivate and make headlines by bumping one running back over the other for the starting spot. That’s a GOOD thing, guys.
I’d put wide receiver next to running back in terms of depth and consistency. Save Dorian Baker’s drops, I have very few complaints about the receiving corps, which is better than Kentucky’s had in years. The Florida game is the outlier, and Patrick didn’t give his receivers much of a chance to do anything. Thankfully, everything got back on track vs. Missouri, with Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker emerging as the biggest threats.
I’d like to go back to the preseason and apologize to the defense. With Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith gone to the NFL, most expected the defense to take a big step backwards, but they’ve proved us wrong. The unit was without Ryan Flannigan and Jason Hatcher for the first few games of the season (Flannigan the first three), and in the first outing against Louisiana Lafayette, our fears appeared to be legit; however, the defense turned it on against South Carolina, gave the offense every chance possible vs. Florida, and repeated that performance against Missouri. I’d argue the defense was the only good part of the Florida game, which makes the offense’s ineptitude that much more frustrating; regardless, I think we can all agree the defense has overachieved thus far.
In lieu of breaking down each defensive unit game by game, here are brief emojis for each after the win over Missouri:
Defensive line: 😊
CJ Johnson is the most recent standout on a line that’s improved over four games. Johnson had a career-high 11 tackles vs. Missouri and outplayed the Tigers’ All-SEC center Evan Boehm to earn the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honor. As Freddie Maggard pointed out earlier today, UK used a 2-4-5 defense against Missouri, a new scheme specific to the Tigers, which explains why we didn’t see Matt Elam.
That’s a relieved face, in case you were wondering. Ryan Flannigan finally returned from injury on Saturday, and his presence was felt, even though Josh Forrest and Khalid Henderson ably held down the fort in his absence. Having Flannigan and hybrid DE/LB Jason Hatcher back helped UK’s defense become the aggressor vs. Missouri, a trend that hopefully continues upward.
Young, strong, and fearless. True freshman Chris Westry is the obvious standout at corner, but veterans AJ Stamps and Marcus McWilson have also stepped up at safety. The thing I love most about Westry is teams keep targeting him because of his youth and he keeps proving them wrong.
Commonwealth Stadium atmosphere
The opening night of the new Commonwealth Stadium was like your first major concert. You start pregaming before noon, get sunburnt, forget to eat, enjoy it for a while, tell yourself how awesome it is to keep your spirits up, and finally, at the first quiet moment, you can’t wait to sit down. By the end of the night, you’re exhausted, dehydrated, and just.want.to.go.home. It didn’t help matters that the game was a little too close for comfort at the end, but oh well. All around, a great day.
The BBN went in prepared for the Florida game, properly hydrated and fueled by 28 years of losses to the Gators. I wasn’t there, but by all accounts, the scene around Commonwealth Stadium was electric before the game, with the biggest Catwalk crowd ever and a special feeling in the air leading up to kickoff. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, and people were so bitter about the loss they actually complained it was TOO LOUD. Quelle horreur! Fortunately, the crowd responded last Saturday for the Missouri game, not quite filling the stadium up but being loud enough to make a difference.
All in all, the atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium is ten times better than ever before. I can’t wait to see what it’s like for the Thursday night game against Auburn.
Coming into this season, UK fans were cautiously optimistic about going to a bowl. Hype spiked a bit when some national media members pushed their chips in for the Cats, but for the most part, projections ranged from 6-7 wins. A so-so performance against a good Louisiana Lafayette team didn’t do much to change that, but a win over South Carolina skyrocketed the BBN’s hopes, just in time for them to be dragged down by Florida yet again. Fortunately, the Cats rebounded with their best win yet over #25 Missouri to make the path to a bowl not only manageable, but promising.
“Grove Street Party” popularity
Coming into this season, “Grove Street Party” was a nice little reminder of the South Carolina win, the fun video you’d watch to get yourself hyped up for football. When the Cats beat South Carolina in Columbia and the locker room video surfaced of the team dancing to it, the song skyrocketed to popularity once again, with EVERYONE in the Commonwealth, babies to grannies, singing “It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party” and tweeting they GOT A WHOLE LOTTA MONEY (as do iTunes and Waka Flocka after the song’s Bluegrass renaissance.) After the loss to Florida, I vowed to never listen to the song again, but sure enough, found myself bopping along during the Missouri game.
Basketball interest level
Had Kentucky lost to Missouri, the pendulum would have quickly swung in basketball’s direction. Fortunately, the Cats beat the Tigers, keeping football alive and well…for now. Big Blue Madness campout starts tomorrow, putting basketball back in the headlines, but the real indicator of football’s ability to co-exist with basketball will be which storyline reigns supreme the weekend of October 15-17: the Auburn game, Big Blue Madness, or the Kings/Pelicans exhibition game (probably not the latter). If the Cats can upset the Tigers, they’ll move to 5-1 (unless they fall on their face vs. EKU) and the BBN will be talking about the oblong ball well into November.
That’s the only word I can think of in describing how I felt while watching defensive coordinator DJ Eliot on Saturday night. In between tweeting game updates, it became noticeable that the Wildcats’ defensive scheme and substitution pattern had a new look and increased sense of urgency. It took three repetitions of watching the game to fully comprehend Eliot’s intent and just how well it was executed.
— Dependent upon down-distance and field location, UK varied both its personnel and scheme before every play. That level of defensive diversity required detailed preparation. DJ Eliot called his best game as the Wildcat defensive coordinator.
— Throughout a large portion of the night, Kentucky played with only two down-linemen, four linebackers, and five defensive backs. So, a 2-4-5 defense if that’s even such a thing.
— The two defensive linemen presented a pre-snap look, then shifted before the play’s start. In addition, an OLB/DE hybrid player (Hatcher/Ware) would then initiate the play in a stance before standing up post-snap to either blitz or drop into pass coverage. Offensive blocking schemes differ against an odd or even front. By diversifying the line of scrimmage, the Cats played an amoeba defense that had little pre-snap shape or definition. But following the snap of the football, one thing became certain: Kentucky was definitely the aggressor. Eliot’s plan to confuse succeeded and was audacious in design.
Missouri struggled in identifying the Mike, or middle linebacker, which dictates blocking assignments. Much like the two down-defensive linemen, inside linebackers Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan lined up all over the football field. Denzil Ware and Jason Hatcher mirrored their inside counterparts. As a whole, the linebacker corps wreaked havoc through pre- and post-snap organized chaos.
— A basketball analogy would be that if following each made basket, the opposing team rotated defenses between a 2-3 zone, 1-3-1, match-up zone, man-to-man, box-and-one, and a triangle-and-two, all after the basketball crossed half court. And, at various times during the game, it combined two or three of the aforementioned defenses. The point guard would be stressed to call the right play. Same situation applies to quarterbacks.
