Saturday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium was a fun one and it came at a time →
Saturday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium was a fun one and it came at a time when fun was needed to be had. The Cats got the job done against South Carolina for a third consecutive year, led by an energetic and inspired Kentucky defense and a run-heavy offense under Stephen Johnson’s command. The Cats are now 2-0 on the season with two straight dubs and there’s newfound optimism in the Bluegrass, if only for a little bit.
Let’s relive that past game tonight with a string of .GIFs replaying some of the finer moments, before we get down to what needs to be done to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Wins aren’t easy to come by around here, so let’s milk them for all their worth when we get ’em.
Boom Williams blew a kiss to the fans watching at home after he scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the second half. He took the ball 43 yards for the score and the Kentucky lead.
Mark Stoops was fired up after big third-down stop by the Kentucky defense.
Nick Haynes tried to toss two Gamecocks out of the stadium like they were a couple of freshmen trying to sneak into Two Keys:
Benny Snell Jr. brought the Gatorade juice to the Grove Street Party:
It’s a party, it’s party, it’s a party.
Hot air was blowing outside Commonwealth Stadium. Inside, a ticked-off group of Wildcats played their guts out to beat South Carolina 17-10. Carolina punched; the Cats punched back. Let’s take a look:
— Kentucky racked up 351 total yards in spite of a minus 2 turnover margin while going up against the Southeastern Conference’s 4th best scoring defense. RBs Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp, and freshman sensation Benny Snell Jr. are proving to be a formidable trio. Williams went over 100 yards for the second time this season by rushing for 123 yards off 15 carries. Snell again seemed invincible and stubborn to be tackled by racking up 77 tough, physical yards. Kemp provided spark and a breather with 4 carries for 16 yards.
— Stephen Johnson was sacked 4 times but completed 11 passes for 135 yards. His steady impact was mostly felt in the Run/Pass/Option scheme through quick decisions and persistency. UK did not attempt a 4th quarter pass as it buckled down in the run game. This offensive philosophy change seemed to work well.
— UK won the time of possession battle 32:40 to 27:20. Third downs were not pleasant: 4/13. But, it converted a crucial 4th down to seal the win late in the 4th quarter.
— During the game I received several messages that the offensive line struggled. In actuality, UK rotated several front-line players while physically wearing down a good South Carolina front seven. One grouping included true freshman Landon Young, redshirt freshman Logan Stenberg as well as sophomores Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo Adjei. It faced a salty, veteran group. Overall, the OL played an operative football game.
— South Carolina came into Saturday allowing a 31% touchdown ratio in the Red Zone. Kentucky was 50% for the night as it scored on a WildSnell, 1-yard TD run.
— Kentucky rushed the football 50 times for 216 yards. My priority key to the game was for the Cats to rush for 200. Check.
— Turnovers continue to be this team’s own worst enemy. Kayaune Ross fumbled a Stephen Johnson pass in the first quarter which could have taken the wind out of the Big Blue sails. It didn’t. Johnson later overshot a wide open receiver which resulted in his first thrown interception of his career.
— This team’s lack of offensive physicality was called out during many pregame television shows. Kentucky countered by exercising a rugged, 2nd half game plan.
We often discussed that either the Kentucky defense or the South Carolina offense were going to uncharacteristically win the football game. Chalk this matchup to the Cats’ D. It held Carolina to just 268 total yards (287-avg) and impressively stopped the Gamecocks on 3rd down by forcing punts or 4th down attempts on 3/13 occasions. Credit is due to the front seven. Yes, that same front seven that has taken an absolute beating by media and fans alike.
— UK’s defensive linemen had not registered a QB sack going into Saturday. DE Alvonte Bell and NT Naquez Pringle were both credited with one each. NT Matt Elam joined Denzil Ware for another. The DL answered the bell and criticism by playing their best football of the season. Much like their offensive line counterparts, Mark Stoops rotated defensive linemen on a regular basis.
— Linebackers are expected to make the majority of tackles in the 3-4 defense. LBs Jordan Jones, Josh Allen, Courtney Love, and Denzil Ware did just that. Ware sacked QB Brandon Mcllwain twice. He added 2 tackles for loss while totaling 5 tackles. Josh Allen played his best game as a Wildcat by accumulating 1 QB sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 7 tackles. Jordan Jones continues to be the heart and soul of the defense by leading it in tackles with 8.
— DEs Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell decreased containment errors that have plagued in 2016. Both stretched the option and managed to limit Mcllwain’s running lanes as the true freshman signal caller finished with 13 rushes for 41 yards. Miggins and Bell were obviously the two most improved defensive players on Saturday.
— The secondary was solid. It did break down on one zone coverage bust that allowed a free roaming Hayden Hurst for a long gain. QB Brandon Mcllwain finished the night 15-30, 177 yards, 0 TDs through the air.
— Defense played fast and intentional
— Mark Stoops coached his rear-end off. I’m happy for him and his coaching staff. Adjustments were made, mistakes corrected, and attitudes altered.
Kicker Austin MacGinniss found his range by nailing a 30-yard field goal, his first of the season. True freshman punter Grant McKinniss continued to be consistent by averaging 40.8 yards per kick. Coverage teams were sufficient, but did allow a punt return for a touchdown that was nullified due to a block in the back penalty.
What does all this mean?
I totally understand that South Carolina is not Alabama, Florida, or Tennessee. But, after the game, I saw a happy group of Wildcats meet and greet appreciative fans on their walk from the stadium to the new training facility. This team responded after being continually beaten down by their own fanbase, on message boards, blogs, talk shows, social media, and so forth. National talking heads had been equally as brutal. A CBS head, name unknown, referred to UK as a junior college following a lackluster performance in the Swamp. College Gameday’s Lee Corse said, and I paraphrase, that Kentucky’s defense may the worst in the history of football. Perspective=reality; regardless of opponent or situation, an SEC win is a SEC win.
— Yes, Kentucky has surpassed South Carolina in the SEC East. Said it two years ago. Said it last season. Said it again on Saturday. UK has now extended its winning streak to three consecutive victories over the Gamecocks.
— BBN: hats off, kudos, well-done my friends. Students packed their section and were rowdy throughout. I count folks in seats; I don’t fixate on those that are unoccupied.
2-2 is not the start many wanted or predicted. Truth of the matter is that Southern Miss is a much better football team than South Carolina. Remember the uniform sterilization theory that I constantly preach. 3-1 would have been optimal. But that’s not the case nor can history be altered.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and overplay a win over an average football team with the Tuscaloosa Juggernaut on deck; however, UK should celebrate a much needed and hard-fought triumph. Will Kentucky win another game this season? Yes; especially if it plays like it did vs. Carolina. Will UK lose another game in 2016? Yes. But it doesn’t matter what happened before or who-what is next. Mark Stoops’ team tasted success on Saturday night. It’s perfectly ok to savor the moment. Kentucky is 2-2.
The Cats are back to .500 on the season and in the SEC East race with a big win over South Carolina in Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky held South Carolina’s offense to only 10 points in the game and the offense did the rest to get the 17-10 win for the third consecutive victory over the Gamecocks. Kentucky hadn’t won three straight games over a non-Vanderbilt SEC opponent since 1959, so kiss that streak goodbye! We can officially say UK is ahead of Wanna-Be-USC in the conference.
