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Prophecy says the world will end on Saturday, so of course Kentucky will beat Florida

Prophecy says the world will end on Saturday, so of course Kentucky will beat Florida

According to a biblical prophecy, the world is supposed to end on Saturday, September 23, the same day Kentucky attempts to snap its 30-year losing streak to Florida. Coincidence? I think not.

How many times have you thought to yourself, the streak will never end? That the only way Kentucky would finally beat the Gators is if pigs flew by your window or hell froze over? Years of demoralizing losses will do that to even the most optimistic fan, which makes this prophecy so fitting.

Christian numerologists claim that on Saturday, Planet X — also known as Nibiru — will collide with Earth, causing widespread volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Given the natural disasters wrecking havoc across the globe in recent weeks, that doesn’t seem so far off from reality. As for Kentucky football’s role in it all, well, just read these verses in Luke 21: 25 to 26…

“25: There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“’26: Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.’

I mean, I’m no biblical scholar, but let’s break this down:

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.” 

  • Kentucky is 3-0 coming off an upset of South Carolina
  • Florida could be without nine players, including two top offensive playmakers
  • Florida’s offense and defense rank last and second to last in the SEC
  • The Gators needed a miracle to beat Tennessee

“On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.”

Sounds to me like the football world coming to grips with Kentucky’s success.

“People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken…Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”

A perfect description of the scene in Kroger Field as Kentucky tries to run the clock out on the final drive of the game. If the Cats are up one score with two minutes let, you KNOW fans will be fainting from terror and a few will clutch their hearts in fear. Should Kentucky finally beat Florida on Saturday, they would be on top of the SEC East standings and have a legitimate shot at going to the SEC Championship, and what is more core-shaking than that?

If the world does end on Saturday, I just hope it happens after the buzzer has sounded and the Cats officially snap the streak. Then, come and take me, God, because I will have reached nirvana.

If it ends just as Austin MacGinnis’ game-winning kick approaches the uprights…well, what would be more Kentucky football than that?


Get to know Jaxson Hayes, Kentucky’s new 2018 target

There is a new name on John Calipari’s recruiting board for the Class of 2018 and it’s a surprising one.

Calipari extended a scholarship offer to Jaxson Hayes, a blossoming prospect out of nearby Cincinnati, on Tuesday. Hayes is only the second big man on UK’s board with an offer, and many are wondering why it went to him and not Simi Shittu, who Calipari loves.


JAXSON HAYES

Power Forward/Center 6-11 | 195 lbs. Cincinnati, OH Archbishop Moeller
ESPN: Unranked Top 247: 160 | 41 PF Rivals: Unranked Scout: Unranked

Hayes is considered a long-term project due to his inexperience and skinny frame, but Cal obviously sees the potential or he wouldn’t have extended the offer. Other big programs see the potential, too — Hayes also has offers from Texas, Ohio State, Purdue, Xavier, Illinois, Butler and Dayton, among many others.

You’ll hear plenty more from Hayes in the coming days as speculation of a commitment heats up, so you better go ahead and get familiar with him. Here’s what you need to know…

 

He hasn’t started a game in high school.

By now you’ve probably heard: Hayes hasn’t started a single game of high school basketball — not on the varsity team, not on the JV team and not on the freshman team…

… yet he holds a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.

He averaged less than 10 minutes per game last season.

Hayes was a reserve for Ohio state tournament runner-up Archbishop Moeller in his junior season, his first on varsity. He averaged around three to four points per contest off the bench.

He’s grown almost a foot taller since his freshman year.

Hayes was 6-1 as a freshman, and has grown to 6-11 entering his senior year at Moeller.

Anthony Davis 2.0?

“He’s literally getting better by the hour.”

That is what his head coach, Carl Kremer, told WCPO in Cincinnati back in July.

He visited Kentucky on Sept 2.

Hayes took an unofficial visit to Lexington on Saturday, September 2.

He took official visits to Texas and Xavier.

Hayes visited the Longhorns on September 8; then Xavier on September 15.

Football was his first love.

Before the sudden growth spurt, Hayes thought his future was in football. He was being recruited as a tight end and wide receiver, and took a visit to Iowa, his father’s alma mater.

His father is the tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hayes is the oldest son of 12-year NFL veteran Jonathan Hayes, who is in his fifteenth season as the Bengals’ tight ends coach.

His mother was a college basketball star.

Mama Hayes scored more than 1,500 points for Drake and was the 1995 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. She went on to coach at Southern Illinois-Carbondale, Iowa and Oklahoma.

So the kid has pretty good genes, huh?

He is a friend and classmate of UK tight end commit, Brendan Bates.

Bates committed to Kentucky back in March and has been billed as the tight end of the future for Kentucky football.

He played AAU ball with Romeo Langford.

Hayes played alongside Romeo Langford on the Kentucky-based 22 Vision AAU team on the adidas circuit this past summer.

Learn more about him in this news story:

Watch his highlights:


A way-too-early look at Kentucky’s 2018 football schedule

A way-too-early look at Kentucky’s 2018 football schedule

It is way too early to be looking ahead to next season, but I’m going to do it anyway since the schedule was released today.


Kentucky Football | 2018 Schedule


vs. Central Michigan
Sept. 1 | Kroger Field

Kentucky will open the 2018 season in Kroger Field against the Chippewas of Central Michigan. A five-win team in 2017, Central Michigan will hope to see a rusty Drew Barker in Barker’s first start for the Wildcats since 2016; but even if that’s the case, the Cats’ defense projects to be one of the best in the nation after all eligible juniors passed on the NFL draft to return for their senior years.

at Florida
Sept. 8 | Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

With the 30-year streak in the rearview mirror, Florida will be out to get back on the right track and avenge the 10-point loss at Kentucky in 2017. Jim McElwain, sitting on the hottest seat in the SEC, will desperately need a win in the Gators’ first true test of the year.

vs. Murray State
Sept. 15 | Kroger Field

Our younger brothers from the West will step outside the OVC for a trip to Central Kentucky to try to upset the state’s best football program. Senior quarterback Shuler Bentley, the older brother of South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley, will carry on the family legacy of losing to the Cats.

vs. Mississippi State
Sept. 22 | Kroger Field

The annual SEC East-West rivalry returns to Lexington in 2018 after the Bulldogs handed Kentucky its first loss of the 2017 season. But with stud quarterback Nick Fitzgerald gone to the pros, the Dawgs will struggle with QB concerns through the early part of 2018.

vs. South Carolina
Sept. 29 | Kroger Field

South Carolina will come to Lexington on a four-game losing skid to Kentucky, but Heisman hopeful Deebo Samuel and third-year starter Jake Bentley will have the Gamecocks looking poised for a run at the SEC East. However, they may already have two losses on their resume — Georgia and at Vanderbilt — before playing the Cats in Week 5. This one could be an early must-win for the Cocks.

at Texas A&M
Oct. 6 | Kyle Field

Reigning SEC Coach of the Year Mark Stoops will take his Wildcats on the program’s first ever trip to College Station to play the Aggies and new head coach Chip Kelly.

Blue will get in.

vs. Vanderbilt
Oct. 20 | Kroger Field

How will Vanderbilt look in Derek Mason’s fifth season? Prediction: Good, coming off consecutive bowl appearances.

at Missouri
Oct. 27 | Faurot Field

After an absolutely embarrassing effort in 2017 with zero conference wins, Missouri will suck once again.

vs. Georgia
Nov. 3 | Kroger Field

Defending SEC East champion Georgia was lucky to beat the Wildcats in Athens in 2017, so Kentucky will be motivated to return the favor in Kroger Field in 2018.

at Tennessee
Nov. 10 | Neyland Stadium

The UK-UT rivalry will reach new heights in 2018 when the two programs play in the first ever Stoops Bowl. Mark and his Wildcats will visit older brother Bob and his Volunteers in the 3:30 pm CBS game in Knoxville.

vs. Middle Tennessee State
Nov. 17 | Kroger Field

In the ultimate trap game, Middle Tennessee State, sandwiched between road trips to Tennessee and Louisville on UK’s schedule, will provide an unexpected challenge late in the season. Expect a sluggish start by the Cats after a very emotional Senior Day for the program’s NFL prospects, the most ever from one class.

at Louisville
Nov. 24 | Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

With Lamar Jackson off to the NFL and running the Jacksonville Jaguars offense, the Cardinals will struggle under the guidance of new starting quarterback Jawon Pass, who will throw four interceptions in his debut against Alabama. By the time the Kentucky game rolls around in the regular season finale, Louisville will have five losses on its resume and will be handed a sixth by the visiting Kentucky Wildcats, which entered the game as four-point road favorites having won the last two meetings.