— Ryan Flannigan’s return changed the dynamic of both the defense and team. Having two prominent inside linebackers allows DJ Eliot the latitude to take chances. An aggressive defense produces turnovers. Thus, improving field position to shorten the field for the offense. Flannigan’s closing speed to tackle and ability to blitz were apparent. Flannigan finished 2014 strong with back-to-back, double-digit tackle games. His improvement from the Louisville to Missouri game was astonishing.
— Denzil Ware’s quarterback sack was text book. Following his questionable personal foul penalty, Ware lined up and whipped the Mizzou left tackle by batting down the blockers hands which led to a straight line path to Maty Mauk. Ware’s weekly progression is astounding.
— Eliot did mix in some traditional 3-4. Earlier this year, we discussed that UK’s defense is best labeled as “Multiple” more so than 3-4 or 4-3. The Missouri game was a classic example of that multiplicity. It varied so much, it took multiple reviews to be able to even attempt to write this post.
— Kentucky blitzed from every imaginable pre-snap look and from virtually every defensive position on the field. Nickel Blake McClain rushed the passer on many occasions as did strong safety Marcus McWilson. Inside linebackers Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan also blitzed from various angles. The pair’s athleticism and closing speed overwhelmed the Mizzou offensive line even during plays in which the quarterback was not flushed from the pocket or sacked. Jason Hatcher and Denzil Ware joined in the blitz onslaught from the outside linebacker position.
— When not blitzing, Forrest or Flannigan played a “Spy” technique, which means they stayed in the middle of the field mirroring Maty Mauk. Depending on how far the defender is from the line of scrimmage while playing this technique, the concept can also be labelled as a “Robber.”
— Regardless of scheme, defensive intent is for linebackers to make the majority of tackles. That happened against Missouri: Josh Forrest (9), Ryan Flannigan (8), Jason Hatcher (8), and Denzil Ware (5).
— Cory Johnson was unblockable. Going into the game, reasonable concern was that Missouri’s All-SEC center, Evan Boehm, would anchor and coordinate the Tiger offensive line. Johnson continually beat Boehm in one-on-one scenarios, fought through double teams, chased down ball carriers downfield, and relentlessly rushed the quarterback.
Johnson’s performance was as much a mind-set as athletic accomplishment. In other words, he simply refused to be blocked.
— Nose tackle Melvin Lewis did not play as many snaps as in previous games. This was due to scheme. Nickel and Dime packages consists of only two down defensive linemen. The pair is normally designated pass rushers. That limits NT reps, same goes for Matt Elam.
— When Mauk broke containment, fundamental errors occurred as well as holding penalties that were not called. One instance was when Blake McClain took an inside path on a blitz. By not keeping his outside shoulder free, Mauk escaped the pocket for a first down. Blitzing linebackers also over-ran or missed tackles for sacks. As a whole, containing Mauk in the pocket wasn’t perfect, but effective enough for the win.
— True freshman quarterback Drew Lock entered the game and had initial success. On his first play, Lock scrambled for a first down. During that run, a blitzing Josh Forrest was held, but no flag left the referee’s pocket. Lock then broke containment for a 12-yard gain. Later in the series on third down, CJ Johnson split a double team and joined Josh Forrest for a crucial sack that took Missouri out of field goal range.
— On third down, Mizzou repeatedly called an option variation in hopes of springing Maty Mauk. UK did not allow separation between QB and the pitch man. This forced Mauk to run the football back to awaiting tacklers.
— The Wildcat defense won first down. By holding Mizzou to minimal yardage, the Tigers played behind the chains for the majority of the night. The only series that Mizzou had continued first down success was in the game’s final drive.
— Ryan Flannigan was isolated on a wheel route against Missouri’s fastest offensive player. A wheel route is when the offensive player initially runs toward the sideline then vertically turns up-field. Flannigan ran step for step with the MU speedster as the pass fell incomplete.
— In the fourth quarter, cornerback Cody Quinn dropped a certain pick-six. Two series prior, Blake McClain was called for a questionable pass interference penalty. The football was badly underthrown. AJ Stamps intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown. However, during the play, the MU receiver attempted to run through McClain to catch the football, thus the flag was thrown. In my humble opinion, McClain had the right to stand his ground as the receiver backtracked to the football. In this case, both the defensive back and receiver were established in making a “football move” to make the catch. Unrealistic to expect the defensive back to merely let the receiver pass back to catch an underthrown pass.
Regardless, that’s two potential fourth quarter pick-six plays. Both testaments to DJ Eliot’s aggressive nature.
— The main reason why DJ Eliot felt comfortable to blitz from all angles was due to the veteran and next-level play of AJ Stamps. With a free safety that can self-correct front seven errors, defensive coordinators can take more chances. Stamps and McWilson have developed into a formidable safety combination.
— Missouri consistently threw in the direction of true freshman Chris Westry. Other than a pass interference penalty, the rookie excelled. His coverage skills have never been questioned. On Saturday night, Westry’s open field tackling took precedence as he finished with five stops.
— One of the game’s biggest plays came late in the fourth quarter. On third and goal, Mizzou went back to Mauk on a read option. Melvin Lewis penetrated the line of scrimmage to stop the QB for no gain. Lewis’ heads up play forced the Tigers to settle for a field goal. Ultimately, this was Missouri’s last offensive series.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
For a defense that lacks a superstar, the collective unit executed at an extremely high level. I don’t think enough credit has been given to defensive coordinator DJ Eliot. Without two starters due to injury and suspension, Eliot’s linebackers played within the system and were efficient. Once his full complement of linebackers were simultaneously on the field, they dominated. As a play caller, Eliot impressed against Mizzou with timely adjustments by shuffling personnel and dialing up creative and disruptive run/pass blitz packages.
The challenge is for his defense to sustain the same effort and intensity as it displayed against Missouri. If that happens, and his unit remains relatively healthy, the Wildcat defense is playing at a level that will keep UK within striking distance throughout the remainder of the season.
By Freddie Maggard on ©September 27th, 2015 @ 5:00pm
Back-to-back SEC East champions had won eleven consecutive road games by forcing games to be decided in the fourth quarter. Tonight, roles were reversed as the Kentucky Wildcats took a 14-10 lead into the final period and closed the door on the Tigers for a 21-13 win.
Let’s break down questions that hovered over the Cats following the Florida loss.
Question: Could Patrick Towles bounce back after the Florida frustration and silence the critics?
Answer: Yes, he did and in impressive fashion
Patrick Towles played the game of his career by going 22-27 for 249 yards with 2 TD passes and one rushing touchdown. Pat’s numbers were exceptional, but his leadership mannerisms were even better. At one point in the game, Towles completed eleven consecutive passes and made even better decisions while being pressured in the pocket. The world doubted Patrick Towles, me included. He responded like a champ. Towles played a role in all three Kentucky touchdowns: a 14-yard touchdown run, 24-yard TD pass to CJ Conrad, and by tossing a striking fade route to Dorian Baker from the five-yard line. After the Gator loss, Towles swore off Twitter. I hope that trend continues because tonight, he earned the BBN’s respect and impressed national talking heads. Very proud of and happy for Patrick.