What do you say we do an even 10 takeaways from the game and then call it a night because it’s already past my bedtime. I’ll number each one so I don’t short you or overwork myself. Here we go…
1.) Kentucky put pressure on South Carolina’s quarterback.
Getting to the QB has been an enormous problem for the Cats this season. The pass rush has been, well, nonexistent. There’s not a better way to put it. UK’s defense hasn’t spent a lot of time in the opposition’s backfield, if any.
But that wasn’t the case Saturday night against the Gamecocks. Kentucky was all over Brandon McIllwain and that pressure created four sacks and several other breakdowns for the South Carolina offense. The pressure was at its best in the most critical moments, too. With the Gamecocks driving late in the fourth quarter and looking to tie, Josh Allen got to McIllwain for the sack to create a 3rd and 17 situation. More pressure forced an incompletion and then Denzil Ware pulled McIllwain down for a 19-yard loss and a turnover on downs, which essentially ended the game.
2.) Thanks for the motivation, Lee Corso!
When Lee Corso said “Kentucky may have the worse defense in the history of football” on College GameDay, the Cats were listening. It did not fall on deaf ears in the UK pregame.
Then once the smoke cleared and the win was on the board, Matt Elam was quick to tweet out Corso’s comment to his followers.
"Kentucky May Have The Worst Defense In The History Of Football" 🤔
— Matt Elam™6⃣9⃣ (@FballIsLife69) September 25, 2016
It’s safe to say Corso’s words served as motivation for the Wildcat D.
So thanks for that, Scooter.
3.) Kentucky’s defensive line recorded its first sack of the year.
Continuing the defensive praise, let’s point out that Naquez Pringle and Alvonte Bell’s first quarter sack was the first by a UK defensive lineman this season. It’s not good that it took until the fourth game to get one, but it’s good that they got one.
That’s now eight sacks on the year for the defensive, led by Josh Allen and Denzil Ware with three apiece.
4.) You better bring some help if you plan to tackle Benny Snell.
Benny Snell had another big game on the ground for Kentucky, this time totaling 77 yards on 16 carries and the game-winning score. The true freshman does not have a very dominating physique, but when he gets those legs churning, he has a dominating attack. I’m not sure my man has ever gone down at first contact; it takes all the defense has to pull him down. Those legs just keep pushing and pushing, fighting and fighting, until he’s gang tackled. He gets every single yard he possibly can before going down. He’s a special player and he’s only a freshman. Love the effort on every carry. Love me some Benny.
5.) Boom did Boom things.
Before Snell won the game and then put it away with his fourth quarter runs, Boom Williams tallied up plenty yards of his own. Boom finished with a game-high 123 yards and a score, plus a staggering 8.2 yards per carry. He and Snell combined for an even 200 on the ground.
Smash and Dash?
6.) Stephen Johnson did enough to win.
Johnson is undefeated as a starting quarterback, but he has plenty of room to improve before we start putting him on billboards. He took too many sacks and had too many errant throws, one resulting in an interception when he had a wide open receiver as a his target. That being said, his scramble to the one-yard line late in the game was huge and he did enough for 60 minutes to earn the win. Can’t complain about that.
7.) What the hell was South Carolina’s tight end trying to accomplish here?
A hurdle? With no momentum?
I bet he’d like to have that one back. Speaking of backs, get some ice on that.
8.) KENTUCKY DIDN’T GIVE UP A SCORE BEFORE HALFTIME!!!!!!
Although, if not for a pass interference call, we wouldn’t be saying that. South Carolina picked off a pass with 21 seconds left and took it all the way down to the goal line. Luckily it got called back.
9.) The music in Commonwealth Stadium was much better.
Kudos to whatever changes were made in the DJ booth. Saturday’s night in-game music received universal praise and it’s no coincidence it came with a win. Let’s hope someone saved that playlist and then let’s run it back for the Vanderbilt game here in two weeks.
10.) Bowl hopes are still alive.
Say what you will about all the negative talking points we’ve beaten into the ground the last month… the bowl hopes are still alive and well.
Sure, it’ll take a big run through the remainder of the schedule but there are plenty of winnable games ahead. Throw Tennessee, Louisville and Alabama aside for a moment and there’s not one game Kentucky couldn’t theoretically win. Of course, doing it is one thing, but the opportunities are there. Let’s. Go.
A few more quick thoughts before shut-eye:
— Still missing tackles and opportunities for stops at the line of scrimmage. That can fly against a bad offense like South Carolina, but not when a real team comes to town. Can’t let those chances go by and give up extra yards.
— I like the new anthracite (coal) uniforms.
— Jordan Jones is a tackling machine. He now has 43 on the season for almost 11 per game. He is literally everywhere on the field. And he’s slightly crazy, in a good way.
— Kentucky should look into hiring Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard was the sideline’s hype man in the first half until he had to fly back to Nashville to meet curfew. Maybe there’s a way he can be at games when the Titans are at home on Sunday? Make that happen, UK.
— I’m now 0-4 ATS in UK games. Very happy to be wrong in this one.
— WE WANT BAMA!!!!!
Kentucky beat South Carolina for the third consecutive year, and took down Will Muschamp for the first time, behind exceptional play from the defense and freshman running back Benny Snell.
A slow starting game, the Cats only had three points at half. 0-23 while trailing at half under Mark Stoops, the outlook was bleak behind a struggling offense. Insert Benny Snell.
With the game tied 10-10 at the start of the 4th quarter, Kentucky ran it 11 straight times, with Snell receiving most of the carries. Snell chewed up 10:21 of clock and 53 yards before walking the game-winning score into the end zone.
It wasn’t what we expected, but there is still hope the Cats can salvage this season.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 23rd, 2016 @ 11:00pm
This morning, KSR may have pulled off our best fifteen minutes of radio ever. With fan frustrations high, we brought in two passionate KSR callers to discuss what’s going on with the football program: Chester and Darryl. Chester represents the eternal UK football optimists, who believe in Mark Stoops and think the team can turn it around and make a bowl this season. Darryl represents the growing faction of UK football fans who are sick and tired of getting their hopes up and being let down and think something needs to change, even if it means getting rid of Stoops.
The two squared off in a battle of blind faith vs. rational analysis, and it was radio gold. There were references to Obama and George Washington, and Darryl even accused Chester of “kissing Mark Stoops’ rear” when he called in to his radio show on Monday. I won’t give it away, but he calls him something else later that may having you covering the kiddos’ ears.
Stop what you’re doing and listen:
Our panel of judges was split over who won the debate, with Shannon and Ryan picking Darryl and Maria and Matt picking Chester. Shannon put up a poll on Twitter to decide the winner, and 52% of the vote went to Chester, who will receive two tickets to Big Blue Madness.
If anything, he should win for this line alone:
“It was George Washington or somebody in this country that said that a nation that is divided, his house will fall down on top of it and crush the people inside of it.”
From KSR listener Bob…
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 22nd, 2016 @ 11:00pm
With the news that Drew Barker will be out at least a month with a back injury, the reins of the Kentucky offense are now firmly in Stephen Johnson’s hands. When Barker went down vs. New Mexico State, Johnson more than performed ably in his place; he reenergized the Kentucky offense, leading the Cats to 692 total yards, the second most in any game in the program’s history. Johnson was so impressive that, even if Barker was able to go this week, most fans would agree that Johnson should probably get the starting nod anyways.
