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Kentucky turned heads against a College Football Playoff-caliber team


Last week, Georgia was the No. 1 team in the nation with a spot in the College Football Playoff nearly locked up. They have two of the top running backs in SEC history, along with four and five-star talent layered throughout their roster.

To be exact, the Dawgs have 11 five stars and 44 four-star players. Kentucky? One five-star and 14 four-stars.

Top to bottom, the Bulldogs are more talented than Kentucky in just about every position group, and that’s no disrespect to the Cats. UK has built a roster with a solid mix of veteran leadership and young playmakers, and teams no longer chalk up this team as an automatic win. Mark Stoops has led this program to massive heights in his first several seasons as head coach, and teams are starting to respect that.

Just four years ago, the Wildcats finished 2-10 on the year and 0-8 in conference play. Stoops had an FCS-caliber team and had to start from (literally) scratch to build this program up. Kentucky was the laughing stock of college football and quite possibly the fifth best team in the state.

Following the loss, John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote an article titled “Kentucky football finishes another SEC season unable to compete with the big boys,” where he discussed the team’s ability to knock off teams at or below UK’s level. Anything beyond that, the Cats just aren’t good enough yet to hang with the nation’s best.

To an extent, I agree Kentucky is in no position to consistently defeat elite teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Clemson, etc., and who knows how long (if ever) it’ll take to get there. Nobody expects this team to be in that “elite” conversation, and frankly, Mark Richt was fired for winning 9-10 games a year at Georgia, whereas we’d name our football stadium after any coach that’d be able to do that.

But to say this team can’t compete with the big dogs, specifically after last night’s defeat, is just looking at the final score without taking into account what actually happened on the football field.

Last night, Kentucky landed the first haymaker against Georgia on national television.

The Wildcats picked off Jacob Fromm on the game’s opening drive, and were in position to take a 7-0 lead after inching their way to the red zone. Stephen Johnson threw three consecutive incompletions, and the Cats had to settle for a field goal. Execution.

On Georgia’s second drive, Kentucky managed to push the Dawgs deep into their own territory on a big TJ Carter sack and forced the punt. The Cats had all the momentum and had a massive opportunity to go up two scores early in the game. Roughing the punter, Georgia’s drive continues, touchdown Bulldogs. Execution.

Down 7-3, UK got the ball back and continued to move the ball down the field on offense. The Bulldog defense didn’t have an answer for Benny Snell, and the passing game kept them off balance. Eddie Gran was drawing up beautiful plays and made the defense extremely uncomfortable. After making it into the red zone for a second consecutive time, Johnson had a few misfires and we saw crucial drops from Wildcat receivers. Kentucky has to settle for another field goal. Execution.

Instead of potentially going up 21-0 after the first three drives of the game, UK was behind 7-6, and momentum shifted Georgia’s way. This was never a game Kentucky could win with field goals, and we saw exactly why in the first half.

Take away three or four crucial plays in the first half for Kentucky, the Wildcats likely have a lead going into halftime with the ball to start the third. At the very least, the game is tied, and UK could have flipped momentum back to open the second half.

Instead, the Cats had to fight from behind, the offense couldn’t execute, the defense got tired, and the wheels fell off. After cutting the lead to just eight points with 11:28 remaining in the third quarter, Kentucky either punted or threw an interception on every offensive drive to end the game. Georgia scored a touchdown on three of their next four possessions to end the game.

I am not a fan of moral victories, and I wouldn’t consider this one. Kentucky fought like hell in two quarters and couldn’t finish the job.

Head coach Mark Stoops agrees.

“I was disappointed in the way we played,” Stoops said.  “We knew we’d have to play a very good football team and we’d have to play some very good football on our end. I really didn’t feel like we did that.”

That being said, the Cats were in position to flip the script of this football game entirely and had a legitimate shot to shock the college football world. With execution on just three or four plays, who knows how that game ends.

The final score was ugly, and most people seeing the result on the bottom ticker on ESPN probably assume it was just another blowout loss for Kentucky. The UK coaching staff and players, however, had an impressive gameplan going into the game and went for the jugular of an elite football team.

Execution.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

35 responses to “Kentucky turned heads against a College Football Playoff-caliber team”

  1. bdmnky81

    Well reasoned piece. 1st game i was able to watch live and was very happy with the 1st quarter effort but noticed a obvious drop off as the game progressed. The big difference is we have good players starting but the replacement of the those guys when they have to sit from injury is not good enough to hang with top ten teams. Rest up and beat the birds. They aint top ten.