Question: Can Shannon Dawson call a complete football game and does he become too conservative in the second half?
Answer: Yes, he can and no, he did not.
Much like the South Carolina first half, Dawson called a nearly perfect game against the SEC’s top-rated defense. This was especially obvious in the second half as Missouri adjusted and became much more aggressive in the pass rush. It went away from its 4-3 scheme by varying fronts and coverages. Kentucky’s scoring drives were sustained, resourceful, and balanced. Play action passes kept MU linebackers honest. When the Cats needed to get physical to salt the fourth quarter lead, JoJo Kemp ran behind his pads and an offensive line that struggled a week earlier but impressed against the formidable Missouri defensive front seven. UK scored 21 points against a Tiger defense that led the conference by surrendering only 9.7 points per game.
Question: Could the defense repeat their performance that stymied the Gators?
The night belonged to CJ Johnson and his eleven tackles. He disrupted and frustrated All-SEC center Evan Boehm. LB Ryan Flannigan’s return from injury exponentially increased the overall unit’s speed as he made eight tackles while breaking up two passes. Josh Forrest was his steady self with nine tackles and a tackle for loss. Jason Hatcher deflected a pass and had eight tackles. Denzil Ware contributed with his first college football sack and five tackles.
A look at the defensive stat sheet showed that other than defensive lineman CJ Johnson, the Cats were led in tackles by its four linebackers. That is playing within defensive intent and design by maintaining constant and disciplined gap responsibility. NT Melvin Lewis and DE Farrington Huguennin ate up blockers which allowed the linebackers to run free and make tackles.
DJ Eliot dialed up an efficient game plan that presented varied pre- and post-snap looks as well as situational substitutions. The Cats did allow QB Maty Mauk out of the pocket at times, but overall, held the Mizzou quarterback and offense in check. MU gained only 111 rushing yards. That low total was mainly due to troublemaking defensive linemen and an aggressive linebacker corps that was backed up by sure tackling defensive backs. Total team effort.
Question: Would the fans respond after a disappointing Florida loss?
The 58,008 that took the time to support the team were outstanding. As for the empty seaters, sorry you missed one heck of a game. The BBN was loud. Hats off to the students, again. This week, the team provided several moments for the crowd to explode. It didn’t disappoint. Very proud of the fans. You deserved this win. My postgame walk through the parking lot was wonderful. I get more joy by seeing fan excitement than watching the team in the Victory formation.
Question: Would the receivers get rid of the dropsies?
Answer: Yes, they did.
Dorian Baker’s circus catch is what was expected from the sophomore since the day he signed on the dotted line. The end-zone fade was a next-level reception. In addition to those grabs, the vertical route completion that was called back due to penalty displayed his strength and speed against an elite SEC cornerback. Dorian was triumphant in one-on-one situations.
Garrett Johnson had himself a night, to the tune of six catches for 119 yards. With many of his catches across the middle of the field, Johnson exhibited grit, guts, and determination. The sky is the limit for Juice. The group’s talent has never been questioned. The concern was could it chain four quarters together and make both the routine as well as athletic catch in critical situations? Tonight, answers to both questions were an astounding yes.
Question: Will CJ Conrad or any tight end ever catch a pass?
Answer: CJ Conrad’s night resulted in 3 catches for 55 yards including a 24-yard touchdown reception. I’m not sure when Commonwealth Stadium was louder; after Patrick Towles’ quarterback sneak to secure the win or when Conrad made his first catch down the middle of the field. It was only a matter of time and opportunity.
— Unlike vs. Florida — when at no time did I think UK would win the game — against Missouri, there was no time that I felt that UK would lose. Kentucky was the better team. Credit Missouri for its past two-year run, but in 2015, personnel advantage went to the Wildcats. That’s a testament to selective recruiting, player development, and playing with a mentality that mirrors its head coach. In essence, Kentucky’s program is taking shape much like Missouri did under Gary Pinkel.
— In a game that featured two of the SEC’s best centers in UK’s Jon Toth and Mizzou’s Evan Boehm, Toth had the better outing. Jon consistently opened holes for UK runners while Boehm had his hands full with Melvin Lewis and CJ Johnson. Center has been the offense’s most consistent position. Tonight’s performance showed the SEC what we’ve been saying since preseason camp: Jon Toth is perhaps the league’s best at that position.
— For most of the night, UK offensive line consisted of four redshirt sophomores and the aforementioned Jon Toth. Regulars Jordan Swindle, Zach West, and George Asafo-Adjei didn’t see much, if any game action. Replacing the injured Swindle, former walk-on Cole Mosier didn’t blink against the SEC’s leader in tackles for loss, DE Charles Harris. Ramsey Meyers and Nick Haynes also contributed with effective blocking along the line of scrimmage. This combination may have a different look, but it played the best game the five-some have played in 2015. Monday’s press conference will be interesting to see if depth chart changes are permanent, or temporary due to injury.
— Here’s a look at the statistic the best represents Kentucky’s offensive output. Missouri’s defense was giving up only 217 total yards per game. Kentucky gained 369. On average, Mizzou had held its first three opponents to 112 passing yards; Kentucky’s 249 more than doubled that number. The Tigers led the SEC in pass efficiency defense, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 54% completion percentage. Patrick Towles’ 81% beat that number by 27 percentage points. Again, Shannon Dawson called an excellent game. The players effectively executed his plan for 4 quarters.
— UK’s defense held Mizzou to 13 points, the fewest points allowed by UK against a ranked opponent since Ole Miss in 1993.
— Down the stretch, JoJo Kemp’s physical running style proved too much for Missouri. His 13 carries for 68 tough yards against the SEC’s stingiest defense provided a significant boost. Kemp’s yards after contact exemplified his effort, toughness, and effectiveness against the Tigers.
— Won’t show up in the stat sheet, but Kyle Meadows played an excellent football game.
— Mark Stoops is 7-0 when going into the fourth quarter with a lead.
— In a season-defining game, Kentucky beat a ranked SEC opponent and closed September at 3-1. Last night was critical in the Cats’ path to bowl eligibility. Now, realistically six wins is the new minimum expectation. EKU is next. Auburn is struggling. Optimism surrounds the Kentucky football program.
— Several recruits attended the game. I’m fairly certain that they left either highly impressed or solidified their commitment to Vince Marrow. UK played its fourth game in its fourth uniform combination and beat Missouri in convincing fashion. Yes, eight points is convincing when against the defending SEC East champs. And yes again, uniform combinations matter to impressionable prospects. Missouri may be fairly new to the SEC, but its brand is national.
— How big was tonight? UK’s win over Missouri was its first victory over a Top 25 team in 19 tries.
— Mark Stoops won his first game against a ranked opponent.