When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that the fate of this season lies in the hands of a player none of us had heard of last season. With that in mind, I spent my day learning all about Stephen Johnson.
Darin Hinshaw found him
Who should you thank for bringing Johnson to Kentucky? Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. Right before Hinshaw was hired, Patrick Towles announced he was transferring, meaning that when Hinshaw got to Lexington, his first task was to find a backup quarterback with experience in case Drew Barker went down. After evaluating several JuCo quarterbacks, Hinshaw focused on Stephen Johnson out of College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California.
“In the process I thought he was the best,” Hinshaw said of Johnson earlier this week. “For what we do offensively, I said, ‘this kid can really be a weapon.’”
“Coach Hinshaw did a heck of a job. We definitely felt like we needed some experience there and we did look around,” Stoops said yesterday. “Once they brought in Stephen, and we looked at him, and brought him in on a visit, we were sold. I’m sure glad we have him right now.“
…says every UK football fan in the Bluegrass.
He’s a California boy
Johnson was born in Inglewood, California and attended Los Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga. He was recruited to Grambling State by then head coach Doug Williams, a former NFL quarterback. He sat out his freshman year in 2013, during which Williams was fired, and started the first four games in 2014 before suffering a high ankle sprain. Johnson was never able to get his starting job back, so in 2015, he looked elsewhere, finally settling on College of the Desert, coached by Jack Steptoe, who coached Johnson in some camps during high school and ultimately steered him towards Grambling State. If you’re still wondering why College of the Desert, I mean, look at it:
Who wouldn’t want to go to school there?
At College of the Desert, he ran the spread to perfection
In 2015, Johnson threw for 3,210 yards and a state-leading 34 touchdowns along with eight touchdowns rushing. All in all, he accumulated 3,639 yards of total offense while leading the Roadrunners to 37.5 points per game, a 6-4 record, and a share of the league title for the first time in over a decade. Johnson was named Mountain America Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, which earned him several offers from Division I programs across the country.
He turned down Hawaii to come to Kentucky
Johnson ultimately picked Kentucky over Arkansas State and Hawaii, the latter of which you may know looks like this:
Again, who wouldn’t want to go to school there? I love Kentucky as much as anyone, but if you’re going to offer me the chance to live in Hawaii for two years for free, I’m taking it. Thankfully, Johnson is much more pragmatic than me when it comes to such things and chose the chance to play at an SEC school over rainbows and palm trees. He was also smart enough to take an official visit to Hawaii before his making his decision, even if he claimed it was strictly business.
“It was a quick visit, Saturday to Sunday,” Johnson told the Warrior Sports Network. “I really enjoyed it. I loved my visit while I was there. It’s a beautiful place and it seems like there is great football there. I didn’t even go on the beach. My mindset while I was there was that it was a business trip. No parties or anything like that, just sitting down with the coaches to talk about philosophy and schemes to find out if it would be the right spot for me.”
If you ever doubt Johnson’s loyalty, just remember that he chose us over paradise.
He’s a math geek
I am horrible at math, so I have a lot of respect for people who are good at it. In the UK Football media guide, Johnson says his non-sports talent is “excelling at math” and that dream job other than playing in the NFL is banking. Not only that, he’s an agricultural economics major, which means, one day, he might be able to tell us what a hill of beans costs.
I could probably twist Johnson’s love of numbers into an explanation for why he is so calm and pragmatic on the field, but really, I just like when players admit they’re a little bit nerdy.
He can move the ball with his arm or his legs
Coming in, we knew Johnson was a dual-threat quarterback that could keep defenses honest with his feet, but I especially admire his toughness on this run:
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 17, 2016
Johnson showed he can handle screens, short passes, etc., but one of the few knocks on his game coming into the season was his ability to throw the long ball. Johnson proved everyone wrong with this 54-bomb to Jeff Badet:
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 17, 2016
Under his hand, UK put up its first 300 yards passing/300 yards rushing game maybe ever
Here’s a fun stat: going back to at least 1985, Saturday’s game was the first time that Kentucky has had at least 300 rushing yards and at least 300 passing yards in the same game. I’d argue that Johnson moved UK’s offense better than any quarterback in the Mark Stoops era. Yes, it was against New Mexico State, a team ranked 121st in total defense that probably didn’t prepare to face him, but still, UK’s offense looked really, really good with Johnson at the helm. After getting some first drive jitters out of the way, Johnson rolled, completing 17-22 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball ten times for 51 yards and helped get the running game going, handing the ball off to Boom Williams and Benny Snell, who combined for 325 yards and five touchdowns. For some reason, everything that didn’t work with UK’s offense under Drew Barker suddenly worked under Johnson.
What Johnson can do against an SEC defense that’s had a whole week to prepare for him remains to be seen, but Saturday was promising to say the least.
He’s his biggest critic
We’ve outlined why Johnson’s performance on Saturday was so impressive, but if you ask him, it was just alright.
“I think I did alright,” he said Saturday night. “There are a few things I can change, a few throws. I think I missed my first drive, but other than that, as a team, I thought we did really well.”
After looking at tape, he conceded that he played “pretty well, I guess.”
“I was a little bit pleased,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “For me, I’m my own greatest critic. I want to go 100 for 100 completions and have no incompletions at all and execute everything perfectly, have every perfect pass. But it went pretty well, I guess.”
You might expect a different response from a kid who’s played at three different schools in three years and just got his first taste of the spotlight, but we’re quickly finding out that just who Stephen is: calm, poised, and ready to go.
“It comes from my parents, first of all,” Johnson said of his calm demeanor. “They always raised me to be as humble as I can, and be as calm as I can, and trust the Lord in everything that I do. That’s what I try to do at all times, and I guess that’s where my confidence comes from.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 22nd, 2016 @ 9:00pm
On this week’s episode of The OTT, I interview my good friend Jennifer Palumbo from WKYT. Jennifer joined me for an hour to talk about UK football, UK basketball, and how she ended up in Lexington twenty or so years ago. Highlights include…
— What the heck is going on with the UK Football program?
— Why this is the make-or-break game for Mark Stoops
— The UK Basketball Women’s Clinic on October 23 at Rupp Arena
— Her WKYT family and how Rob Bromley almost wrecked an RV on the way back from New Orleans in 2012
— How she got into a fight with a UofL football fan who also cheers for UK Basketball at the gym
…and much, much more. We also talked about the new sponsor for The OTT, the Bluegrass Box, a quarterly subscription and gift box that curates high quality, handmade products from local makers around Kentucky. To try it out, go to www.thebluegrassbox.com and use the “TYLER” promo code for 10% off your first subscription order!
By Freddie Maggard on ©September 22nd, 2016 @ 1:00pm
With the unveiling of the new SEC trailblazers statue outside Commonwealth Stadium tonight ta 7 pm, let’s revisit the story of the four men who broke the color barrier and made history in Kentucky blue.
Disconcertingly, in the not so distant past, Nate Northington, Greg Page, Houston Hogg, and Wilbur Hackett Jr. were forgotten Kentucky heroes. Fifty years later, that wrong is being righted.