Kentucky’s 2018 Football Schedule is Released

Kentucky football fans, it’s time to prepare for the 2018 season.  Get out your calendars to pencil in seven home games at Kroger Field and an eventful SEC road trip.  Even though we already knew most of Kentucky’s 2018 opponents, a few unexpected wrinkles have been added.

UK will host instate foe Murray State after a road trip to Gainesville.  They’ll take their first trip to Kyle Field to play Texas A&M just before the Bye Week, which will once again fall on the same weekend as Big Blue Madness.  Finally, what could be the biggest surprise is the late-season addition of Middle Tennessee State.  The Blue Raiders were projected to win Conference-USA this year and will bring a big crowd from Murfreesboro, which is just four hours away from Lexington.

Kentucky’s 2018 Football Schedule

Sept. 1                          CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Sept. 8                          at Florida

Sept. 15                        MURRAY STATE

Sept. 22                        MISSISSIPPI STATE

Sept. 29                        SOUTH CAROLINA

Oct. 6                            at Texas A&M

Oct. 13                          Open Date

Oct. 20                          VANDERBILT

Oct. 27                          at Missouri

Nov. 3                           GEORGIA

Nov. 10                         at Tennessee

Nov. 17                         MIDDLE TENNESSEE

Nov. 24                         at Louisville

See the schedules for all 14 SEC schools here.


Florida Scouting Report: Part 1

Florida Scouting Report: Part 1

PIC BY Florida Gators Football Youtube

The streak. That’s all I have to say about that. The Florida Gators will travel to Lexington but will be accompanied by several questions that could significantly impact the game’s outcome. There are no updates on its nine suspended players at the time that this post was sent to the KSR editorial department. Also, All-SEC cornerback Duke Dawson is listed as a starter but with an “Or” identifier as the elite defensive playmaker sustained a head injury against Tennessee. I fully expect him to play.

Florida kicked off the season with a neutral site loss to Michigan. The Gators were outgained 433 yards to 192. Its only touchdowns were scored by the defense. The Wolverines limited UF to nine first downs and just 11 rush yards. Quarterback Feleipe Franks’ 63-yard Hail Mary pass completion to WR Tyrie Cleveland as time expired beat the questionable play calling Tennessee Volunteers a week ago. UT racked up 23 first downs compared to Florida’s 14. Like Michigan, it outgained the Gators 442-total yards to 380 but lost the game 26-20. Let’s take a look at the Gators personnel and statistics. Please remember this is just a two-game body of work:

Pic by SEC Country

OFFENSE

Florida mainly operates out of the Pistol formation and utilizes multiple tight ends, unbalanced lines, bunch formations, and motions in order to mask its limited number of proven playmakers. Physical running backs Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson present challenges but true freshman Malik Davis leads the team in rushing. The Gators are listed at 14th or at the bottom of the SEC’s total offense category.

However, talented true freshman quarterback turned receiver Kadarious Toney surfaced against the Vols and could be counted on more against Kentucky. The rookie is dynamic with the football in his hands and could be the playmaker that UF has tried to identify for the past three years. Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks is the starter and was solid but not spectacular against Tennessee. Luke Del Rio and Notre Dame grad-transfer Malik Zaire will be available if Franks struggles in his first true road start. Franks is not a true runner but can do so if necessary.

Suspended starters WR/KR Antonio Calloway and Jordan Scarlett are said to be missed, but the Gator offense finished 2016 ranked 116th in total offense with that duo in the lineup. It’s scored two touchdowns in two games. This offense is young and consists of two freshmen, five sophomores, three juniors, and one senior. LT Martez Ivey is its best lineman and top NFL prospect.

Projected Starters

Quarterback Feleipe Franks 6’5, 227 Fr.
Running Back Lamical Perine 5’11, 218 So.
Receiver Josh Hammond 6’1, 187, So.
Receiver Tyrie Cleveland 6’2, 205 So.
Receiver Brandon Powell 5’8, 189 Sr.
Tight End C’yontai Lewis 6’4, 235 Jr.
Left Tackle Martez Ivey 6’5, 315 Jr.
Left Guard Brett Heggie 6’4, 330 Fr.
Center T.J. McCoy 6’1, 308 So.
Right Guard Fred Johnson 6’6, 330 Jr.
Right Tackle Jawaan Taylor 6’5, 334 So.

Team Stats

Scoring 21.5 points per game SEC-14th
Rushing 89.5 yards per game SEC-12th
Passing 196 SEC-7th
Total 286 SEC-14th
3rd Down 33.3% SEC-14th
Red-Zone 2/2, 100% SEC-1st

Top Performers

Passing Feleipe Franks 23/37, 287-yards, 62%, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing Malik Davis 5 carries, 105-yards
Receiving Tyrie Cleveland 9 receptions, 199-yds, 1 TD

DEFENSE

Florida is ranked 13th or second to last in the SEC’s total defense category. Much like I thought the South Carolina numbers didn’t paint an accurate picture of the Gamecocks; I feel similarly about the Gators; but in reverse. Randy Shannon’s defense is much better than its listing. It’s young, fast, aggressive, disruptive, and littered with future professionals.

Defensive ends Jabari Zuniga, CeCe Jefferson, Jordan Sherit, and Zachai Polite are disruptive. Linebackers and the secondary are young but also highly talented. LB David Reese is the team’s leading tackler. UF’s secondary has scored three touchdowns; reminder that one more than its offensive counterparts. Led by CB Duke Dawson, the defensive backfield consists of an embarrassing amount of deep, young talent. It also prefers man-to-man coverage especially on the outside.

Projected Starters

Defensive End Jabari Zuniga 6’3, 246 So.
Nose Tackle Khairi Clark 6’1, 315 Jr.
Defensive Tackle Taven Bryan 6’4, 291 Jr.
Defensive End CeCe Jefferson 6’1, 242 Jr.
Linebacker Jeremiah Moon 6’6, 228 Fr.
Linebacker David Reese 6’1, 239 So.
Linebacker Vosean Joseph 6’1, 227 So.
Cornerback Marco Wilson 6’0, 177 Fr.
Cornerback Duke Dawson 5’10, 202 Sr.
Nickel CJ Henderson 6’1, 186 Fr.
Safety Nick Washington 6’0, 198 Sr.
Safety Chauncey Gardner 6’0, 207 So.

Team Statistics

Scoring Allows 26.5 ppg SEC-12th
Rushing 199 ypg SEC-13th
Passing 238 SEC-10th
Total 437 SEC-13th
QB Sacks 6 SEC-8th
Tackles for Loss 16 SEC-10th
3rd Down 35.29% SEC-9th

Top Performers

Tackles David Reese 18
QB Sacks Jordan Sherit 2
Tackles for Loss Jordan Sherit, CeCe Jefferson 2
Interceptions CJ Henderson, Duke Dawson 2
QB Hurries Jabari Zuniga 4

Pic of Johnny Townsend By FloridaGators.com

SPECIAL TEAMS

Johnny Townsend is considered as one of the best punters in the nation. Kicker Eddie Pineiro is a preseason All-SEC selection. Special teams and field position could decide this game.

Punter Johnny Townsend 50.18 per, SEC-1st
Kicker Eddy Pineiro 3/4, SEC-5th

What does all this mean?

Florida is much better than I expected and definitely more threatening than statistical rankings. Tune into the Depth Chart Podcast for Part II of the Florida scouting report as we dive deeper into scheme, personnel, matchups, and expectation.


We’ve reached the ten-year anniversary of UK vs. Florida College GameDay

In 2007, College GameDay came to the University of Kentucky in a top-25 matchup against the Florida Gators, creating one of the most incredible campus environments in school history.

Tim Tebow was in his Heisman follow-up campaign, the Wildcats had just upset No. 1 LSU and moved up to No. 7 in the polls, and Andre Woodson was solidifying himself as one of the all-time quarterback greats at UK.

10 years later, the same matchup that electrified the fanbase like no other is back.

But let’s take a trip down memory lane and relive College GameDay coming to Lexington from both fan and player perspective.

KSR friend and Depth Chart Podcast co-host Andrew Eaton was at UK’s 2007 GameDay experience, and decided to give insight on the excitement fans felt on that day.

“The atmosphere was electric,” Eaton said. “Even the night before was awesome.  They did a feature on SportsCenter on Friday night, highlights of the epic LSU victory the previous week, Tebow’s best plays and his status as the top player in America.”

According to Eaton, the nightlife throughout the week leading up to GameDay was something to marvel.

“People were staying out all night and the campus was absolutely packed. I don’t think the streak was the entire emphasis, rather that we were top 10 and rolling. It was an incredible experience as a student,” he said.

What was more impressive for Eaton, however, was the entire athletic department buying into the hype of this matchup.

“GameDay turned into an all-Kentucky event. All of our athletics programs promoted this event and did their job to pack the house,” he said. “College Gameday for basketball is one thing, but the football version is the premier event, and people treated it as such. For that week, everyone was all-in on the football program, and it’s something I had never experienced in my time as a fan.