Later in the week, expect the “Eye in the Sky” post but tonight, it’s all positive. X’s and O’s can wait. Has Kentucky turned the proverbial corner? Not sure, there’s lots of football left. But it sure did take a giant step forward in changing the program’s SEC and national perspective. Within the Cats first four games, the most valuable aspect doesn’t just lie within its 3-1 record. I’d argue that game film of three hard fought victories and one heart-breaking loss have provided invaluable teachable moments that will only benefit Stoops’ team down the stretch. Incredibly proud and happy for Mark Stoops. I’m even happier for the BBN who’s patiently waited for a night of this magnitude. Enjoy the moment, then move forward. Now let’s pack the house vs. EKU. I’m pretty sure both teams will not be reliant upon pregame locker room speeches for motivation.
How ’bout those Wildcats?
Last night, Kentucky snapped an SEC home losing streak and the winless streak to Missouri by getting the job done in Commonwealth Stadium. The 21-13 victory over the No. 25 Tigers moved UK to 3-1 on the season and third place in the SEC East. It was a win that changed the entire landscape of the rest of the season.
Mark Stoops said afterward, “Obviously a very big victory for us. I’m very proud of the team. Like I told them just a moment ago, it was just very gratifying to win a game like that against such a quality opponent in a hard-fought SEC football game.”
Now that we’ve slept on it (a little bit), let’s take a moment before NFL Sunday to reflect on the many positives from the game. There’s plenty to celebrate, but here are a few takeaways as I look back on the pivotal W.
A bowl bid is very, very likely.
With two conference wins already on the board, a bowl bid is almost a certainty for Kentucky. Assuming Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte are wins, the Cats will only need to beat a very bad Vanderbilt team to hit the six-win plateau on the season. And that’s just doing the bare minimum.
Auburn is now a very winnable contest and anything can happen in the Tennessee and Mississippi State games. The bowl ticket may be punched long before most people expected this year.
Suddenly those 8-4 predictions some optimistic fans made in the preseason don’t sound too farfetched. There is still a lot of football to be played, but closing out the first four-game stretch at 3-1 is a dream situation.
Patrick Towles is Kentucky’s quarterback.
Sorry, Drew Barker fans. Not this week.
Towles played arguably his best game as a Wildcat when it mattered most. With the weight of the Big Blue Nation on his shoulders and a quarterback controversy breathing down his neck, he stepped up and silenced his critics with a three-touchdown night. Two of those came through the air on 22-for-27 passing for 249 yards, while the other was Kentucky’s first points on the board, a 14-yard scramble to paydirt.
Towles’ 81.5 completion percentage was the best of his career and it came against a very good Mizzou defense.
Hello, C.J. Conrad.
Well would you look at that: Kentucky does have a tight end in the passing game.
Conrad hauled in the first three receptions of his career and scored his first college touchdown last night. The TD came on first and goal from the 24-yard line when UK trailed by a field goal in the third quarter.
Conrad has blocked well all season, but his emergence as a pass-catcher really changes things for the offense. Looking forward to more of what we saw last night throughout the season.
Dorian Baker is on his way to stardom.
I can’t remember a swaggy receiver in Lexington like Dorian Baker. There have been good receivers, but Baker has the ‘it’ factor fans love to see at that position. From the one-handed grab (filthy) to his eagerness to knock someone’s head off in the open field, Baker is a very exciting player to watch. He knows it, too.
He and Garrett Johnson make one of the better receiving duos we’ve seen in Kentucky blue. Legit weapons in the passing game.
And, can we forget about those drops now?
The offensive line held its own.
The big bodies up front played well against a very good Mizzou pass rush and they did it without Jordan Swindle, the starting left tackle and team captain. There were definitely some slip-ups, but it was a solid job of protecting Towles for the most part. Much better than the effort in the Florida game, for sure.
Kentucky has a defense.
All the talk entering the season was Kentucky will need to score a lot of points because it won’t be able to stop anyone. All offense, no defense, we thought. Boy, were we wrong. Kentucky’s defense has been solid this season and some of the biggest plays have come from the unlikeliest heroes. (Looking at you, J.D. Harmon.) Now, with Ryan Flannigan and Jason Hatcher back in the mix, and the young guys finding their groove, linebacker play has improved and will only get better each game.
And what about C.J. Johnson last night? A career-high 11 tackles and a sack on the defensive line. The line is getting better everyday, too.
27 points allowed in games against Florida and the defending SEC East champ. Didn’t see that one coming.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 27th, 2015 @ 12:24am
What a difference a week makes, right? After suffering another crushing loss to Florida last Saturday, the Cats rebounded tonight, beating #25 ranked Missouri 21-13.
There was a LOT riding on this game for Kentucky, and they delivered on almost every front, Patrick Towles silencing the haters, the defense holding up their part of the bargain, and the program getting a crucial win, its first over a ranked opponent in five years.
Let’s break it down, because that was a lot of fun.
Patrick Towles redeemed himself
Towles’ play was the story of the game. After a bad showing against Florida, many in the fan base were calling for Patrick’s curly-locked head. Towles swore off social media to escape the haters this week, and his focus today showed. Towles was 22-27 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions, and added another 21 yards on the ground for a touchdown. “Patty Feet” was back in a big way, with Towles scrambling like the QB of old. Jared Lorenzen called for Patrick to take back the reins and scramble when needed, and thankfully, he did tonight.
After the week he’s had and the game he turned in tonight, can you blame him for celebrating like this?
Stoops told reporters afterwards that he’s pretty stingy with game balls, but he had to give one to Patrick tonight.
“I gave him a gameball. I thought he played a really good game and made some really good plays with his feet and was aggressive down the stretch,” Stoops said. He added he was careful not to pile on the criticism before the game. “I don’t like to get involved with that. I really didn’t say much. Just go do what he does every day. Give him support and give him a pat on the back.”
Five guys who were also crucial
- Garrett Johnson: “Towles to Juice” is becoming a familiar refrain in Commonwealth Stadium, and Johnson led the team in receiving tonight with 6 catches for 119 yards. He and Patrick are developing some major chemistry, and I feel most confident when the ball goes in his direction.
- Ryan Flannigan: The senior linebacker finally returned to the field tonight after recovering from a nagging shoulder injury, and his presence made a difference. Flannigan had 8 tackles tonight, and kept the pressure on Maty Mauk and his receiving corps. It’s really nice to have him back.
- CJ Conrad: Conrad got his first touchdown as a Wildcat tonight, finally making the highlight reel for something other than blocking. He finished with three catches for 55 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Stoops knew it was only a matter of time until the true freshman made his mark.
“I told Shannon to finally throw him the ball,” Stoops joked. “It was nice to see him get some catches. We knew it would happen.”
- Dorian Baker: After two huge drops in first quarters this season, admit it, you were a little worried when the ball headed in Baker’s direction. He didn’t help himself early on with an unfortunate unsportsmanlike penalty, but rebounded quickly to finish with 5 receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. This catch should be in the SportsCenter Top 10:
- JoJo Kemp: Kemp has become the forgotten running back in UK’s rotation, but he looked like the JoJo from the South Carolina series tonight, leading Kentucky’s rushing attack with 13 carries for 66 yards. In typical JoJo fashion, he came through in clutch moments, giving Kentucky renewed life when drives were becoming stale.