In the winter of 1965, Louisville native Nate Northington and Middlesboro’s Greg Page became the first African-Americans to sign football scholarships with the University of Kentucky. In September 1967, Nate Northington integrated SEC Football when he played three minutes of game action against Ole Miss. Those three short minutes were momentous, but accompanied by tragedy. The night before, his teammate and friend Greg Page tragically passed away due to injuries sustained in a practice 38 days prior.
Nate Northington eventually transferred to Western Kentucky. Prior to his exit, he convinced his African-American teammates Houston Hogg and Wilbur Hackett to stay at UK and to finish what he and Page had started. History was made again as Hogg and Hackett were the first two African-American athletes in the SEC to complete their eligibility. The trailblazing continued in 1969 when Wilbur Hackett became the SEC’s first African-American team captain in any sport.
In September, the University of Kentucky will unveil a statue honoring the foursome. The block and mortar figure will be located at Commonwealth Stadium; however, the legacy of Nate Northington, Greg Page, Houston Hogg, and Wilbur Hackett will forever live through the plethora of doors they opened and color barrier walls they knocked down with their bravery.
In addition to the statue, a documentary movie is in the works. The feature will be directed by Academy Award winner Paul Wagner and is titled “Black in Blue.” In addition to Wagner, the foursome’s former teammate Paul Karem has been vigilant in his mission to see his peers honored. Countless hours of discussions have resulted in both the statue and movie. Kentucky Sports Radio received a sneak peek at the movie, you can see for yourself below:
After months of research, I have to say that the story of Northington, Page, Hogg, and Hackett moved my emotions to the point of anger, happiness, bitterness, confusion, and achievement. I could never pretend to understand the unthinkable atrocities the foursome endured in order to ensure those that came after could chase their dreams; however, I can say without reservation that I have an infinite amount of respect for their courage, honor, and valor. A statue, movie, or a simple “Thank You” just isn’t enough; but at least it’s a start.
Coming soon on the Matt Jones Podcast, Matt will speak to Nate Northington and Wilbur Hackett Jr. as they tell their incredible story. In closing, let us never forget their inspiration that will stand for all of eternity.
For more information, please go to the documentary’s website: blackinblue.org
“Show Me My Opponent” returns this week after two weeks off to recover from the loss to Southern Miss. This week we’re looking ahead to the Cats’ home contest against South Carolina, also known as the biggest game of Mark Stoops’ career. It’s a must-win game if there ever was one.
Let’s meet the adversary from the Palmetto State…
THE UNIVERSITY of SOUTH CAROLINA
(But not USC)
The University of South Carolina is a beautiful institution spanning 359 acres in downtown Columbia, just a short stroll from the South Carolina State House and the overwhelming population of homeless drunks that litter the city.
Founded in 1801 as South Carolina College, the University of South Carolina wishes it were the real USC, but it is not; the real USC is the University of Southern California. South Carolina also wishes it were Clemson, but it is not; Clemson is much, much cooler.
However, there is some good at Wanna-Be-USC. For instance, the popular Five Points area is a great place to barhop and flirt with hard fives and sixes, which is always a good time. Then there’s the school’s No. 9 ranking in U.S. News & World Report‘s “Most Promising and Innovative Schools” list in 2009, although I don’t know if it ever lived up to those promises from seven years ago. The undergraduate international business program also received national recognition, which is good for undergraduates with interest in international business.
More fun University of South Carolina and Columbia facts:
— The university houses the largest Ernest Hemingway collection in the world.
— The Horseshoe on the main campus does not have slot machines, table games or any form of gambling; despite being called The Horseshoe. In fact, it’s not a casino at all. It is a historic, U-shaped blueprint of the original campus, as we learned the hard way during a trip in 2014.
— Columbia is home to the largest fire hydrant in the world, at 575,000 pounds. It is also home to the world’s smallest police station, at five by 12 feet in area.
— There’s a Bojangles’ and a Tin Roof. Or what I like to call an ideal Saturday.
SOUTH CAROLINA TRADITIONS AND COCK STUFF
South Carolina’s athletic teams have been known as the Gamecocks for over 100 years. The nickname was chosen because Fighting Roosters did not have the same ring, and opposing schools love to say “Beat The Cocks.”
“Cocky” was chosen National Mascot of the Year in 1986, 1994, and again in 2004.
The school’s fight song, called “The Fighting Gamecocks Lead the Way,” is sung to the tune of “Step to the Rear” from the hit 1967 Broadway musical How Now, Dow Jones.
“Sandstorm” is the most annoying arena/stadium song in sports.
NOTABLE SOUTH CAROLINA PEOPLE
Darius Rucker: South Carolina’s most famous alum is Darius Rucker of Hootie & The Blowfish fame. Rucker now makes a career out of remaking other people’s songs and selling his albums and merchandise to Ryan Lemond. Rucker is also a close friend of UK wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas.
Angelica Sin: Angelica Sin is a graduate of SC’s nursing program and a huge fan of the Cocks. One could argue no one loves the Cocks more than Angelica, as she has proudly shown in films such as Backdoor To Buttsville 2, Ass Wide Shut, Stop! My Ass Is On Fire! 3, Big Tit Brotha Lovas 2, Butts 2 Nuts 3, and Thanks For The Mammaries 4. (She’s obviously a sequels actress.) Angelica is currently ranked 1,803rd in the PornHub.com Porn Star rankings, so I’m told.
Brad Guzan: Brad Guzan is the goalkeeper for the United States Men’s National Team and the projected starter in goal for the Americans in the 2018 World Cup. He played two seasons for South Carolina, where he was a 2004 All-American, before turning pro.
Lilian Garcia: Garcia is a former Spanish ring announcer and diva in the WWE. She graduated cum laude from SC and was a top ten finalist in the Miss South Carolina beauty pageant. Garcia proposed to wrestler Viscera in 2005 but he left her in favor of the Godfather’s hoes at the Vengeance PPV.
INSTAGRAM SCOUTING REPORT
The Instagram Scouting Report is vital to game day preparation.
THAT TIME A GUY CRIED OVER A SOUTH CAROLINA LOSS
SO WHO’S THE HEAD COACH?
In case you missed the big offseason news, Will Muschamp is now the head coach at South Carolina. The former Florida failure took over for Steve Spurrier after Spurrier hung up his visor to end his Hall of Fame career at the conclusion of last season.
Muschamp spent 2015 as the defensive coordinator at Auburn, where his Tigers’ defense gave up over 400 yards per game. He signed a three-year deal that made him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in football, but bailed on that deal to become the head man in Columbia.
This season, Muschamp has Carolina off to a 2-1 start with a big first win on the road at Vanderbilt. He followed that up with a 13-point loss at Mississippi State and then a tight home win over East Carolina last weekend.
He makes really angry faces during games.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
|#97 | KOBE SMITH | DL | Freshman
If the name Kobe Smith sounds familiar to you, it is because he was a one-time Kentucky commit from the 2016 recruiting class. Smith, a three-star defensive tackle out of Georgia, committed to the Wildcats in July of 2015 and held firm in his commitment until late December of that year. He committed to South Carolina two weeks after bailing on UK and enrolled on campus as an early enrollee the very next day.