  2. ukkatzfan

    Yes !!! Yes !!! Yes !!! When you are almost there, this is how a season will go. Might have another season or 2 like this. BUT, the day is coming.

  3. JTT15

    Let’s fill Kroger Field and finish this year off with 2 in a row over the Cards!

  4. JC3

    Nice article Jack! JC

  5. Kernel Sanders

    “Mark Stoops has led this program to massive heights in his first several seasons as head coach”

    I had to re-read this twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I give Stoops credit for coming into this jib when the program was about as low as it could get. But saying he has led it to “massive heights” is just absurd. really? UK still has not had an above .500 record in the SEC in 50 years. This article implies we were just a couple plays from winning the game, yet against a “massive” point spread we still didn’t cover. Lol, Mercer was a mere 8 touchdown passes from tying Bama yesterday.

    I’m not disappointed in our loss, not mad at Stoops, fine with Eddie Gran. I get we had injuries. But geez this article is so weak. It was not a close game, it was not predicted to be close, and it never was close. Just go beat Louisville and let’s move on without stupid moral victory articles like this.

    1. AGSlater

      Louisville fan

    2. InigoMontoya

      Kernel, time to go take your meds.

    3. Kernel Sanders

      Indigo, time to get a clue

    4. krautdog

      That’s cruel!

    5. kjd

      I agree with you, Kernel.
      Let’s beat UofL.

  6. Peter Criss

    Agree with everything in this article. Part of the reason fans are so frustrated is that this team is so agonizingly close. 2 plays and we’re 9-2. Think about that. But, on the flip side, a couple of plays the other way and we’re 5-6. Win over Louisville and win in a bowl and the season is an unquestioned success!

    1. CatstopWontstop

      This is not going to happen. 9-4 sounds good, but it’s a pipe dream…

  7. BigBlue4EverUK

    We got smacked 42-13! More like people turned the channel instead of turning heads.

    1. timewilltell

      Spot on BigBlue4 Ever UK! Sums up
      My feelings exactly!

  8. kentucky25

    Wow. While I agree that the final score was not necessarily reflective of the competitiveof the game, good teams don’t allow the other team to run for almost 400 yards, no matter who their running backs are. Stoops is supposed to be a defensive coach. Well why does our defense miss tackles now just like they did when he took over? These are his players. We should be able to tackle. Typically, 7 or 8 wins is a great season, but when you look at how weak our schedule was overall, this was the year for this program to take a big step forward, and we were unable to do that because of coaching. Not covering Florida’s receivers, leaving Ole Miss far too much time to score when it was obvious we couldn’t stop them. Let’s ask ourselves why that score got out of hand yesterday……COACHING!!!!! We turn them over to start the game, get Benny going running the ball, and throw 3 passes which lead to a field goal. The run game was working, why throw 3 times? Kick the field goal before half and go into the locker room with some momentum. Then we score to start the second half, would have been a 5 point game. We were still in the game when that AWFUL play call of the Bowden pass was made. Score there and it’s a one possession game. That’s when the game got out of hand and our players hung their heads, and rightfully so. Gran takes a lot of heat for being conservative, but his aggressive play calls are usually just as bad. Last but not least……for the love of God, please no more wildcat. It just doesn’t work. It’s embarrassing to be the team that fakes a jet sweep to their quarterback.

    1. JaminTheCoach

      You do realize our only TD came in the wildcat…

    2. kentucky25

      You do realize that play gets blown up 9 times out of 10? If you want to run in from inside the 5 near the goal line, that’s fine. 1st and 2nd down during the middle of a drive, no way. The defense knows exactly what’s coming. It just doesn’t work. It completely takes away the passing aspect of the offense and it takes our offense out of rhythm.

  9. JaminTheCoach

    Good article Jack. Most are going to say, “have you lost your damn mind?” That being said, however, you’re 100% right. If the execution is better in the first half and Kentucky does go up 21-0, that is demoralizing to a Georgia team that got spanked by Auburn last week. It takes the crowd out of the game, leaves our players with nothing but confidence, and Georgia questioning their own hype. That TD to begin the 3rd quarter would have depleted any drive the dawgs had left in them to win that game. It was much closer than the score indicated. Execution on pivotal plays is exactly why the outcome was what it was.