“I think he really had some critical runs,” Stoops told Tom Leach. “You never know who will have the big game, and our backs understand that.”
- Honorable mention: I could go on and on, but for brevity’s sake, game balls also go out to Cory Johnson, Chris Westry, Jason Hatcher, and AJ Stamps. As Stoops emphasized in his postgame remarks, this was a team win in every form and fashion.
UK finally got a third quarter touchdown
The third quarter has not been Kentucky’s friend this season, and I was pretty worried when the Cats seemed to implode after halftime. Patrick Towles, who looked so confident to start the game, was reverting to bad habits, and the rest of the team wasn’t doing much to help him out. Thankfully, CJ Conrad came along and broke the dry spell, hauling in his first touchdown reception as a Wildcat. That was enough to earn him a shoutout from legendary UK tight end Jacob Tamme:
— Jacob Tamme (@JacobTamme) September 27, 2015
The pass interference call on Blake McClain was terrible
Again, it’s a win, so I don’t want to harp on negative things, but the pass interference call on Blake McClain at the start of the fourth quarter was really frustrating. The officials claimed McClain grabbed the other guy’s jersey, which wiped out a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by AJ Stamps. Thankfully, the defense stood tall and recovered, but that could have been a call that would come to haunt the Cats.
Stoops apparently danced in the locker room
Garrett Johnson told reporters that Stoops joined in the postgame locker room revelry, breaking out some dance moves that hopefully were recorded by a player with a quick iPhone trigger. Stoops laughed it off in his interview with Tom Leach, claiming that he was only trying to get the guys rounded up to talk about the win and got lost in the moment, but can you imagine? I’ve seen a LOT of awkward dancing to “Grove Street Party” in the past two weeks, but Stoops dancing would probably take the cake. Stoops paused several times during his remarks, telling reporters and Tom Leach the win felt like a blur. Apparently defensive coordinator DJ Eliot was so happy he walked around the Wildcat Den randomly hugging media members. As he kept repeating, this was a “huge win.”
The path to a bowl looks MUCH more manageable now
A week ago, the world looked pretty bleak, didn’t it? The loss to Florida bruised the hopes of a fragile fan base that was finally believing, but, thankfully, the team’s resolve remained strong. Patrick Towles silenced the haters and showed he’s still the guy to lead this team. Most importantly, the path to the postseason looks promising, with the Cats halfway to bowl eligibility. All they need to do is beat EKU, Charlotte, and Vanderbilt. Four games in, would you have imagined a more manageable path? If the Cats can’t handle that, they don’t deserve to go to a bowl.
“Much like a week ago, we were put in a situation where you needed to make some plays,” Stoops said. “It was nice to do it tonight. We were on the wrong end a week ago, but we have been in a bunch of close football games this year and came out with three victories – so, proud of that.”
After falling on their face against Florida, the Cats took care of business and took a major step forward tonight, beating a ranked opponent and moving one step closer to a bowl. Not only that, they overcame some mistakes and won. How often have we been able to say that? For that reason alone, we should all feel like this right now:
By Drew Franklin on ©September 24th, 2015 @ 11:00pm
I toured Kentucky football’s new recruiting room in the East end zone of Commonwealth Stadium today and it is the real deal, very impressive.
For the past 20 or so years, the program used folding tables and chairs in the corner of Nutter Field House to entertain recruits and their families on game days. The long distance between Nutter and Commonwealth made it nearly impossible for coaches to check in with the guests prior to kick off.
Now, the Cats have one of the best game day recruiting facilities in all of college football, complete with direct field access and an unbelievable patio. It’s easily accessible from the locker room so coaches are in and out, before and after games.
Dan Berezowitz, Director of Recruiting, told us, “We’ve had nothing but rave reviews from the families who have been here. They now feel a part of everything.”
When the special guests arrive at Commonwealth Stadium, they take a private elevator to the recruiting room. It is the only stop the elevator makes, and recruits and their family members are the only people allowed on it.
Here is the first thing they see when the elevator doors open:
A 90-degree right turn puts them in front of a hologram wall, featuring Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers; Larry Warford, Detroit Lions; Avery Williamson, Tennessee Titans; Za’Darius Smith, Baltimore Ravens; and Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers.
The hologram images change from UK uniforms to NFL uniforms as you pass.
I did my best to get a video of the hologram. It’s not great, but you get the point:
Pretty cool hologram wall at the entrance of UK's new recruiting room. pic.twitter.com/MDNjkzKC28
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) September 24, 2015
Here’s a look at one-half of the massive room:
Stoops (or whoever) can address the room from this podium:
Check out one of the many enormous televisions scattered around the room. Playstations are available for any vistor who wants a quick game of Madden.
And here’s a view of the patio and stadium from inside:
If recruits want to step out and feel the electricity of the game day atmosphere, the patio has plenty of seating to take it all in:
It makes for quite a view:
One caveat: NCAA rules require everyone to be in their seats during play. Therefore the patio and recruiting room are completely empty (aside from a handful of staff members) while the game is going on. Recruits can return during halftime for food, more Madden or potty breaks, but must be gone at the start of the second half. Booooooooo, NCAA.
Now let’s say Mark Stoops wants alone time with one of the guys, to really sell him on what he can become at the University of Kentucky. They can go downstairs to Stoops’ private office beneath the main room:
It is still under construction, but here’s how it looks as of today:
Pretty cool, right? The entire thing is a million times better than the previous setup. I really can’t put into words how bad it was before this new renovation. Now it’s among the best anywhere, maybe even THE best in the country. No other stadium in football has a patio to entertain visitors. #ChangeTheGame
And now for a BONUS!!
After wandering around the recruiting area, I also got to take a look at the pregame room. This is where the team sits in the 20 minutes between warming up on the field and running out of the tunnel. In years past they returned to the locker room, but now they meet in here before taking the field:
This message is on one of the walls inside:
Then, when it’s finally time, the walk to the field. When these doors open, it’s on.
By Freddie Maggard on ©September 24th, 2015 @ 12:00pm
“Mizzou Made” is Gary Pinkel’s description of the Missouri Tiger football program. One of the slogan’s key components is player development. In recent history, few have done it better than the Missouri head coach. Pinkel’s teams have won five of the last eight divisional championships, a stretch than spans both the Big 12 and SEC. How the Tigers have done so has varied, but two constants have stood the test of time: Win the fourth quarter and a fundamentally strong, disruptive, and opportunistic defense.
Missouri comes to Commonwealth Stadium undefeated, ranked, and with a remarkable 11-game road win streak. Below is a preview of Saturday’s critical SEC matchup as well as a position group advantages and analysis for both teams:
Kentucky’s currently ranked 11th in total and scoring offense. Missouri is 13th in scoring offense and last in both total and rushing productivity. UK averages 25 points per game, compared Mizzou’s 23.3.