Smith saw action as a true freshman in each of South Carolina’s first three games and has one unassisted tackle on the stats sheet in his young career.
|#74 | MASON ZANDI | LT | RS Senior
A preseason All-SEC selection, Mason Zandi is the leading Cock blocker for South Carolina, and Kentucky’s pass rush will struggle to find penetration with such a good Cock blocker getting in the way.
Zandi started 10 games at right tackle last season, but moved over to left tackle for his final year of Cock blocking.
|#13 | SEAN KELLY | P | RS Senior
Keep an eye on South Carolina punter Sean Kelly because he’s known to be a threat to the environment. Kelly was arrested over the summer for “malicious injury to a tree” following an incident that included him starting a fight in a bar, getting tossed from the bar, and throwing someone’s cell phone against a wall when they tried to record the whole thing. Details as to how the tree got involved were never released, but anyone who injures a tree is a real asshole with personal problems.
LAST TIME WE MET
Kentucky defeated South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium in Week 2 of the 2015 season. The win was the Cats’ second in a row over the Gamecocks and ended a 22-game losing streak, as well as a six-year SEC road losing streak.
UK held a 24-7 lead at halftime but squandered away the big lead in the second half. The home team had a two-point conversion try to tie it late in the fourth, but Denzil Ware picked up a Pharoah Cooper fumble and took it 98 yards to extend the lead to four.
Moments later, South Carolina crossed back into scoring territory, only to be intercepted by Chris Westry with four minutes to play. Kentucky picked up three of its four second-half first downs to run out the clock and escape with the win.
With Drew Barker out at least a month, it is now Stephen Johnson’s show in Lexington. The JUCO transfer will make his first career start this coming Saturday against Carolina and he will do just enough to get the Cats back to .500.
Kentucky will win the game, 31-27, for a third consecutive victory over the Gamecocks. Will Muschamp’s team will have a chance to take the lead in a late fourth quarter drive, but a controversial delay of game penalty with seven seconds still on the play clock will set them back five yards and cost them the game in the end. Muschamp will argue the penalty and the fact Carolina still had plenty of time to snap the ball; as Mark Stoops shoots the double-bird from across the field, shouting, “That’s for the Florida game.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 21st, 2016 @ 6:08pm
There have been rumblings about this on social media all day, but Mark Stoops just confirmed that sophomore quarterback Drew Barker will be out for a “significant” amount of time with a back injury. This morning, Barker met with a specialist, who, according to Stoops, said the best option for him right now is to rest. As of now, the injury won’t require surgery, but Stoops said Barker could be out three to four weeks, or maybe even the rest of the season.
“Drew will be out. His injury does not require surgery at this time. He will miss significant time,” Stoops said, calling the injury, “serious” and “legitimate.”
On Monday, Stoops said Drew’s injury wasn’t just the result of the hit he took on Saturday vs. New Mexico State, but a lingering issue that’s been bothering him since the summer.
“He’s had some issues that were lingering, so it’s not just one hit. If you look at the hit, it doesn’t look anything too much but I think you put that and compound it on some the back problems that he’s had, even going back to last week at Florida,” Stoops said. “He had a few issues come up in the summer, a couple things that were bothering him. Some of this is chronic.”
Thankfully, Stephen Johnson has proven he’s capable of running Kentucky’s offense in Drew’s absence. Best of luck to Drew in his recovery.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 20th, 2016 @ 11:00pm
After squandering the Southern Miss game, flatlining vs. Florida, and escaping what could have been a program-crushing loss to New Mexico State, Kentucky is 1-2 headed into this weekend’s game vs. South Carolina. This game’s importance goes without saying; for maybe the third or fourth time since he’s been at Kentucky, it is the most important game of the Mark Stoops era. Kentucky needs to go bowling this season, but looking at the schedule, if they don’t beat South Carolina on Saturday, that’s probably not going to happen.
With that in mind, let’s break down the win probabilities for each game moving forward.
A showdown of a terrible offense (South Carolina) vs. a terrible defense (Kentucky). The immovable force vs. the unstoppable object, if you will. South Carolina averages only 17.3 points and 297 yards per game, which would normally have you salivating until you see that Kentucky’s defense is allowing 43.7 points and 528 yards per game. So, who really knows?
On the flip side, it’s also a showdown of a good offense (Kentucky) vs. a good defense (South Carolina). Assuming Drew Barker is out due to his back injury, here’s my reason for optimism: South Carolina was unable to contain Mississippi State dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald two weeks ago, letting him rush 17 times for 195 yards and throw for 178 yards and two touchdowns. On Saturday, Stephen Johnson showed he can run UK’s offense through the air (310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) and on the ground (381 yards total rushing) all while keeping the defense honest with his own two feet (10 carries for 51 yards). South Carolina’s defense may be good, but not against dual-threat QBs, which is why I’m giving Kentucky a 60% chance of winning.
I can see it now…
A down-on-their-luck Kentucky team travels to Tuscaloosa with something to prove, and what better stage than under the lights at Bryant-Denny on ESPN vs. the defending national champions? While commentators stack their notes with fun facts in anticipation of a slaughter (did you know Bear Bryant used to coach Kentucky?) and houndstooth-clad fans pile into their seats, Tim Couch addresses the team in the visitor’s locker room.
“Boys, they said it couldn’t be done,” Tim says, prowling the floor. “They said it wasn’t possible. But did we listen? No. Do you think I listened to the haters when I threw that pass to Craig Yeast in overtime? No. Did the rest of the world listen when the Big Blue Nation took down the goal posts and carried them through campus? You bet your ass they did.”
Kentucky wins the toss but defers to the second half. Alabama gives the ball to Damien Harris on the first play from scrimmage, and after a ten-fifteen-twenty!-yard run that brings Tuscaloosa to its feet, Matt Elam takes him down from behind, and the ball comes loose! Kash Daniel scoops it up and runs the length of the field. TOUCHDOOOOOOOOWWWN KENTUCKY!!! After an onside kick, Stephen Johnson complete an 80-yard pass to CJ Conrad—
Whoa, whoa, whoa, where am I? I think I just blacked out. Wait, what did I just write? Haha, yeah, that’s not gonna happen, especially that part about Matt Elam catching Damien Harris. What a nice dream, though.
Coming in to this season, I had this matchup closer to 50/50 because of Vanderbilt’s supposedly stout defense. Well, that defense gave up 511 yards to Georgia Tech in a 38-7 loss on Saturday AND their offense scored only one touchdown for the second time in three games. So, Vandy’s not good. But neither is Kentucky right now. Given the home field advantage, I’m giving Kentucky a slight edge in this game.
In the preseason, Kentucky beating Mississippi State was a popular pick around these parts, especially after South Alabama upset the Bulldogs at home in Week 1; however, Mississippi State’s near upset of LSU on Saturday validated my hesitancy to put this game in the “W” column for Kentucky, even if it comes after a bye week. Nick Fitzgerald may have given South Carolina fitz (puns!) in week two, but Damian Williams looked very good during that late rally vs. LSU. I’m not say it’s not going to happen, I’m just saying I’d be pretty surprised.
When the line came out last week for Georgia vs. Missouri, I remember questioning why it was only 6.5. Then I watched Missouri almost beat Georgia. As Stoops would say, the Tigers aren’t a great team, but they’re a good team…or, in my opinion, an improving team that Kentucky might be able to knock off in Lexington, but in Columbia? I don’t see it happening.