This year, GameDay has already (questionably) decided to set up shop in New York City this weekend, but that doesn’t take away from the hype surrounding this game. Kentucky has just come off a massive road win against South Carolina, they’re 3-0, and the Cats finally have the tools necessary to knock off the Gators.

“This week has less national hype. From a fan perspective, however, it feels like similar ground. We want to see how “real” this team is. Beating Florida cements that. It establishes that this Kentucky team is legit and here to stay,” Eaton said.

In an interview with KSR, former Kentucky receiver and star member of the 2007 football team Keenan Burton told us what it was like to be part of College GameDay and what playing in a game of this magnitude feels like as a player.

“It’s crazy, the experience was incredible. If you’re not careful, it can be overwhelming. If you have an afternoon or night game, you watch GameDay, it’s just what you do as a player,” he said. “You look around and see signs for me, see signs for Stevie (Johnson), Andre (Woodson), and Jacob (Tamme), to see the fans there for us, it made us extremely excited.”

And it was the fans believing in the players from kickoff to the final buzzer that kept the team motivated.

The thing that stuck out to me was that our fans always thought we had a chance to win from start to finish,” Burton said. “Up until the end of the game, the stands were full, cheering loud on every play. They thought the streak was going to end, and we appreciated them for the motivation.”

Burton caught 189 receptions for 2376 yards and 25 touchdowns over his career, an era that many Kentucky fans feel maintained some of the top talent and entertaining football in school history. At the time, though, Burton said he had no idea the team would leave the lasting impact it did.

“In the moment, you don’t know you’re going to be part of something like that,” said Burton. “Ten years from that day, it’s just incredible to say I was part of that team. We will never be forgotten. I feel like our whole group feels that way.”

Former star cornerback Trevard Lindley was a key player for the Wildcats from 2006-2009 and played a massive role on that 2007 team. He agrees, that era of Kentucky football was special.

“It feels incredible being part of that group. We started to beat teams that no one thought we could beat, going to bowls games, and just bringing football back to a school that isn’t used to reaching those heights. It was special,” Lindley said.

Even with the hype surrounding the program while he was there and monumental upsets, Burton believes the 2017 football team has something they never did.

“I think this team has something we didn’t have. They have legitimate depth, four and five-star players. They have experience and leaders stepping up. They’ve prepared for the big games and won them, so they know how to finish in similar situations now. They have a huge opportunity to upset Florida,” he said.

But what needs to happen for the 2017 Wildcats to do something Burton and Lindley’s 2007 squad couldn’t?

“The person that needs to stand out is Stephen Johnson. He’s helped us win games and has been a real leader for this team,” Burton said. “You know what you’re gonna get from Benny Snell. There are some talented athletes outside. The defense has to step up big time, but I think they’ve got a legitimate shot.”

Now for the most important question.

Is the streak going to end on Saturday?

“If we win on Saturday, we do something even the best, most loved UK teams in my fan history never managed to do. I honestly believe it’s time,” said Andrew Eaton.

Trevard Lindley agrees. He said, “I believe if they come out and play and minimize mistakes, we’ll be able to beat them.”

“I wouldn’t be true a Kentucky fan if I said otherwise,” Keenan Burton said. “Absolutely, Kentucky is going to break the curse and pull off the win. Tell everyone, the streak is going to end.”


UK Basketball inspires brain cancer survivor to help others Sparkle Bright

UK Basketball inspires brain cancer survivor to help others Sparkle Bright

Even without her signature blue mohawk, Ashley Lyles is impossible to miss. Decked out in neon and glitter, her energy radiates through Rupp Arena as she makes the rounds to visit her “UK family” at the John Calipari Fantasy Experience. Watching her now, it’s hard to believe that almost two years ago, doctors only gave her five months to live.

In December 2015, Lyles, then age 35, was diagnosed with Grade IV Glioblastoma, an incurable and aggressive form of brain cancer. With the odds stacked against her, she persevered thanks to an unwavering positive attitude and the support of her friends, family, and UK Basketball. Now, she’s made it her life’s mission to help others through the Sparkle Bright Foundation.


Like many of us, Lyles measures her life by UK Basketball. Born and raised in Marshall County, she can’t remember a time she didn’t follow the Cats. In 1992 at age 11, she remembers crying on her parents’ floor after Christian Laettner hit the shot. When it came time for college, she only applied to two schools: UK and Transylvania, the latter strictly a fallback plan. At UK, she went to every game she could, including the postseason. After moving to Chicago for law school, she still followed the Cats, traveling as far as Maui, New Orleans, New York, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Miami, and Nashville to see them play. Next year’s SEC Tournament will be her 10th straight, the first being the one at the Georgia Dome when the tornado hit. Simply put, if the Cats were playing somewhere and Lyles was able to get there, she did.

That’s why it’s not surprising that the story of Lyles’ brain cancer started with a UK game. In November 2015, she and her family went to Miami for the UK/South Florida game just before Thanksgiving, stopping in Orlando first to visit with family. That’s when the headaches started. Over the next month, they just got worse. Lyles continued on with her life as an insurance litigation attorney in Chicago, but the pounding persisted; being that it was Christmastime, she joked the headaches were like having “The Little Drummer Boy” stuck in her head. Others started to notice her behavior. At a company Christmas party, her friends and coworkers grew concerned when Lyles appeared loopy and disoriented even though she hadn’t been drinking. The next day, she contemplated going to New York to see Ohio State/Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic, but her headaches kept her at home. After watching the game and barely being able to recall what happened afterwards, she finally gave in and went to the hospital the next morning.

“I packed myself a bag and thought, ‘I’m going to go get a $10,000 Tylenol,'” Lyles laughed. “Right before I went, my gut told me something was wrong, like God was telling me, ‘Ashley, something’s wrong and it’s bad, but it’s all going to be okay.’ It’s eerie that I had this peace from the vey beginning. Something’s wrong but it’s going to be fine.”

Doctors at the hospital gave her a routine checkup and sent her home with a “migraine cocktail,” which Lyles said didn’t even take her pain from a ten to a nine. She went back in and they performed a CT scan and an MRI.

“Then, they came in and said, ‘You need to call your family.'”

Lyles’ parents came to Chicago and two days later, they performed surgery. After removing the tumor, their worst fears were confirmed; it was glioblastoma, a rare and deadly form of brain cancer most common in elderly men (John McCain was diagnosed with it this summer). Life expectancy was five months.

Kim Parks, Lyles’ close friend and co-founder of Sparkle Bright, was in the room with Ashley and her family when they found out the news, and said that her reaction is a testament to what makes her so special.

“Ashley said, ‘Is it cancer?’ Her mom, pretty much at a whisper, said, ‘It’s what they thought it was.’ Ashley choked back a tear and the next thing out of her mouth was, ‘Dad, find a Chanel store because I’m getting myself a bag.’ It was pretty funny.”

Lyles was determined to focus on the positives.

“Stats will say, only 4.7% will make it five years,” Lyles said. “There’s a 97% chance it will come back. Well, there’s a 3% chance it won’t. People ask me, ‘How do you live [knowing that]?’ Well, heck, I could get struck by lightning, I could get hit by a bus. You can’t live in fear. I decided early on that you have to look for the positive because you’re not going to make it through if you don’t.”

From there, Lyles started six weeks of intense treatment during which she had chemo every day and radiation five times a week. It was a grueling time, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Lyles admitted to succumbing to “pity parties” every now and then; however, for the most part, she was positive, which helped those around her stay strong.

“She was the most positive of us all,” Parks said. “She was keeping us sane. She was keeping us from being sad. Being around her actually made things easier because she never got down, she never felt sorry for herself. She just felt, “Well, God had a reason for me and I’m going to beat it. I’ve never been one to be the norm so why start now?'”

When Lyles’ hair started to fall out due to the radiation, she even turned that into positive, leaping on the chance to show off her love for the Cats. She and Parks went to see Drew the Barber, whom they met through their friend Nazr Mohammed in Chicago. After he cut her hair off to give make wigs for cancer patients, Lyles handed Drew a picture of Nerlens Noel’s hair the day he committed to UK and asked him to replicate it.

“The tumor was on the right side, so there was part on my left side that I didn’t lose. We shaved everything except a ‘UK.'”

Somehow, John Calipari heard about Lyles’ diagnosis in December and sent a tweet out asking Kentucky fans to pray for as she headed into surgery. In February, the team sent her a special message and vowed to win the South Carolina game for her, which they did in spectacular fashion. When her treatments were over in March, she was invited to watch the team practice at the Joe Craft Center, and Parks said the effect it had, especially on Lyles’ father, Phil, was remarkable.