Maty Mauk’s statistics are not overwhelming. But consistent with the “Mizzou Made” mantra, Mauk’s 2014 fourth quarter QB rating led all SEC passers. Telling number.
In 2015, Mauk enters the Kentucky game completing 42-of-80 passes for 474 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. His ability to extend plays and drives through pocket improvisation presents a familiar challenge to DJ Eliot’s defense. True freshman Drew Lock has also taken snaps. The rookie has impressed by completing 60% of his passes.
Kentucky’s Patrick Towles has been inconsistent. With completion percentages of 47, 72, and 33%, the Wildcat offense has yet to chain together two complete halves of football. Following the Florida debacle, UK’s junior quarterback’s Saturday performance has career implications. All eyes will be on Patrick Towles on Saturday. A bounce back, accurate, and composed game is obligatory.
Running Back: Kentucky
Boom Williams has established himself as a top-five SEC running back. In fact, Williams is currently the league’s fifth leading rusher averaging 107 yards per game. His 107 yards per game is exactly the number Missouri averages as a team. Mikel Horton and JoJo Kemp have also exemplified rushing success.
Missouri’s total rushing yards per game is good for last in the SEC. However, its 2014 thousand-yard rusher, Russell Hansbrough, has missed time due to injury. He is expected to return against Kentucky. His presence will automatically boost Mizzou’s inept running game.
Offensive Line: Kentucky
As I type this segment, I can feel the collective Huh? reader comments. No secret that Coach John Schlarman’s unit struggled against Florida. But, in reality, Kentucky is four spots ahead of Missouri in total offense. Much like its quarterback, the big guys up front will be called upon to execute at a higher level. Problem is, Missouri’s defense is ranked at the top of the league in total defense.
Missouri’s offensive line is led by center Evan Boehm. The All-SEC and All-American player has 43 consecutive starts and is the anchor of the Tiger offensive line. The Tigers had to replace key starters from last year’s SEC East championship team.
Wide Receiver: Kentucky
This article is becoming a copy-and-paste post. See above. Wildcat receivers have shown flashes of dominance. But against Florida, those flashes were overshadowed by drops and missed opportunities. However, collectively, UK’s receiving corps is deeper and more talented.
Missouri’s leading receiver is J’Mon Moore. Moore has 11 catches for 130 yards but only one touchdown. Youth is common for Tiger pass-catchers and has led to inconsistency and dropped passes.
Tight End/Fullback: Missouri
Sean Culkin is Maty Mauk’s security blanket. The veteran tight end has 11 catches on the season for 97 yards. Culkin is a drive extending receiver that is also strong at point of attack blocking.
Kentucky’s tight ends have gone zero for September in catches. A number that perplexes the BBN. At some point, highly vaunted freshmen CJ Conrad and Darryl Long will have to be targeted.
The Tigers are the nation’s seventh ranked defense and fourth in tackles for loss. In addition, Missouri is ranked number one in the following SEC defensive categories: Total, pass, scoring, and pass efficiency. The Tigers will play a 4-3 scheme that varies dependent upon down-distance and field placement. Its strength is, well, all over the field. There are no glaring weakness. Extremely well coached defense.
Defensive Line: Missouri
Missouri is Defensive Line U. The Tigers have recently selectively recruited, developed and produced NFL defensive linemen. However, it lost four potential starters from the 2014 unit that had 44 sacks on a defense that only blitzed 18% of the time. Shane Ray and Marcus Golden are now Sunday players. Rising star Harold Brantley was lost to the season from injuries sustained in a car wreck and DE Marcus Loud was dismissed from the team. This year’s unit is led by the SEC’s leader in tackles for loss, DE Charles Harris. Joining him at DE is Marcell Frazier. Both are disruptive and excellent edge pass rushers. In the middle, John Augustus and Rick Hatley are joined by the nation’s 2015 top ranted DT recruit, Terry Beckner. As a group, depth will be evident by a constant rotation of fresh defenders rotating in and out of the lineup.
Last week, UK’s Regie Meant was playing his best game as a Wildcat prior to leaving the game due to a shoulder injury. Replaced by C.J. Johnson, the senior then proceeded to pick up where Meant left off. Six tackles, a sack, and blocked kick provided energy. Nose tackles Melvin Lewis and Matt Elam tackle production has declined. However, Farrington Huguennin, playing as a fifth year defensive end, is expected to play. Seven tackles against the Gators was his second consecutive positive performance.
Weak-side linebacker Kentrell Brothers is the SEC and nation’s leading tackler. He’s also intercepted two passes and blocked kicks. He and middle linebacker Michael Sherer combine to make one of the league’s most formidable linebacker duos. They are joined by Donavin Newsom.
Ryan Flannigan is expected to play in his first game of the 2015 season. Khalid Henderson filled in during his absence and has played three rock-solid football games. With Flannigan’s return, Josh Forrest will now have a capable backup to give the productive senior a breather. Jason Hatcher’s return from suspension provided necessary pass rush. Statistically, Henderson-Forrest have more tackles than Brothers-Sherer. Even with the nation’s leading tackler in Kentrell Brothers, this comparison was closer than you’d imagine.
Cornerback Aarion Penton is the Tiger’s third leading tackler. Joining him at corner is Kenya Dennis. The pair is considered an SEC top-three combination. Safeties Anthony Sherrils and Ian Simon are active and aggressive against the run. All four are sure, open field tacklers.
Can’t say it enough, veterans Cody Quinn and J.D. Harmon have impressed after being pushed in fall camp by a plethora of talented freshmen. Chris Westry is the position’s future star. Safeties Marcus McWilson and AJ Stamps have been consistent. McWilson and Stamps are catalysts for UK’s secondary improvement. Kentucky will have interception opportunities on Saturday.
Special teams: Kentucky
All-SEC kicker Austin MacGinnis has found his 2014 mojo. Austin scored all nine of UK’s points against Florida. C.J. Johnson’s blocked field goal was a momentum-shifting play. Punter Landon Foster’s hang time and distance have at times put the coverage teams in precarious situations.
Mizzou has blocked kicks. A factor that has to be taken into consideration on Saturday. Tiger kicker Andrew Baggett has been consistent with an 80% FG percentage and 100% success rate on PATs. Both UK and Missouri are averaging right at eight yards per punt return.
What does all this mean?
Missouri’s defense is elite. In comparison to Florida, the Tigers are fundamentally stronger but won’t match the Gator’s collection of elite, future NFL talent. Statistically, Mizzou is better. Before the “well who have they played” questions surface, the same could have been said about Florida. Missouri’s defense will be the best coached and most fundamentally sound unit that the Wildcats will face in 2015.