  10. shepdog3720

    You guys realize we got into the end zone just 1 time yesterday? To talk about what might have been if we were up 21-0 is certainly entertaining, but is not based in reason. Their defense owned our offense, and there really isn’t another way to lol at it. Every game has a few plays that they would love to have back, but the reality is that Georgia is monumentally better than UK, and that’s ok. Go beat the Tweety Birds Saturday and get that 8th win and enjoy something that simply doesn’t happen in Lexington except once in a generation…future is bright

    1. shepdog3720

      look

  11. henderblue

    We competed…for one quarter

  12. TBW3011

    Game wasn’t competitive. Turning heads. Lol

  13. kyle heavy

    Why is my comment awaiting moderation? I’ve already posted once, and it obviously got deleted. Why?

  14. ryang1234

    Nice to see the fan club write the reviews.

  15. chris43

    Georgia has two of the best running backs in SEC HISTORY?!? Wow! Give me some of what you’re smoking because it must be really good! They have two good backs but by NO MEANS are they historically great SEC RBs. Smdh

    1. Parker_UKFanNC

      They are both in the top 10 for all time rushing yards in the SEC and Chubb is second. Therefore, historically great is accurate.

    2. chris43

      Chubb is actually “FOURTH”….still very good but he has played FOUR years while most of the true top notch elite RBs went pro after 3. Michel is actually 30th. Pretty sure most would take any of these guys over them Hershel Walker, Darren McFadden, Bo Jackson,
      Mark Ingram, Emmitt Smith, Eric Rhett, Shaun Alexander, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Marcus Lattimore, Garrison Hearst, Trent Richardson, Travis Henry, Todd Gurley, Tre Mason, Leonard Fournette.

  16. dgtuk

    Great insight…if we executed better we might have won. Kind of loses it’s pizzazz when you get whacked like we did. Here is another great insight if we scored more points we would have won. About the same level of analysis.

    Keep drinking the koolaid but you might want to take off the rose colored glasses every now and then. The title of your article is just plain senseless. The only heads that were turning were those who couldn’t stand to watch.

    Having said all that, Georgia is really good and we simply have to play a perfect game to compete against the big boys. Go beat UL on Saturday and lets go bowling. But enough with the we “turned heads” on Saturday….simply foolish.

    1. krautdog

      I turned my head just to make sure that basketball season is really here!

  17. bigbluechesticles

    Did I watch a different game? I thought we got blown out on national TV and got outplayed in every aspect of the game??? Are we that pathetic that we hang our hat on scoring in the first quarter? We’ve played 2 good teams this year, and blown out by both. I’m not sure how this game could have changed anyone’s mind about this program. Getting 7 wins this year is nice, but trying to get excited about getting blown out is kind of sad.

  18. Sergeant

    I like to find the silver lining as much as the next guy, but we got exposed on National TV. I enjoy this team, but they may be the most beatable 7 win team in country. Because we cannot pass the ball with consistency, we wont beat any teams with solid defense.

  19. ofallthethings

    When is the luncheon where they will be receiving their participation trophies?

  20. CatstopWontstop

    So let’s recap:

    “Georgia is far more talented, but Kentucky hung for awhile.” It’s true that UGA has more talent, but in every other article looking at the strengths of this coaching staff recruiting is #1. The recruiting has been an improvement from the past, but when you start an article with the fact that Georgia has almost as many 5 star players as Kentucky does 4 and 5 star combined, it really makes it irrelevant.

    Next:

    “Kentucky was the worst football team in the history of football before Stoops.” The joker years were bad, no doubt, but only Louisville and WKU could have really beaten Kentucky even then. How much better is Kentucky now? During Jokers last 2 seasons, Kentucky played 2 top ten teams: 38-7 Loss to South Carolina (2012) and a 35-7 Loss to #1 LSU (2011). Since then In the past two years under Stoops Kentucky has played 2 top 10 teams: 34-6 Loss to #1 Alabama (2016) and a 42-13 Loss to Georgia (2017). Seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Finally:

    “A few plays go differently, and Kentucky could have had a change to win the game.” This was a 42-13 loss in which Georgia started slow against a team they didn’t respect and then poured it on after halftime. Like another poster here said “Mercer was just 8 TD’s away from tying Alabama.”

    1. CatstopWontstop

      **had a chance to win the game

  21. trumpetguy

    ….remember how we got a little rattled when Ga. media type said this was a “bye-week” &/or cupcake game….? Well that sounds insulting, much like a 4 TD rout does.