“They let the three of us come in, me, Ashley, and her dad, and Ashley and her dad just had smiles on their faces,” Parks recalled. “I hadn’t seen her dad smile I don’t think, since it had all happened. I had seen Ashley smile, but not her dad. She wasn’t sick anymore that day.”

Watching the players embrace Ashley was a special moment for Parks.

“The players’ reaction to her — because it’s clear that she’s going through something, she has no hair — every player jumped up to go see her. Every one of them. Every single one was giving her hugs. It was just so sweet to see how these 18-year-old kids are jumping up to go say hi to her and talk to her.

“For all of them to be genuine about it — there wasn’t any faking it. They weren’t prepped for this. They were just immediately so warm and inviting. We walked out of there on cloud nine. Everyone was so happy. It was fun. It was finally a day that she got to feel normal.”

Buoyed by the visit, Lyles dyed the UK logo on her head blue and followed the Cats to the SEC Tournament in Nashville and the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. Once the season was over, she refocused on her life after cancer. It hasn’t been easy. Although she is tumor-free, Lyles suffers from short term memory loss and easily gets disoriented. She’s still not released to go back to work, so she’s filling her time with her new venture: the Sparkle Bright Foundation, a non-profit organization she and Parks founded to help others with suffering from brain cancer and brain tumors. Their goal is to provide answers to questions that Lyles found herself asking in the months following her surgery and to also ease the burden on patients and their families.

“Brain tumors and brain cancer are so complicated and there isn’t the money there like there is with other types of cancer,” Lyles said. “So, we started to think, why don’t we do something for brain tumor patients? There’s the Make a Wish Foundation, which is [for patients] 18 and under. There’s the Dream Foundation for adults, but you have to be very, very terminal. What’s something we can do to give people positive light, something to look forward to, somewhere to put all these resources, to get people in touch with what they need?”

Sparkle Bright was born, and in February, was approved as a 501(c)3 organization. Donations are tax-deductible and all money raised goes towards “Sparkles,” or acts of kindness for brain cancer and brain tumor patients. A Sparkle can be something as small as paying for the patient’s parking at the hospital or a fun experience to boost their spirits (such as a UK Basketball game), or even a trip. Anyone can nominate someone to be a Sparkle, including themselves. Nominees must be 18 years or older, live in the continental US, and have a brain tumor (to avoid fraud, the organization requires verification from a doctor). You can make donations online at SparkleBright.org.

The organization’s first two Sparkles were both Kentucky residents. Sadly, one nominee, Zach Summers, passed away earlier this month, but Sparkle Bright was able to pay for the funeral expenses and they hope to start a college fund for his four-year-old daughter, Hadley.

“The person that just passed away, he was able to do a lot of things, but by the time we were introduced, it was too far advanced,” Parks said. “When the requests came in, it was really more for the family, but they had asked that we help with funeral costs and, to the extent possible, he has a very young daughter, we are going to get a college fund started. She’s still really young, so we’ve got time. It won’t happen overnight, but hopefully over time, we can get a 529 plan or some form of vehicle to contribute annually. We’ve at least helped cover the funeral costs. Their family, that was keeping them up at night. It was at least one burden we could take off of them.”

Appropriately, the organization’s name also has a connection to UK Basketball. Lyles has always joked that glitter is her favorite color and that she was “meant to sparkle,” but the nickname really took on a life of its own at the 2016 John Calipari Fantasy Camp. Lyles — sporting a bright pink mohawk — attended as the guest of Parks, and when a performer at one of the dinners asked for volunteers to come on stage, she immediately raised her hand. When asked, she said her name was “Sparkles.”

“They get to her and she said, ‘You can call me Sparkles,'” Parks recalled. “The crowd is loving it, they’re cracking up. She’s having a blast with it. The next day, we saw Karl [Towns] at the celebrity softball game and he saw her and he screamed, ‘Sparkles, what are you doing?’ It put a huge smile on her face. We’ve run into Karl a handful of other times and he remembers her immediately.”

Lyles has gotten even closer to the UK Basketball family over the past year. She met Ellen Calipari at the UK Basketball Women’s Clinic last fall and the coach’s wife immediately took her under her wing, inviting her to sit with her at games. Parks invited Lyles to come with her to the 2017 NBA Draft as part of a package she won at the Calipari Fantasy Camp and said that when Calipari came in to the suite to say hello to everyone, he made a beeline for Lyles.

“We were at the Draft and Cal walks in and everyone wants to talk to him. He’s walking around taking pictures with people and he sees Ashely across the suite and he says, ‘Come here! I’ve gotta get a picture and send this to Ellen.'”

Parks isn’t surprised that the UK Basketball family has adopted Lyles.

“You’re never sad when you’re around her. She just has a way of lighting up a room and she always has. People just gravitate to her.”

The support from her UK Basketball family has made Lyles even more determined to help others. On Thursday, Sparkle Bright will hold “Sparkle Pong,” a charity ping-pong tournament at Killerspin House in Chicago. All proceeds will help fulfill Sparkle requests. Lyles knows firsthand how even the smallest act of kindness can give someone the extra push they need to keep fighting.

“It gives me something to look forward to,” Lyles said when asked what UK Basketball means to her. “I live for basketball. I keep up with recruiting, the draft, the players in the NBA. I just look forward to it because along my travels, I’ve met so many great people. UK Basketball is my Sparkle.”

To learn more about the Sparkle Bright Foundation or to donate, visit sparklebright.org or the organization’s Facebook page. For details on Thursday’s Sparkle Pong event, please click here


6 times when Stephen Johnson made you say, “That’s My Quarterback”

6 times when Stephen Johnson made you say, “That’s My Quarterback”

© Jeff Blake | Getty

With a 10-4 record, Stephen Johnson has proven himself plenty during his short time at Kentucky, but there was one play Saturday night after which even his biggest doubters said to themselves, “That’s my quarterback.” On 3rd and 8 with 3:45 to go, the Cats were up seven and desperately needed a first down to keep South Carolina from getting the ball back. With the crowd loud, Johnson slipped through the line and scrambled 54 yards before sliding down at the 10-yard line:

Johnson didn’t get the touchdown, but he did put the Cats well within Austin MacGinnis’ range, making it a two-possession game. That’s my quarterback.

My love for him grew even more when the picture came out afterwards of him sticking his tongue out at South Carolina defenders on an earlier scramble, his response to the Gamecocks’ captains’ refusal to shake hands before the game:

Todd Bennett | Getty Images

That play, in case you were curious:

That’s my quarterback.

Johnson possesses a quiet brand of swagger that we haven’t seen a lot around Kentucky football. His numbers are never flashy — on Saturday, he was 16/25 for 169 yards and one interception, to go along with 7 carries for 74 yards on the ground — but his unflappable nature perfectly suits this team’s blue collar mentality. He does what needs to be done. He thrives when the stakes are high. Saturday’s tongue “trash talk” reminded me of his famous “I love this sh*t” moment just before taking the first snap at Louisville:

He went on to have a career game and led the Cats to an upset for the ages. That’s my quarterback.

And what about when he did “Ls Down” on Finebaum?

Yeaaah, that’s my quarterback.

Even after Drew Barker went in for two series vs. Eastern Kentucky, Johnson remained steady, coming back in and marching the team down the field in a five-play, 75-yard drive took just 58 seconds. He capped it off with a gorgeous throw down the middle to CJ Conrad, a play that eluded him at times last season:

Johnson handled Drew’s snaps like a pro, turning what could have been a demoralizing moment into an opportunity to examine EKU’s defense.

“Extremely anxious, but I’m glad it happened,” Johnson said. “Just to get Drew some snaps and me to see how it works from the sideline to just see the defense from a different point of view.”

That’s my quarterback.

Stephen’s poise isn’t surprising once you learn his story. His childhood battle with Tourette’s was documented once again on Saturday during “SEC Nation,” but in this story, we learned how Stephen is using his story to help others. After reading about Stephen overcame the disorder, a family reached out to UK to see if he would speak to their son, Samuel, who is also battling with Tourette’s. Samuel got to meet Stephen after a practice last December in what his parents expected to be a typical meet and greet. The two ended up walking around the practice facility for 30 minutes talking about their experiences. They’ve kept in touch ever since.

That’s my quarterback.


No Jordan Jones? No Problem

Against South Carolina Kentucky missed its most ferocious defensive player and the SEC’s leading returning tackler from 2016.  The Kentucky defense did not miss a beat in Jordan Jones’ absence, one that may be prolonged.

Jones did not appear on this week’s depth chart.  Mark Stoops said today Jones is considered doubtful to play against Florida.  “It would be a stretch.  If something changes I’ll let you know.”

In his place, high school all-american Eli Brown excelled in his first opportunity to start at Will (weak inside) linebacker.  Brown had six tackles, one for loss, and played almost every snap until cramps temporarily forced him to the sidelines in the second half.  Stoops attributes Brown’s success to offseason improvements in the weight room.