Missouri’s offense hasn’t impressed. Coming off an ugly 9-6 home win over UCONN, expect Mizzou’s offense to look much different with the potential return of RB Russell Hansbrough. QB Maty Mauk is a stone-cold winner. 17-4 as a starter and his SEC best fourth quarter quarterback rating support that claim. Offensively, the Tigers will lull you to sleep. Their intent is to take the game into the fourth quarter and rely on defense to win. As a team, Missouri is comparable to boxer Floyd Mayweather. They keep jabbing and striking points on the scorecard, but rarely win from a knock-out punch.
Kentucky’s offense hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in six quarters. Missouri is not the opponent in which to “get right.” The Wildcats will have their hands full on Saturday night. But, a potential 3-1 September record would exceed expectation. College football experts are expecting a baseball game type final score. If the game is close going into the fourth quarter, advantage Missouri. IF Kentucky scores early points and plays four quarters of efficient football, advantage goes the home team. Regardless of expectation, the truth of the matter is, UK has a legitimate chance to win a SEC home game against a ranked opponent. In fact, it’s favored to do so.
It was tough reflecting on a tough loss to Florida, but the KSR Podcast team got it together for an exceptionally entertaining performance. Jared Lorenzen, Freddie Maggard, Drew Franklin and a sick Nick Roush will help you realize the sky isn’t falling on the Kentucky football program. We looked back at Florida, but we also talked about:
- Kentrell Brothers is one person, not a pair of brothers.
- They have a Hansborough who isn’t related to Tyler.
- What’s going on at the Versailles Kroger.
- The ugly elephant in the room, “Is Patrick Towles still The Man?”
LISTEN HERE or subscribe to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes. A couple fans told me they saved their listening experience until Saturday to give something to listen to on the way to the stadium before the beginning of the pregame show. I highly recommend this move.
By Drew Franklin on ©September 22nd, 2015 @ 11:00pm
De’Aaron Fox is my new favorite basketball recruit and it’s not even close.
In case you missed it in the morning post, Fox hosted two special visitors in his home last night in Texas. The first was John Calipari, who made the long trip to Fox’s home to sell him on the idea of being the next great point guard at the University of Kentucky. UK assistant Kenny Payne tagged along because the staff is all-in on Fox as the top option at PG in the 2016 recruiting class.
The second special visitor was Seth Barnett, one of Fox’s friends and classmates at Cypress Lakes High School. Barnett is a lifelong Kentucky basketball fan and Fox invited him to be a part of the visit with John Calipari. How cool is that?!
I spoke to Barnett’s mother this morning and she told me they are originally from Salyersville, Kentucky and moved to the Houston area for her husband’s job, living only a few miles from the nation’s top high school point guard. They still have a home back in Magoffin County.
She assured me Seth will do his part in helping John Calipari out with the recruitment. If Fox ends up in Lexington next season, we may owe Seth a thank you card.
Here is UK’s new lead recruiter with his UK jacket, signed by Calipari and Payne last night:
What an awesome gesture by Fox to invite his friend and diehard UK fan; and what an awesome night for Seth to meet the head coach of his beloved Wildcats.
During the excruciating 29 year Florida losing streak, there’s been a few that slipped away at the game’s end. Tonight’s loss trumped the Chris Doering last second touchdown catch, as well as every other “close but no cigar” game against the Gators. In the foreseeable future, Florida will never be as vulnerable as it was on Saturday. He may be inclined to sideline tirades, but Jim McElwain is a good coach at a school with deep pockets in a recruiting rich state that demands football excellence. The Gators are going nowhere but up from here. IF the streak was to end, tonight was the night. Of course that’s been said before and I’m sure will be said again. And yet, another one got away.
There were many reasons that Florida won the football game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida won the football game more so than Kentucky lost it. The Gators were the aggressors and forced intolerable Wildcat errors. Kentucky had chances, but folded at critical moments. First and goal at the two that eventually led to a field goal is one. Following extended film study, another “Eye in the Sky Don’t Lie” piece will be written Monday afternoon. We’ll dissect the Xs and Os, but for today’s post, raw emotion and immediate reaction seems more appropriate.
GAME BALL GOES TO?
Easy choice, the fans of the BBN did their part, and more. It showed up early, glowed in all things Cat Walk and then packed the stands from the opening kick to the last inevitable interception. For that, my hat’s off to you. Heck, I’m proud to be one of you. Sorry the game flowed and ended like it did, you deserved better. But the BBN left angry. Not so much that the streak was extended for another 365 days, but more so that it felt as if its team was better than the visitors. In many ways that was painfully correct. Execution wise, not so much.
Perception was that Florida dominated the football game. Take a look at the final numbers. Oddly, much closer than it felt.
First Downs: UF 16, UK 14
Net Rushing Yards: UF 120, UK 115
Average Yards Per Rush: UF 3.2, UK 2.8
Net Yards Passing: UF 125, UK 126
Total Offensive Yards: UF 245, UK 241
3rd Down Conversions: UF 2-11, UK 6-18
Sacks: UF 6, UK 2
Final Score: UF 14, UK 9. The only numbers that really matter.
Numbers are deceiving. A 14-9 game never seemed that close. Following Dorian Baker’s first quarter dropped touchdown pass and tipped ball that All-American Vernon Heargraves III intercepted and returned deep into UK territory, at no point did it feel like UK would win the football game. Yes, that includes when the Cats had the football down five with 2:26 remaining in the game. It just didn’t feel right. I’m ashamed to write that, but an honest assessment. Could it be the streak infiltrated my mind and led to a worst case scenario expectation due to logo familiarity? Not sure, that’s what’s so troubling. That’s also what’s so disappointing, leading to more self-inflicted anger due to late-game skepticism.
Holding Florida to 14 points was an accomplishment. Much like against South Carolina, DJ Eliot’s group bent but did not break. From Regie Meant’s early sack to JD Harmon’s end zone interception, the defense played winning football. The unit that was questioned the most has played the best. Much like the fans, the defense deserved to win the football game.
Sure, Will Grier slipped away from sacks and made big plays that extended drives. But limiting the Gators to 245 total yards and one touchdown on an extended drive is commendable. Defensive tackle CJ Johnson and defensive end Farrington Huguennin were exceptional. As were the defensive backs. Florida’s leading wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was held to three catches for 16 yards. That’s the same Demarcus Robinson that torched the Cats in the Swamp last year for 15 receptions, 215 yards and a score. Gator running backs totaled all of 66 rushing yards. Again, Will Grier’s ability to escape impacted, but did not dictate the final score. Linebackers Josh Forrest and Khalid Henderson led the Cats with nine and eight tackles respectfully. Denzil Ware displayed continued development. The game’s irony is the side of the football that was expected to fail, actually prevailed in all areas other than the final score.