Yes, Georgia almost lost to Missouri, but behind a freshman quarterback, they managed to get the win on the road. In the Mark Stoops era, Georgia has beaten Kentucky three years in a row by a combined score of 139-51. After witnessing several of those beatdowns in person, I know better than to be optimistic about the Cats’ chances vs. the Dawgs, especially when they have Nick Chubb and we have the nation’s 116th-ranked run defense.
Scares vs. Appalachian State and Ohio prove that the Volunteers aren’t the national championship contenders many believed they were in the preseason, but they’ll still be a huge favorite over Kentucky at home. Whereas the Cats will be coming off a tough stretch vs. Mississippi State, Missouri, and Georgia, the Volunteers will have just hosted Tennessee Tech. We’ll find out how good Tennessee really is when they play Florida this weekend, but regardless, Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and company are undoubtedly good enough to take care of a porous Kentucky defense at home.
Before you slow me down with cautionary tales about Southern Miss and New Mexico State, let me remind you that Austin Peay isn’t even in the FBS. The Governors are currently 0-2 with losses to Neal Brown’s Troy (57-17) and Tennessee Tech (41-7). So, while UK’s other “cupcakes” were more like fiber-rich bran muffins that made each outcome feel like…well, you get where I’m going with this…Austin Peay should be one of those sweet, icing-laded confections that’s just perfect for Senior Day.
(That 5% of doubt is for the “should be” factor)
There’s no nice way to say it: all of Kentucky’s problems this season are magnified by the fact that Bobby Petrino — who wanted the UK job four years ago — is killing it at Louisville. The Cards look so good right now that the national media is even writing character pieces about Petrino, proof that Tom Jurich has formed some pact with the devil in exchange for Rick Pitino’s soul. Given the current trajectory of things, I shudder when I think about this game. Not only has Lamar Jackson proven he’s capable of running over any defense, especially Kentucky’s, Petrino has proven he’s willing to run the score up on any team, especially Kentucky. Add in the fact that it’s at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium about a month before Louisville fans know they’re going to lose to Kentucky in basketball and it will just be awful. Like, leave the bodies in the streets for a week after to teach the others a lesson awful.
…Wouldn’t it be crazy if Kentucky was the team to stand in the way of Louisville’s college football playoff dreams? If, after two years of the Cards keeping the Cats from bowl eligibility, it was THIS Kentucky team that pulled off the unthinkable?
It would be almost as crazy as me waking up tomorrow and suddenly deciding to be a Louisville fan, so I’m setting the percentage at 0.1%.
Charles Walker’s 64-yard punt return touchdown was one of the highlights of Kentucky’s win over New Mexico State (and my adult life). It was an explosive special teams play the team needed and it was very critical for two reasons: 1) it put the game out of reach; and 2) it was the Cats’ first return TD in six years, going all the way back to the Randall Cobb era in 2010.
Tonight, I will break down Walker’s long-awaited TD return for you in our first Inside The Play of the 2016 football season. And as someone who was on the ground floor of Walker’s Heisman campaign and has watched the replay of the return over 450 times since Saturday night, I feel I’m the most qualified to dissect it.
So let’s get inside it.
We’ll start with how the punt team lined up:
As you can see, New Mexico State is lined up in what us football know-it-alls call a shield punt formation. This type of formation is only allowed in college football as the defensive linemen are spaced a little farther apart with seven players who, in theory, can make a block and get downfield in coverage, rather than relying on two gunners on the outside. It leaves three blockers to protect the punter.
Together, all eleven will completely f*** up this one particular punt coverage, which is why we’re here on this edition of Inside The Play.
Walker fielded the punt at the 36-yard line — a subtle tribute to college football’s past, that almost went unnoticed.
You see, New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club’s athletic director passed away in 1936. His name? John Heisman. Who’s that? The man for which the Heisman trophy was named and awarded for the first time in 1936.
Four New Mexico State defenders surrounded Walker as he began his run toward pay dirt. Most punt returners would be dead meat here, but Walker is a playmaker, and what do playmakers do? They make plays.
Watch as he turned a potential gang tackle into wide open space by simply taking four steps forward, as only he can do:
Hey No. 4, where ya going there bud?
Walker left him back there picking up change.
Now for my favorite part… No. 47, the long snapper, got a wide open lane to deliver the hit stick to Walker. Defenders lick their lips over opportunities like this.
Oh man this is good.
Unfortunately for your boy, this was when he realized the moment was too big for him and there is a reason his career is limited to long snapping in the Sun Belt.
Watch him completely whiff on the seemingly easy takedown and then bowl through a pile of his own teammates to pick up the spare:
That’s now seven members of the coverage team in Walker’s dust.
Count ’em up.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Oh no. Nico Firios killed a guy.
Poor little fella never stood a chance.
Walker then cut it outside to get away from the decomposing body and three more oncoming defenders, who, like everyone else on New Mexico State’s coverage team, skipped the chapters on tackling and angles in the football handbook.
It was a casual stroll to the end zone from there. (Because what the hell was that kicker going to do?)
Welcome to the Heisman race, Charles Walker.
By Nick Roush on ©September 19th, 2016 @ 2:08pm
Mark Stoops was the happiest we’d seen him all season just two days after the first win of 2016, but that changed when discussing the status of his secondary.
“You can’t give up big plays. Just the first touchdown alone is enough to piss me off all week.”
There were multiple instances of “common sense” mistakes that resulted in big plays. The reverse pass for a touchdown was bad, but that wasn’t as aggravating as the “inexcusable” score right before half against UK’s deep cover-four zone.
“Why were they back there so far? Because the first time (against Southern Miss) they threw it over our head. So now they throw it under. Now they’re back so far there’s no way they’re getting it over our head, and then they catch it intermediately and we don’t tackle,” he said. “You gotta get it fixed, period.”
The inattention to detail is frustrating. Even though the entire unit must improve, he didn’t hesitate to call out one individual (a rare move by Stoops): Marcus McWilson.
“He’s a guy that needs to play better. I was counting on him coming into the year to play well. Darius (West) got hurt, but I thought that Marcus would battle him for that spot all along. With Darius going down it weakened us. He’s gotta step up and play better there.”
Since McWilson has failed to answer the call, they’ve been forced to move Blake McClain from nickel to free safety and move Kendall Randolph to nickel. The inexperience of the two at each position has caused the entire unit to suffer.
Opposing offenses have discovered how to take the strengths of the cornerbacks out of the game. Derrick Baity and Chris Westry excel in press coverage, but offenses have forced the defense to play more zone, Westry’s greatest weakness. Even though they’re making some inexperienced mistakes, Stoops is pleased to see them respond.
“You can’t lose your nerve. If you make some mistakes you gotta go to the next play. (If) You play that position you’re gonna lose some battles, but you gotta come back and win some. It was nice to see Derrick come in and make that interception.”
Moving forward, there are some things the secondary must be able to change immediately, without their struggles and mistakes affecting their play later in the fame.
“They have to grow up. They have to take the criticism. We all have to take the criticism. It goes with the territory. Those guys gotta understand, ‘you wanna go play in the arena, then deal with it.'” Stoops said, “You just gotta continue to work.”
“I’m sure it was a legal play.”