“I was very pleased with the way Eli played,” Stoops said at today’s press conference.  “I think he’s just been more consistent with his work, going back to last winter in trying to gain weight and get stronger.  He really had a good fall practice camp and as I told ya Thursday, I was excited to see him play.  He needed the opportunity to get quality reps and he didn’t disappoint us.  He went in and played very well.”

When Brown cramped up following a third down stop near the goal line, Jamar “Boogie” Watson entered the game on a critical fourth and one.  When the play went his way, Boogie made the stop to force a turnover on downs.

After the game Boogie broke down what happened on that play.

“I had A-gap, but I read the path of the back so I scraped tight on the d-line, charged pretty good, so I kept the o-line off me and I was able to run free and make the play.”

Boogie did not see many snaps, but that one was a lot of fun.

“It’s very rewarding,” Watson said.  “You work hard all week in certain situations.  You don’t know when you’re going to get in being a No. 2, so getting in on a fourth and one is pretty fun.  My first big road game at a SEC school, it’s pretty fun.”

What makes this play even more impressive is that Watson had not played that position until last week.

“Monday Coach House called me in and told me J. Jones might be out this weekend and I have to play Will.  I told him, ‘I’m with everything.  I just want to play.'”

It’s the fourth different linebacker position Boogie has played in the last year. “I’ve learned all four at this point; Jack in the spring, Sam in the summer, Mike in camp, now I’m at Will.  I’ve learned all four.  I think they have a lot of trust in me that they put that much pressure on me to learn all four.”

We appreciate him being very unselfish because we have a lot of confidence in him,” Stoops said today.  “He’s a good football player.  Just like Saturday, he went in and helped get a stop in a critical situation.  Jamar’s done a great job.  He’s going to be very good.  He’s helping us fill some holes right now and play where we need him, but he’ll settle in and help us.”

Brown and Boogie’s ability to step in and succeed right away at Will is a testament to the Cats’ depth on defense.  To mitigate the loss even further, players around Jones have stepped up.

Against South Carolina Courtney Love had 6 tackles and a pass break up.  Derrick Baity had a team-high 8 tackles and an interception to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.  Josh Allen and Denzil Ware combined for 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. At safety, Mike Edwards and Darius West totaled 13 tackles.

Jones made more than 100 tackles in 2016 because he had to make plays all over the field.  This year the entire defense has raised their level of play, and the guys behind Jones on the depth chart are prepared to step in seamlessly.

We do not know exactly how long the Kentucky defense will be without Jordan Jones, but rest assured, the third-best rush defense in America is in good hands.

 


Jordan Jones missing from Week 4 depth chart

Jordan Jones missing from Week 4 depth chart

It looks like Jordan Jones will miss a second consecutive game, according to the latest depth chart from the football program.

The depth chart was released Monday morning and it lists Eli Brown and Jamar “Boogie” Watson as the two weakside linebackers for the Florida game.

Here’s the entire thing:


Above all else, Kentucky’s resiliency won.

Resiliency

When the Gamecocks opened the game with a 68-yard touchdown to Deebo Samuel, fans felt a massive lump in their throat. Samuel was the one guy the media and analysts highlighted, circled, and underlined all week long as a guy you must stop for a shot. The Cats missed a coverage and allowed him to score on the first play from scrimmage.

When Stephen Johnson followed it up with an interception on their first drive, fans had another “that’s so Kentucky football” moment. The idea that Will Muschamp would have his team prepared and disciplined, ready to convert on any and all UK mistakes was preached as gospel in game preparation. That’s how they defeated their first two Power 5 opponents, and they’d be ready to do it to UK with zero remorse.

The typical Kentucky football would have never been able to win this football game.

But this isn’t typical Kentucky football.

Mark Stoops has taken this team to levels we haven’t seen in who knows how long. The Gamecocks hadn’t defeated the Wildcats in three consecutive matchups, and they were itching and scratching at a chance to end the streak.

The school sold over 86,000 tickets and 15,000 student tickets to this long-awaited matchup. They set up a blackout, publicized this game all over social media to no end. This Kentucky was their team’s Super Bowl, which was a statement in itself.

The media bought in. Vegas bought in. The USC players and coaches bought in.

And they crumbled.

Statistics don’t necessarily tell the whole story, but the Kentucky Wildcats dominated the South Carolina Gamecocks in all facets of the game.

The Cats made the stops when it mattered most, converted on crucial downs and in tough situations, and put points on the board to keep USC out of reach.

A 54-yard rush by Stephen Johnson on third down late in the game was the kiss of death to any hopes of a comeback victory.

And it was a sweet one.

The rush wasn’t just a game-clincher, it was a solidification of Johnson’s status as an elite quarterback at Kentucky.

The JUCO transfer could have taken a sack under pressure, or like many quarterbacks do, force a throw in hopes of moving the chains. Instead, Johnson remained calm, found a sliver of open field, and converted.

At 16-25 passing, 169 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception, his stat-line was the epitome of average. But he got the job done in crunch time, and his team followed suit.

Let’s break down the numbers:

UK absolutely dominated time of possession, 36:49 to 23:11. Utilizing Benny Snell, who has scored seven touchdowns in his last five SEC matchups, to chip away at the clock and inch the Wildcats down the field proved to be crucial against South Carolina yet again. He scored two touchdowns and rushed for 102 total yards on 37 carries, his second game in a row with 100-plus yards.

The most important stat line of the day, however, is Kentucky’s effectiveness on third down. The team converted 9-16 attempts, including a streak of five in a row in two scoring drives in the first half. The situation was never forced, as the team remained calm and collected.

The Johnson-to-Conrad connection worked to perfection once again, as the junior tight end managed to catch two balls for 36 yards. Conrad dropped a would-be touchdown, but the team still managed to get points on the trip.

Garrett Johnson had a “juice” game as Johnson’s go-to target on third down, making four receptions for 41 yards all over the field.

Nine different Wildcats caught balls on the afternoon.

Despite a few snapping miscues, the offensive line remained relatively strong throughout the game. We saw a few guys banged up as time progressed, but nothing serious or deemed long-term. We’re starting to see holes develop easier and missteps kept to a minimum.

On the other side of the ball, the defense played with the mental edge you see from only the top-tier programs in America.

Carolina was held to just 54 rushing yards, the third time in a row a Kentucky opponent has failed to break the 100-yard mark, the first time this has occurred in nine seasons. And we’re not talking about three scrub backfields, either.

Southern Miss’ Ito Smith is an NFL-caliber back, who has since rushed for 333 yards, good for 16th in the nation.

EKU’s LJ Scott was a high-level recruit and former Louisville Cardinal with elite talent.

USC’s Rico Dowell rushed for nearly 800 yards and six TDs as a freshman last year.

In their two road games, the Wildcats have allowed an average of just 15 points per game. No team has scored more than 17 points in a game against Kentucky in three tries this season, a feat that hasn’t occurred since 2008. We saw fourth-and-goal stops that would have been cupcakes for teams in the past.

Eli Brown stepped up in a major way in Jordan Jones’ absence. He was a key piece on many major defensive stops and a big-time tackle for loss. He finished with six total tackles, tied for third on the team with Darius West and Courtney Love.

Mike Edwards made a massive interception to calm things down at the start of the game, and Derrick Baity finished the job with a pick to seal the victory at the end.

Kentucky has not defeated an SEC opponent four times in a row since they did so with Vanderbilt from 2004-07, yet here we are.

The Wildcats have knocked off South Carolina in four consecutive tries. This year’s senior class has never felt what it was like to lose to the Gamecocks, a team that has absolutely dominated the Cats prior to the Mark Stoops Era.

Again, this isn’t typical Kentucky football.

This is resiliency at its finest.


Blue Collar Cats Beat South Carolina 23-13

Blue Collar Cats Beat South Carolina 23-13

South Carolina was categorically and prematurely anointed as the up-and-coming, trendy pick to potentially win the East. Numbers and film that I studied didn’t support this supposition. With its blacked out stadium and lack of hand-shaking captains, Carolina expected to make a statement to the league and all of college football on Saturday night. It did so by confirming that Kentucky was and remains to be the better football team as the Cats methodically extended its winning streak to four in the series.

USC was projected ahead of the Cats this summer at SEC Media Days. I disagreed by the way. UK was given a lowly 18% chance of winning the game according to the FPI. FPI..goodness. The vast majority of national and all of the SEC Network talking heads unequivocally predicted that Kentucky would lose the game. Then, football happened in the version of a workmanlike 23-13 Wildcat victory.  

Let’s be honest. This team isn’t flashy and that’s ok. Each team and season brings on different personalities. Scoreboard blowouts and offensive records may not be in the cards in 2017. However; on Saturday its toughness, audacity, composure, and assurance re-surfaced in a hostile, road environment.