Where should we start? Statistically, the Cats and Gators were virtually even. However, UK’s incompetent passing game must be addressed. Patrick Towles’ 8-for-24 and two interception game will be the most scrutinized aspect, as it should be. It comes with the territory; with high expectation comes even higher examination. The Cats completed 33% of its passing attempts. There were drops. There were sacks and quarterback hurries. Some self-inflicted by Towles, others derived from Gator coverage and defensive line dominance. Collectively, the passing game was insufficient and problematic. Florida’s defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. That’s actually being kind. Going into the game, the Gators’ defensive line was described as aggressive and disruptive. It didn’t disappoint. Florida’s secondary was proclaimed as one if not the SEC’s best. It was. However, New Mexico State and East Carolina were both successful through the air against virtually the same defense, in the Swamp. Florida did return its best player in Heargraves as well as Safety Keanu Neal. But still…
Should there now be a quarterback controversy? Is Patrick Towles the answer going forward? Yes, with a caveat. If inaccuracy and passing game ineffectiveness continue against Missouri, then serious and season determining questions must be addressed. I am not a fan of rotating QBs. Nor is there value in a starter continually looking over his shoulder following an incompletion. But there’s no way around it: Patrick has to produce.
One of the few encouragements was Boom Williams. 16 carries for 82 yards was a herculean effort for the sophomore. But he got very little help. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was second guessed in the press box and in the stands. Justifiably or not, he is now under the BBN’s microscope. Similar to the quarterback position, scrutiny accompanies the job title. UK has not scored an offensive touchdown in six quarters. With Mizzou coming to town with an equal to or better defense than Florida, it doesn’t get any easier moving forward. On that side of the football, some serious soul searching and self-evaluation will occur leading up to next Saturday’s critical SEC matchup. Do the issues lie within personnel, scheme, youth, or strictly in execution? Did the plethora of future Gator NFL players simply overwhelm the Cats? Those answers or lingering questions will be evident against Mizzou. One way or another, improvements in all offensive categories are mandatory.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Saturday’s loss to Florida was a reality check wrapped into an opportunity. When the team’s concern (defense) is now its strength and the team’s perceived strength (offense) is now its liability, a convoluted conclusion surfaces. Inconsistent halves and Saturday’s disappointment has the BBN collectively scratching their heads. As of this Sunday afternoon, the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats are without an identity. Going into the fourth game, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With a young team, it’s also somewhat expected. Effort, intent, desire, and work ethic are all there, but results are still being sorted.
The Missouri Tigers. Mizzou scraped by UCONN on a botched last minute field goal attempt that would have tied the game at 9-9. The Tigers are not exactly an offensive juggernaut. However, it does sport a salty defense with elite linebackers and secondary, and a recent history of developing NFL defensive linemen. Sound familiar?
Playing off Missouri’s state moniker: UK has to Show Me. It has to prove it can score points. The offensive line has to prove it can protect a quarterback who is dangerously close to being questioned if he is indeed the future of the organization. A talented receiving corps needs results to match potential. UK has much to prove and six days in which to prepare.
One of the beautiful qualities of college football is that players get over losses much more quickly than fans do. You can throw the media in there as well. The 29th consecutive Gator loss stung, a lot. Heck, it went past stung and straight into hysterical annoyance. One got away. UK cannot play Florida again next weekend. A potential 3-1 September is Wildcat football utopia given recent history. I’m all in. But also need to see tangible offensive improvement.
Show Me. Please.
Tonight was tough.
It was tough to watch. It was tough finding optimism. It was tough to see the ridiculous hype amount to very little production on the field. It was a sloppy game, filled with flags, drops and missed opportunity after missed opportunity.
Despite all of the awfulness. Despite less than 250 yards of offense and only eight completed passes. Despite the opening drive interception, Kentucky still had the ball with 2:26 left, three timeouts and a chance to win the ball game.
Unfortunately, Kentucky didn’t take advantage of the golden opportunity. If the Cats had played just a little bit cleaner, if they had been just a little more opportunistic, we’d be having the Grove St. Party of the century.
Instead, it’s another year of waiting to finally get a win over Florida.
A Similar Start
Last week at South Carolina, Dorian Baker dropped a first down pass that was put in his bread basket. Two plays later, an interception. On a first down in tonight’s first drive, Dorian Baker made a move to get open on Vernon Hargreaves in the end zone. Patrick Towles put it in his bread basket, but Dorian dropped it. Two plays later, an interception.
Six points. Kentucky lost by five. There’s much more to why UK couldn’t find a win, but it’s just one of the many opportunities the Cats missed that they could not afford to miss.
The Drive the Cats Died, When They Should Have Thrived
The third quarter was once again a low-light of the game. Florida was taking advantage of exceptional field position, using momentum to drive it down the Cats’ throat. Florida was up 14-3 and running away with the game, until JD Harmon made another HUGE interception.
Harmon gave the stadium a spark it desperately needed. Patrick Towles made a miraculous run on third down to get into Florida territory. After a 15-yard Florida penalty and big run from Jojo Kemp, Kentucky was suddenly on the 5-yard line as the 3rd quarter came to a close.
Unfortunately, nothing happened. Seven plays, most of them runs, and not once did they come close to the end zone. The stadium was ready to explode, but the momentum reached a stalemate when they settled for a field goal. An opportunity they could not afford to miss.
The Offensive Playcalling was Questionable
I hate throwing the coordinator under the bus, but goodness gracious. There was a large portion of the game where one could wonder if Patrick’s arm was hurt because they absolutely refused to throw the football. To make matters worse, the runs were boring and uncreative. Just when you thought they might setup a play-action for a deep ball, they ran it again. It. Was. Brutal.
“I gotta do better,” Shannon Dawson said after the game.
It would be a disservice to the offense to not commend Florida’s defense. The speedy pass rush caused the pocket to collapse early and often. Vernon Hargreaves played like the best cornerback in the country. The players catching the passes weren’t helping the QB either. They weren’t dropping balls left and right, but they certainly didn’t make any plays either.
Regardless of the reason, UK cannot expect to win when the offense plays that poor.
Will Grier Looked Like a Superstar
The redshirt freshman didn’t look like he had never played on the road. He made some exceptional throws that were impossible for UK to make a play on, which only looked better when his receivers made great catches. Kentucky sacked him twice, but his juke stick made them miss so many more. He finished the game with 125 yards passing, and led the team in rushing with 61 yards and a touchdown.
But the Defense Showed Up
Florida was most successful after the Cats had played 5-6 seconds of great defense. The receivers were defended well and pressure forced Grier out of the pocket, but that’s where he made his money. The first touchdown of the game was a 4th and 1 scramble on the goal line; one good angle away from a HUGE stop. They did manage to make a stop in the red zone shortly after. A chip shot field goal was pushed back on a 5-yard penalty before C.J. Johnson swatted it away. The defense kept them in the game, and Kentucky wouldn’t have had a chance without JD Harmon’s end zone interception.
It’s Only One Loss
That was tough for me to type. It’s tough for me to believe. This losing streak has been tough on the BBN, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of football left to play.
This year’s game felt different. There was a hype, an expectation that we could finally get it done. At the end of the day, they’re still Florida and we’re still Kentucky.
The loss stings, but this loss won’t define Kentucky’s season.