That was a snide remark for the obvious horse collar the officials missed when Stephen Johnson was taken to the ground in the second half. After that play, Stoops told Gran to call off the zone reads. When Johnson came to the sideline, he told him not to pull the ball away from the running back for the rest of the game.
Hurt or Injured?
The question has been around football since they were playing without facemarks. It may seem like they have the same meaning, but as Mark Stoops pointed out today, they do not.
“I’m never gonna play a guy that’s injured. In football, you better play when you’re hurtin’; you’re always gonna be hurt.”
Experience Helps the Young Guys on Offense
On the defensive side of the ball, mistakes have plagued the inexperienced group. On the offensive side of the ball, there’s enough experience where they can “sprinkle in” Benny Snell and Landon Young, setting them up to be more successful than their defensive counterparts.
Adding to the Defensive Line Rotation
The most critiqued position on the football field, Stoops needs to see more from the interior of the defensive line. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but he likes what he’s seen so far from T.J. Carter, Adrian Middleton and Tymere Dubose.
Matt Elam has been limited to strictly playing nose when the opponents are in big sets. When teams spread it out and he’s forced into the pass rush, he’s not very effective. Moving forward, more teams play a style that suits his set of skills. His backup, Naquez Pringle, needs to be more active on the line.
Second Half Adjustments
Fans can finally applaud Stoops’ defense for making some quick fixes at halftime to slow down the NMSU offense. He applauded D.J. Eliot for finding some things from the press box that were used as quick fixes, but he did not elaborate on specifics.
An Extensive Injury Report
— Cole Mosier should be back to practice today, but they’ll see how his ankle responds throughout the week.
— JoJo Kemp has never had a bad game vs. South Carolina. Stoops hopes his ankles are back to full strength but “we’ll see.”
— Dorian Baker’s hamstring injury continues to linger. An injury that can creep up at any time, Baker’s status moving forward remains uncertain.
— Kengera Daniel could play an important role for the defense, but the defensive end will have to miss another week as part of a suspension.
If a hypothetical book was written about Saturday’s game it would be titled, “A Tale of Two Halves” or even more descriptive, “A Tale of Two Sides of the Football.” Here are some interesting numbers for your Sunday entertainment:
— Stephen Johnson replaced Drew Barker following an interception and 1st quarter injury. The backup quarterback completed 17 passes for 310 yards, 0 INT, and 3 touchdowns. In addition, he carried the football 10 times for 51 yards while competently executing the Run/Pass/Option scheme.
— True freshman Benny Snell Jr had himself a game. I made the comment on the broadcast, “I don’t think I could love a player more than I love Benny Snell.” Somewhat dramatic, but hey I was excited. His welcome to college football day included 17 carries, 137 yards and 4 touchdowns. Snell is a throwback, old school football player. Tough, determined, physical, and intense are appropriate descriptions for the rookie that resembled a Jerry Claiborne era running back. For the younger crowd, that’s the highest possible compliment that I can bestow upon a UK RB.
— Boom Williams averaged 10.4 yards per carry by rushing 18 times for 188 yards and 1 touchdown. The preseason All-SEC RB managed 25 rushes for 165 yards against Southern Miss and Florida.
— TE CJ Conrad emerged from the abyss to catch 5 passes for 133 yards and 3 touchdowns. The BBN has clamored for TEs to be incorporated into the offensive game plan on blogs, message boards, social media, and on the air waves. Greg Hart also had two grabs and was a physical line-of-scrimmage blocker.
— Punt returner Charles Walker broke a longtime drought by racing 65 yards through the NMSU punt team for a touchdown. Walker’s return score was UK’s first since Randall Cobb’s September 11, 2010 scamper for 6. Oh by the way, I called that if you haven’t heard. Humble brag? Yep and a shot at my not-so compassionate KSR Football Podcast pals that wouldn’t stop with the pregame traffic and elevator jokes. I took the stairs by the way.
— True freshman punter Grant McKinniss averaged 47.5 yards per punt. That’s almost 8 more yards than UK averaged a year ago.
— The Cats averaged 49 offensive plays—279 yards per game in its first two contests. The Johnson-ran offense produced 75 plays and 692 total offensive yards. 9.2 yards per play is an impressive number regardless of opponent.
— Kentucky averaged 94 rushing yards per game against USM and Florida. Boom Williams, Bennie Snell Jr. and crew racked up 381 off 51 carries for an average of 7.47 yards per rush.
— Time of possession average was 21:01 per game. Kentucky controlled the line of scrimmage and clock by utilizing 34:12 on Saturday.
— The Cats had been outscored 35-0 in the third quarter. It scored 14 and allowed 7.
Sunshine pumping? Maybe. I am fully aware that complimenting the Kentucky Football program is not exactly in vogue. But considerable team and individual improvements must be pointed out. A wise mentor once told me, “If you’re willing to critique you must be willing to praise.” New Mexico State is not South Carolina, it’s certainly not Alabama or Louisville. But improvements are just that: progress.
Now for the not-so-good numbers (Defense):
— New Mexico State averaged 27 points and 326 yards of total offense per game against New Mexico and UTEP. The Aggies lit up the scoreboard and the Wildcat defense for 35 first half points; 42 for the game. NMSU also had 500 yards of total offense. No sugarcoating this: immediate and detailed defensive improvements are mandatory.
— NMSU averaged 120 yards on the ground. 223 vs. UK.
— QB Tyler Rogers accounted for 75.7% of Aggie offense in weeks 1 and 2. He was 16-33 for 246 yards and 2 TD’s against UK. Rogers also gained 74 yards on the ground to go along with 2 rushing touchdowns while accounting for 64% of all NMSU offensive yards. He did throw his first two interceptions of the season.
The Wildcats have serious and obvious decencies along the defensive line. NTs Naquez Pringle and Adrian Middleton played the majority of snaps as Matt Elam was utilized situationally. True freshman defensive end TJ Carter showed flashes, as did DT Tymere Dubose who played in his first sustained game action. Defensive ends Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell lost edge containment early, but played more fundamentally sound in the second half. Miggins batted down two of Tyler Rogers’ passes in the Aggie’s last offensive drive. UK DL has not registered a QB sack in 2016.
Linebackers are UK’s most active defenders as Denzil Ware, Josh Allen, Courtney Love, and Jordan Jones have compiled a high number of tackles and accounted for all 5 of the team’s QB sacks. However, this group continues to struggle in zone pass coverage. This is an urgent matter in need of immediate correction. In addition to pass defense liabilities, middle linebackers must increase their competence against interior runs. I’m referencing the inability to maintain rush-lane responsibility while facing cut-back runs during zone-stretch—read plays. Overall, inside linebacker play has to progress.
The secondary is more than capable when in man-to-man coverage. But as mentioned earlier, zone pass defense has been troublesome. There are many reasons for this. A lack of a defensive line pass rush, linebackers failing to reach their intended zone responsibility areas, and communication breakdowns have all plagued. All these issues are correctable. Rectification has to be done in a hurry and before the Gamecocks come to town.
What does all this mean?
Eddie Gran’s game plan and play calling would have been universally praised if it wasn’t for an overabundance of defensive inadequacies. Gran dialed up a pretty football game while using several rookies in the lineup. RB Benny Snell is the obvious name; but also contributing at a high level were: LG Logan Stenberg, WR Jabari Greenwood, RG Bunchie Stallings, TE Greg Hart, QB Stephen Johnson, and LT Landon Young.