Kentucky cannot afford to look further ahead than Monday’s practice. Florida and that embarrassing streak is coming to town next Saturday. After this weekend’s outcomes, the road schedule is daunting. But at the end of the night in Columbia; Kentucky was the team that made an early-season statement. I evaluate the season and this team on a week-by-week basis. Learned that lesson last year. But, this is a rewarding article to write as even I sensed Carolina’s blatant disrespect for Kentucky in Hoover, during the offseason, last week, and especially on game day. And then once again, football happened.

OFFENSE

The game couldn’t have started much worse for Eddie Gran. With a +4 turnover margin for the season, Kentucky proceeded to throw an interception and fumble in the first quarter after Deebo Samuel blazed the Cats for a 68-yard touchdown catch on the game’s first offensive play. Gran proceeded to call an effectual game by utilizing his top two weapons: the unflappable quarterback Stephen Johnson and tough-guy running back Benny Snell. Kentucky’s first scoring drive defined the evening as it lived in the S.L.O.P (Sustained Long Offensive Possessions) by marching 75-yards from 13-plays to take a 7-6 lead. No matter how badly that several wanted the outcome to be different; UK never surrendered the scoreboard advantage.

The offense was not flashy; and that’s ok. Clock and game management is unique on the road especially when facing a quarterback like Jake Bentley who was heating up in the 4th quarter. With a defense that was playing lights-out and an invaluable kicker, 23-points proved to be enough. Kentucky is 10-4 over its last 14 games.

The offensive line sustained minor injuries but kept plugging in capable replacements. John Schlarman’s crew played their best game of the season. QB Stephen Johnson did Stephen Johnson things; again. The senior completed 64% of his passes. The veteran also saw a hole in the middle of the Carolina defense and rumbled down the sideline for a critical 54-yard gain that led to a MacGinnis field goal. Being labeled as a game manager has a bad reputation. In fact, I find it to be quite complimentary. Benny Snell surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive game.

Team Statistics

Scoring 23-points
Rushing 184-yards
Passing 169
Total 353
3rd Down 9/16, 56.3%
Time of Possession 36:59
Red-Zone 4/4, 20-points

Top Performers

Passing Stephen Johnson 16/25, 169-yards, 64%,1 INT
Rushing Benny Snell 32 carries, 102-yards, 2 TD’s
Receiving Garrett Johnson 4 receptions, 41-yards

DEFENSE

First, I must say that I’d like to send prayers and best wishes to South Carolina WR/KR Deebo Samuel. The dynamic athlete suffered an injured leg in the contest. He’s a great football player. As a fan of the game, I want to see him back on the field.

QB Jake Bentley and Sameul connected on a 68-yard touchdown on Carolina’s first offensive play. Samuel accumulated for 34% of USC’s total offense which included 5 catches, 122-yards, and a score prior to exiting the game. If that play is taken out of the stat line, USC would have finished the game with 290 total yards. UK held its opponent to less than 100-rush yards for the third consecutive game (54-yards). Matt House’s defense reminded me of the Jerry Claiborne/Terry Strock Wide-Tackle-6 days of bending but not breaking. It held the Gamecocks to 3/12 on 3rd down and 1/3 on fourth.

Tackling, depth, speed, and physicality were strengths. A quick glance at the stat-line reveals that UK’s top-3 tacklers were defensive backs: Derrick Baity-8, Mike Edwards-7, Darius West-6. With Jake Bentley’s emphasis on the short pass, ample opportunities were provided. Clinkscale’s secondary responded.

Eli Brown valiantly filled in for All SEC LB Jordan Jones. Brown finished the night with 6 tackles including 1 tackle for loss. Derrick LeBlanc’s defensive line again showed vast upgrading as it maintained the line-of-scrimmage by limiting the Gamecocks to just 54 rush yards. Bentley’s short-pass preferences prevented a sustained pass rush.

Team Statistics

Scoring 13-points
Rushing 54-yards
Passing 304
Total 358
3rd Down 3/12, 25%
Red-Zone 1/2

Top Performers

Tackles Derrick Baity 8
Tackles for Loss Josh Paschal/Denzil Ware .5
QB Sacks Josh Allen 1
Interceptions Mike Edwards/Derrick Baity 1
QB Hurries Josh Allen 1

SPECIAL TEAMS

Arguably the most undervalued Wildcat is kicker Austin MacGinnis. The senior was perfect on the night by connecting on all three of his field goal chances and two PAT’s. His kickoffs were perfectly placed to not give the ever-dangerous Deebo Samuel a chance for return. Coverage teams also excelled.

Back to the unappreciated Kentucky kicker. South Carolina’s combination missed three field goals and a PAT. MacGinnis’ influence and importance to the Wildcat football program was again accentuated.

Kicking Austin MacGinnis 3/3 FG’s
Punting Matt Panton 4 punts, 44.5 yards per

What does all this mean?

Kentucky is 3-0 and once again proved it can face adversity on the road and still win the football game. Matter of fact, it’s done so in four out of its last five chances. But, the season and a horde of very good football teams await. Week by week.

The Cats won.


South Carolina Reporter says Stephen Johnson started handshake-gate

Last night, controversy struck when the South Carolina Gamecocks refused to shake hands with Kentucky players at the pre-game coin flip.

Mark Stoops and several players commented after the game, saying they used it as motivation going into the contest.

“They don’t shake our hands to start,” Stoops said. “I’ve never seen that, the captains don’t shake our hands. They wanted to go at it, but we were ready, too.”

Stephen Johnson even poked fun at the incident afterward.

This is the picture he referenced in the tweet, tongue out and all.

According to South Carolina sideline reporter Langston Moore, it may have been Johnson that sparked the pregame tension, not the Cocks.

Read this excerpt from an article on the incident by the Post and Courier’s 

“Both captains approached, (Stephen) Johnson was mouthing something to D.J. Smith, I think. It was too loud to hear at who, exactly,” Moore said. “Because D.J. seemed kind of shocked that Johnson was talking to him.”

Johnson, Nick Haynes, Mike Edwards and Courtney Love met Smith, Hayden Hurst, D.J. Wonnum and Deebo Samuel at midfield.

“Number 68 (Haynes) from Kentucky extended his hand to Deebo,” Moore said. “At that point Deebo wasn’t even looking at No. 68 with his hand extended because of Johnson’s trash talk, and that’s when players started the chest-bumping/trash-talk and the refs stepped in. Flipped the coin.”

There was no attempt to shake hands after the coin flip.

“Nah, it was over at that point,” Moore said. “The other captains sized each other up briefly but that ended it.”

Here are Moore’s tweets in response to Kentucky’s claims:

This is just one guy’s recollection of the event, but it’s very interesting nonetheless.

Regardless, I am always #TeamStephenJohnson.


Kentucky Loves Being the Underdog

Keep picking against Kentucky, please.

After Kentucky’s 23-13 win at South Carolina, Vince Marrow slammed open the door to the media room to share a message: “Thank y’all for picking against us. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Entering today’s game, South Carolina was the sweetheart of the SEC.  Kentucky was also 2-0, but did not receive the same amount of respect.

“Quite honestly, we were tired of it.  What, like we didn’t get better?  We aren’t a better football team?” Mark Stoops added, “Keep on being negative.”

Coaches and players will publicly say they don’t hear the naysayers, but Stephen Johnson said it’s impossible to avoid.

“Everybody pretty much watches College Gameday, so when you have seven people rooting against you and you’ve got one guy pick you, that’s just motivation for us.”

Garrett “Juice” Johnson feels free as the underdog.  “You don’t have nothing to lose.  You’re just going out there and laying it all on the line.”

Kentucky felt under-appreciated and disrespected entering the game.  When South Carolina didn’t shake hands before the game, it added fuel to Kentucky’s fire.

“It seemed like everybody has us being underdogs.  It just gives us extra motivation,” Johnson said.  “They didn’t shake our hands, which gave us even more motivation, which was pretty stupid on their part.”

Mark Stoops’ Kentucky teams are at their best when everyone is doubting them.  No matter how much adversity they face, they never flinch and always respond.  They’re at their strongest when their backs are against the wall.

“The strength of our team is the team.  I told you guys since day one that they had a winning mentality and a winning work ethic.  You see it now,” Stoops said.  “Everyone wants to panic because you’ve got to look pretty all the time.  Winning is what matters.  We have an edge, an attitude about us; we like it that way.  I’m just proud of the team.  You take a shot right to the chin, you start to gain, the place is going wild and we embraced it.  We took the shot and went right back to work.  That doesn’t even faze us.  That’s what I love about this team.”

They may eventually win out of the underdog role, but they’ll continue to find ways to play with an edge, and edge the sets them apart from the rest.


5 Takeaways from Kentucky’s fourth straight win over South Carolina

5 Takeaways from Kentucky’s fourth straight win over South Carolina

Almost everybody picked South Carolina to beat Kentucky tonight, and in retrospect, that’s the best thing that could have happened. Fueled by “disrespect,” the Cats responded, beating the Gamecocks for the fourth straight year, 23-13. After a horrendous start, the defense stood tall and, as always, Stephen Johnson remained steady. It was a huge, huge win.

There’s a lot to go over with this game, but here are my five immediate reactions.

What a performance by the defense

Admit it, when Deebo Samuel scored 13 seconds into the game, you were worried. When Skai Moore intercepted Stephen Johnson’s pass on the next series, you panicked.  When the Cats fumbled in the Wildcat on the one after that, you felt yourself saying “That’s so Kentucky football.” Well, thankfully, the team did not. With three years of beating the Gamecocks under their belt, Kentucky stood tall, holding South Carolina to only 6 points and 6 first downs in the first half. Even though they rarely got a break in the second half, it was more of the same. Based on pregame hype, Jake Bentley might as well have been Peyton Manning, and even though he put up 300 yards, they only resulted in 13 points. That’s one hell of an accomplishment for a defense that was without one of its stars in Jordan Jones. Kudos to Eli Brown for a hell of a performance, despite cramps near the end of the game.

Auto-Mac is the real MVP

South Carolina’s kicker missed three field goals and an extra point, whereas Austin MacGinnis hit three field goals to help Kentucky maintain the lead. Have you ever felt more grateful for Auto-Mac?

UK played with a chip on their shoulder

The best thing that could have happened to Kentucky this week was everyone picking South Carolina. Vince Marrow ran into the media room after the game and thanked reporters for picking the Gamecocks. In his postgame remarks, Mark Stoops said the team felt disrespected, especially when the South Carolina captains refused to shake Kentucky’s captains’ hands before the game. Derrick Baity even suggested that the Gamecocks messed with UK’s headsets to disrupt communication in the first half.

The chip on UK’s shoulder showed tonight, and I hope it only gets sharper with Florida coming into town.

I hate to hear the news about Deebo Samuel

Samuel went down with an injury in the third quarter, and after the game, it was announced he broke his leg and is out for the season. That’s horrible news for an incredible athlete. Thoughts out to him in hopes for a speedy recovery.

Stephen Johnson is my quarterback

Johnson’s numbers were not flashy, but as always, he steadily led the Cats to victory. As he’s done time and time before, Johnson kept his cool in the face of a very loud crowd, marching the Cats down the field in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Watching him hype up the UK section after the game was a special moment:

I like my team. Bring on the Gators.


South Carolina players wouldn’t shake hands before the game

South Carolina players wouldn’t shake hands before the game

For the first time in Mark Stoops’ career, he watched his players walk out to shake hands prior to kickoff, only to be denied by the opposing team.

That’s what happened Saturday night at South Carolina, he said, when the captains from each side met at midfield to touch gloves.

They didn’t shake our hands to start,” Stoops told the media in his postgame press conference. “I’ve never seen that. Captains don’t shake our hands. They wanted to go at it. But we were ready to go, too.”

Stoops also mentioned the poor sportsmanship during his on-field interview with the SEC Network after the game and again on the UK postgame show. It’s clear he felt disrespected and it only threw fuel on the Cats’ fire after they were disrespected all week leading up to the game.


Kentucky Shakes Off Catastrophic Start En Route to Fourth Consecutive Victory Over South Carolina 23-13

Kentucky Shakes Off Catastrophic Start En Route to Fourth Consecutive Victory Over South Carolina 23-13

There are slow starts, there are bad starts and then there’s whatever Kentucky did today in Columbia, South Carolina.

On the first play from scrimmage, the safety fell for the play-action fake.  It left Deebo Samuel to scamper free for a 68-yard touchdown.  That was just the beginning.

On Kentucky’s second offensive play, Stephen Johnson forced a pass down the middle of the field to C.J. Conrad that was picked off by linebacker Skai Moore.  The next time the Cats got the ball, there was another fumbled snap in the Wildcat.

Everything that could go wrong, went wrong, yet the Cats only trailed 6-0.  Kentucky seized the opportunity and never looked back.

Kentucky responded by methodically marching down the field for a 13-play 75-yard drive that ended with a Benny Snell touchdown, his first of two on the day.  With the extra point, UK took the lead and never lost it again.

After scoring in two straight weeks on special teams, it’s what cost South Carolina the game.  They left ten points on the board with three missed three field goals and a missed extra point.  They almost cut the Kentucky lead to five before half, but a delay of game penalty negated the 49-yard make.

Jake Bentley tried to will the Gamecocks back and almost succeeded.  Bentley was masterful in the art of the dink and dunk, completing 16 consecutive passes in one stretch.  He was able to reach the corner of the end zone late in the fourth quarter, but it was already after the South Carolina offense failed on two second half fourth down attempts.

Kentucky looked like they were going to let the game slip away after the late South Carolina score, but Stephen Johnson was having none of that.  Runs from 23 and 54 yards led to Kentucky field goals that put the game out of reach.

The Wildcats looked bad before they looked beautiful, but it sure was one beautiful win over South Carolina, something Kentucky has been able to say for four consecutive years.


Juice Makes the Most of Every Matchup with Muschamp

Juice Makes the Most of Every Matchup with Muschamp

A little more than four years ago, Garrett Johnson committed to Kentucky.  A three-star wide receiver, Juice grew up just 100 miles south of Gainesville in Winter Garden, Florida.  Florida head coach Will Muschamp never extended a scholarship offer.  Every time the two take the same football field, Juice is a thorn in Muschamp’s side.

2014 vs. Florida

Johnson became “Juice” during his freshmen year homecoming at Florida.  Explosive out of the slot, he could not be touched.

Juice finished the game with 6 receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

2015 vs. Auburn

Muschamp did not last another year in Gainesville.  In 2015 he was hired by Guz Malzahn to repair Auburn’s broken defense.  When Juice saw Muschamp on the Thursday night sidelines, he brought his best.

The Cats didn’t defeat Auburn, but Juice earned Muschamp’s respect.  After catching 9 passes for 160 yards, Muschamp told Johnson after the game, “I screwed up.”

2016 vs. South Carolina

Even though he’s always brought his best, it took Johnson three years to finally beat Muschamp.  In his first year as South Carolina’s head coach, Kentucky ground the Gamecocks to death behind 196 yards from Benny Snell and Boom Williams.

Juice was still able to catch a team-high 4 passes for 48 yards in the 17-10 win.  Today it’s Juice’s turn to even the series with Muschamp.


South Carolina Scouting Report

South Carolina Scouting Report

South Carolina is being mentioned as THE up-and-coming team in the East that can challenge for a December trip to Atlanta. This is an accurate assessment after its 2-0 start. Carolina beat NC State 35-28 and Missouri 31-13 in its first two outings. Both games have been played outside raucous confines of Williams-Brice Stadium which will be packed with 80,250 vengeance seeking Gamecock fans when the Cats roll into town. Kentucky has won three consecutive in this series.

Kentucky is hobbling into this game after unspectacular wins over Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky. Adding to the difficulty level is that its two top players are swayed by injuries: LB Jordan Jones and RB Benny Snell. Let’s be honest: UK’s offense has not played lights out by any stretch of the imagination, which has the BBN shaken going into SEC play. Saturday’s matchup has taken on a new perspective. Offseason prognosticators envisioned the matchup as a toss-up with the winner having a puncher’s chance to win the East. Now, most are predicting that Kentucky is in real trouble against the surging Gamecocks. UK will travel to Columbia and even put on its game jerseys, take the field, and expect to win. I don’t think the “no-chance” vibe resonates at the same level as it appears to be outside the Joe Craft Football Training Center. But, the Cats have much to improve upon in order to start the season 3-0. Let’s break down the opponent:

OFFENSE

Television updates from Carolina’s opening game win over NC State implied that the Gamecock offense was a juggernaut; in fact, it was outgained 504-yards to just 246. A Deebo Samuel kickoff return for a touchdown and 14 points off turnovers significantly impacted the game’s final score. In its second game Missouri was also out-gained USC 423-359. For the second consecutive week it won the game with explosive special teams play, protecting the football, converting 8/15 on 3rd down, and utilizing TE Hayden Hurst in strategic situations in the football game. Carolina also owned time of possession 37:36 to 22:24.

QB Jake Bentley is rightly considered one of the best underclass quarterbacks in the game; however, numbers indicate that he and UK’s Stephen Johnson are virtually even in most passing categories. Bentley is rated 5th in the league, Johnson 6th. Johnson’s quarterback rating is actually higher 157-140 and has yet to produce a turnover. Bentley has thrown one interception. Regardless, he will be the best QB that the Cats have faced in 2017. While Carolina’s competition has been stronger (minus the Mizzou defense, which was/is so porous its coordinator was fired after two games) UK’s total yardage average per game is 345-yards compared to USC’s 302. USC rushes for 101 yards per game while passing for 201.