Stephen Johnson was an offensive spark. True, it was against a non-conference opponent but his performance displayed developmental results at the quarterback position. QB coach Darin Hinshaw should be commended. Johnson should be applauded for staying focused in his preparation while in a reserve role. Sustaining a high level of play will be a challenge. Unequivocally Johnson passed his first test.
Back to defensive distresses. They were plentiful and repeatedly pointed out by every writer, analyst, Twitter types, and most other folks. Truth is the first half was ugly, very-very ugly. Third and fourth quarters weren’t handsome, but not atrocious. The Cats made adjustments and allowed just one touchdown in the second half after giving up 5 in the first 30 minutes. Could this be a building block? I’m not sure and wouldn’t go that far yet. Far too many issues that need to be cleaned and coached up. But it was abundantly clear that the defense played at a higher level when it manufactured momentum.
It’s now time to move forward to South Carolina. Kentucky currently owns a two-game winning streak in the series. During the two-game stretch, UK has claimed a more talented roster than its impending visitors. Can it sustain Saturday’s offensive momentum? Will the defense gain confidence in an improved second half showing? Will the streak extend to three games? We’ll see soon enough.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©September 17th, 2016 @ 11:00pm
During today’s three-and-a-half hour game, I’m pretty sure Kentucky fans experienced every emotion possible as the Cats stumbled and rumbled to a 62-42 win over New Mexico State. Fortunately, the outcome was in our favor, but man, it was messy.
The game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. After Drew Barker threw an interception on the first drive and had to be carted off the field with a back injury, New Mexico State scored on its second play from scrimmage, a 35-yard pass from Tyler Rodgers that spoke of things to come. Kentucky’s defense flatlined during the rest of the half, allowing New Mexico State put up 35 points and 345 yards of total offense, the most by the Aggies against an FBS team since 2007. With the score tied at 35 at half, Mark Stoops’ days appeared numbered, but thankfully, the offense lit the field on fire in the second half, putting up four more touchdowns behind three stars: Benny Snell, CJ Conrad, and Stephen Johnson.
Let’s break it down, starting with the good…
Benny Snell was a superstar
In his first major game action, true freshman Benny Snell was a superstar, putting up 136 yards and FOUR touchdowns on 17 attempts, tying a UK record for the most rushing touchdowns in a single game. Yes, it was just New Mexico State, but Snell looked like a true SEC running back, eluding and dragging defenders down the field. There are several impressive plays to choose from, but watching him power across the goal line for his fourth touchdown was something special:
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 17, 2016
Kentucky’s rushing attacked finally clicked this afternoon, with Benny and Boom Williams combining for 317 yards and five touchdowns. Boom had 181 yards on 18 attempts, including a beautiful 63-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. As Mark Stoops said, Benny’s powerful running style is the perfect compliment to Boom’s flash and speed. JoJo Kemp is expected to be back next week after sitting out with an ankle injury, but Benny’s future is bright. (Even if the “Snell” puns are not.)
There’s the CJ Conrad we’ve been waiting for
It says a lot about the offense’s performance that CJ Conrad scored three touchdowns and he’s not the first player I wrote about. After he dropped the first play of the season, fans have been clamoring for more Conrad. The talented tight end came in to today’s game with only one catch for five yards, but today, he had five catches for 133 yards and three touchdowns, the most receiving touchdowns since Dicky Lyons, Jr. vs. Florida in 2007. Want to go back even further? Conrad is the first UK tight end with three touchdowns since James Whalen vs. Georgia in 1999.
Watch him walk the tightrope on his first TD:
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 17, 2016
Is Stephen Johnson your new QB?
When Drew Barker was carted off the field after the first series, things did not bode well for Kentucky. After a so-so performance vs. Florida, Stephen Johnson stepped in and firmly took control of the UK offense, confidently leading the Cats down the field and making everyone wonder why he wasn’t in charge all along. Johnson finished the game 17-22 for 310 yards, 3 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions, and also ran for 51 yards on 10 carries. Under his hand, Kentucky put up 692 yards of total offense, the most since the Cats put up 801 yards vs. Louisville in 1998 and the second most in the program’s history.
Yes, New Mexico State’s defense ranked 97th in the country coming into this game, but Johnson kept the offense moving and took care of the football. Even though he might have a quarterback controversy on his hands, Stoops was pleased with Johnson’s performance.
“I thought he really calmed down and made some good decisions, because early on it was a little rough and he settled in and he has a lot of poise. And that we need right now. So it was really nice to see him, he really made good decisions, what it appeared on the sideline, of when to pull it down and get some yards with his legs.”
It remains to be seen if Barker can even go next week — his status is unknown after he was taken to the hospital with a back injury — but after watching the offense move so well this afternoon, it’s hard to imagine going back to him. In fact, Benny Snell told reporters after the game that if it was up to him, the job would already belong to Johnson.
Charles Walker finally returned a punt for a touchdown
It took a season, but Drew Franklin finally gets to say, “I told you so.” In the fourth quarter, Charles Walker returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, the first Cat to do so since Randall Cobb on September 11, 2010. As Stoops joked afterwards, us media folk can finally write about a special teams touchdown. It sure has been a long time.
So, that’s all the good stuff. Now, the bad…
The defense is absolutely horrible
We came into this season knowing the defense was vulnerable in spots. Watching teams run all over Kentucky’s front seven is alarming, but at least we expected issues there. We didn’t expect UK’s secondary — thought to be one of the better units in the SEC before the season — to be just as big of a liability. I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse defensive performance by a Kentucky football team than I did in the first half of today’s game. Thankfully, the staff made some adjustments at halftime (hurrah!) and things got slightly better in the second half, but man…our defense is not good. New Mexico State racked up 500 yards of total offense (223 rushing, 277 passing), and all without their star running back Larry Rose III.
After giving up 72 points over six quarters, Stoops vowed to be more active with the defense during today’s game, but afterwards, even he admitted it was rough performance.
“It wasn’t good. It was a combination of things. I talked all week about having a higher football IQ. And we didn’t do that. With the first touchdown off of that split. Again, I’m not taking anything away from them, but we flat blew it. That can’t happen.”
At times, it looked like the defense was completely lost, looking to the sideline to figure out formations and scrambling to get in proper position before the snap. Stoops admitted his unit seemed flummoxed.
“We’re searching right now. We got guys that are — it gets difficult with fits and so on. I don’t want to get too complex, but there’s, we have got to get some things ironed out. It’s getting a little bit confusing to them, even though we’re trying to be simple.”
Technically, Kentucky won the game. But, considering the defense’s abysmal play, how can you NOT be concerned going forward?
For now, a win is a win
As Kentucky football fans, we’ve been conditioned to expect the worst, and at several points today, it looked like we were going to lose to New Mexico State; however, behind a backup quarterback, a true freshman running back, and a sophomore tight end, the Cats not only got their act together, they put up the second best offensive performance in the program’s history. Even if it came against New Mexico State and the defense gave up 42 points, I’ll take it after the past two weeks.
Yes, issues on defense loom and the schedule’s about to get a LOT tougher, but right now, it sure feels nice to have a few good things to talk about.