TE Hayden Hurst is arguably the SEC’s best at his position. He had 3 receptions for 69 yards and 1 TD against Missouri. This game will feature two of the league’s top TEs in Hurst and CJ Conrad. WR Deebo Samuel is dynamic and is deservingly edging into the Heisman discussion. The junior has 10 catches for 128 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. He is the Gamecock’s home run hitter and will present a dangerous proposition for the Kentucky secondary.

What the Gamecocks have done particularly well is protecting the football and not penalizing itself into drive ending series. A great deal of credit should go to a much improved offensive line, which is led by veterans Zack Bailey, Corey Helms, and Alan Knott. Will Muschamp has done an excellent job enforcing discipline and composure for a young football team with a sophomore quarterback. In simpler terms, South Carolina will not beat itself which is a tremendous compliment in football terminology.

TE Hayden Hurst Pic by The State

Team Stats 

Scoring 33 ppg SEC-8th
Rushing 101.5 ypg SEC-12th
Turnover Margin +2 SEC-2nd
Passing 201 SEC-8th
Total 302.5 SEC-13th
3rd Down 48.15% SEC-4th

Top Performers

Passing Jake Bentley 35/57, 402-yds, 4TD, 1 INT
Rushing Ty’Son Williams 14 carries, 79-yds, 5.6 ypc
Receiving Deebo Samuel 10 rec, 128-yds, 2 TD, 12.8 per

Starters

WR Deebo Samuel 6’0, 215 Jr.
WR Brayan Edwards 6’3, 215 So.
WR Shi Smith 5’10, 179 Fr.
LT Malik Young 6’3, 303 Jr.
LG Donell Stanley 6’4, 317 Jr.
C Alan Knott 6’4, 290 Sr.
RT Zack Bailey 6’6, 311 Jr.
RG Cory Helms 6’4, 309 Sr.
TE Hayden Hurst 6’5, 250, Jr.
TE Jacob August 6’6, 258 Jr.
RB Rico Dowdle 5’11, 220 So.
QB Jake Bentley 6’3, 220 So.

DEFENSE

Carolina is led by mike linebacker T.J. Brunson, the SEC’s second leading tackler. Fellow LB Skai Moore is back after taking a year off due to an injury and directs traffic for Will Muschamp. Moore is the unit’s leader. Defensive end D.J. Wonnum has been explosive off the edge by registering 4 TFLs and 2 QB sacks. Defensive tackles Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones anchor the interior and do so well. Both NC State and Missouri accumulated a high number of total yards thus USC is allowing 463 yards per game on the season. Due to opposing scheme, it also has given up 330 passing yards in two games.

Numbers that should concern the BBN are 13 QB sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Much like Mark Stoops, Will Muschamp has a defensive background and is considered one of the better minds in the game. Kentucky will be forced to become more creative to produce yards and points. First down plays will be critical. Even though its allowed 330 passing yards in two games, expect Carolina to stack the box and dare the Cats to throw the football. USC defense is fast, aggressive, and will assuredly be highly motivated to force tempo and aggression. “Multiple” is the only applicable word that can accurately describe the Gamecock’s defense. It will present unique fronts and coverages. The secondary features three seniors and one junior. It’s led by senior safeties D.J. Smith and Chris Lammons. USC often plays with a nickel defender, freshman Jamyest Williams, who is going to be an excellent player.

Team Stats

Scoring Allowed 20.5 points per game
Rushing 133.5 yards per game
Passing 330
Total 463
Sacks 13
Tackles for Loss 5
3rd Down 14/34, 41%

Top Performers 

Tackles 22 total MLB-T.J. Brunson
Tackles for Loss 4 DE-D.J. Wonnum
QB Sacks 2 DE-D.J. Wonnum
Interceptions 1 Nickel-Jamyest Williams
Pass Breakups 3 D.J. Smith

D.J Wonnum Pic by The State

Starters

DT Dante Sawyer 6’3, 275 Sr.
DT Taylor Stallworth 6’2, 305 Sr.
DT Ulric Jones 6’5, 312 Sr.
DE D.J. Wonnum 6’4, 251 So.
SLB Bryson-Allen Williams 6’0 230 Sr.
MLB T.J. Brunson 6’1, 230 So.
WLB Skai Moore 6’2, 218 Sr.
CB JaMarcus King 6’2, 186 Sr.
CB Rashad Fenton 5’10, 184 Jr.
S D.J. Sith 5’11, 198 Sr.
S Chris Lammons 5’10, 190 Sr.
Nickel Jamyest Williams 5’9, 175 Fr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Deebo Samuel 2 kick returns, 2 TD’s, 97.3 yards per

Deebo Samuel has 2 kickoff returns for touchdown and averages 97 yards per return. Kentucky’s kickoff team cannot afford to have short kicks with little hang time on Saturday. If it does, look out. Samuel is that good and can change the course of a game within seconds.

 


Today on KSR: Gameday in Columbia

Today on KSR: Gameday in Columbia

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The Vibes in Columbia

There’s a buzz in the atmosphere.  Optimistic South Carolina fans are prepared to create an atmosphere Williams-Brice has not seen in a long time.  The toughest ticket in years, there will be almost 15,000 students in the stands for the sold out blackout.  Their optimism is almost to the point of arrogance, and unfortunately, many Kentucky fans are starting to believe them.  The good news: expert picks and fan sentiment does not determine what happens on the final scoreboard.

Gameday Itinerary

  • 4:30 — The KSR Pregame Show is LIVE from Lexington
  • 5:00 —  Alumni Association Pregame Tailgate at Seawall’s
  • 5:15 — The Cat Walk (probably around the North End of the stadium; I’ll keep you posted @RoushKSR.)
  • 5:30 — Countdown to Kickoff with Freddie Maggard & Christi Thomas at the Richmond Rd. Kroger
  • 7:30 — Kickoff on the SEC Network

The Cats will be without Jordan Jones

Even though the fantastic graphic from UK Athletics has me ready to see Jones take on the Gamecocks, Kentucky will be without the elite linebacker tonight.  The man charged to replace the All-SEC performer is Eli Brown.  Learn more about the former high school all-american here.

How to Watch/Listen

The Cats and the Gamecocks will have the prime time TV slot on the SEC Network with Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic on the call.  Here’s where you can find America’s favorite television channel…

  • Cable: 516, 517
  • AT&T UVerse: 607, 1607
  • DirecTV: 611
  • Dish: 408

If you’re stuck on the road and can’t watch, there are multiple ways to listen to Leach and Piecoro.

  • AM: 840 WHAS, 630 WLAP
  • FM: 98.1 WBUL
  • Satellite: XM-191 and Sirius-138
  • Online: iHeart Radio

Podcast Prep

You’ve got a long time to wait for kickoff.  Help pass the time by checking out a plethora of KSR podcasts.  They are all fantastic, but never have I ever had my mind blown by Freddie Maggard quite like this.  He brought unprecedented analysis to The Depth Chart Podcast.  You can’t miss it.

Zion Williamson will be in Attendance

The YouTube sensation and high school basketball superstar will make the short drive from Spartanburg to take an unofficial visit to South Carolina.  It will not be easy for Frank Martin to keep perennial powerhouse programs away from Zion, but tonight’s amazing atmosphere is not a bad tool to try to keep him home.

Today’s College Football Schedule

  • Noon: No. 9 Oklahoma State at Pitt on ESPN
  • Noon: No. 25 UCLA at Memphis on ABC
  • 3:30: No. 10 Wisconsin at BYU on ABC
  • 3:30: No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida on CBS
  • 3:30: No. 16 Virginia Tech at East Carolina on CBS Sports Network
  • 4:00: Purdue at Missouri on SEC Network
  • 7:00: No. 12 LSU at Miss. State on ESPN
  • 8:00: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 14 Louisville on ABC
  • 8:30: Texas at No. 4 USC on Fox

Get Hyped

Kentucky High School Football Results

  • Manual 20, Ballard 19
  • Newport Central Catholic 20, CAL 15
  • Hopkinsville 16, Paducah Tilghman 9
  • Glasgow 16, Warren East 14
  • North Oldham 16, Bullitt Central 13 (OT)
  • Shelby County 22, Bullitt East 21
  • DeSales 21, Fern Creek 13
  • Middlesboro 46, Pineville 20
  • Pike County Central 35, Letcher County Central 28
  • Somerset 16, North Laurel 14
  • Madison Southern 23, Southwestern 20
  • Tates Creek 38, Bryan Station 8
  • Frederick Douglass 25, Madison Central 15
  • Lexington Catholic 21, Highlands 18

The Cats made a College Gameday Appearance in Louisville