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Kentucky Won the Game, Right?


Kentucky had been outgained 1066 yards to 558 this time last season. It had also been outscored 89-42 and was sitting at 0-2 with New Mexico State looming in the shadows. The offensive line was a major question mark after being dominated by a group of shoulder chipped Golden Eagles and demolished in the Swamp by a gathering of future Gator pros. Touchdowns and the defensive line were all but nonexistent for six quarters of football. The buzzards were circling; media and fans were irritable. Critical comments and complaints surrounding the Wildcat football program flooded social media, call in shows, and all other means of modern communication.

After its first two games of 2017 the Wildcats are 2-0 after beating Eastern Kentucky 27-16 on Saturday. On the drive home from the stadium I experienced what can only be described as a déjà vu moment. Postgame call in shows, social media, and other modern means of communication were flooded with queries and understandable concerns surrounding the football Cats. Expectation is a son of a gun isn’t it?

After UK opened the game with a drive that resulted in an Austin MacGinnis field goal, a talented group of transfers and players that felt shunned by their home-state university outplayed the Cats for a quarter and a half. In plain terms, EKU kicked the Cats’ butts through passion and executed its game plan to perfection. In a strange twist of emotions, I was actually proud of our southern neighbors. Everybody likes an underdog don’t they? It even celebrated at the end of the first quarter as if it had just won the OVC title. I don’t blame them at all for that by the way. Unlike two years ago, at no point in the game did I feel that Kentucky would lose. Call that the Stephen Johnson Effect if you’d like, or not.

But, those boorishly clamoring for a quarterback change got their wish when Drew Barker supplanted Stephen Johnson in the 2nd quarter. At the time, Johnson was 7-9 for 30 yards and had 2 rushes for 23. Barker’s series ended with him completing 1 pass out of 2 and being sacked twice. Unsuccessful drives were not all Barker’s fault. Johnson classily supported his teammate’s playing time. The senior didn’t sulk about his time on the bench. He calmly reentered the game and completed 68% of his passes and accounted for two touchdowns. Let’s dive deeper, shall we?

OFFENSE

Surprisingly, the Cats outgained its opponent 436 yards to 318. It also surpassed EKU in 1st downs 22-17. The feel of the game doesn’t match the data. Benny Snell exceeded the century mark after sustaining a rib injury early in the game. Sihiem King was shifty and powerfully ran behind his pads for a running back that weighs less than 180 pounds. Both Snell and King did not receive a great deal of help from their offensive line early in the game.

Matter of fact, the point of most malcontent stems from the offensive line of scrimmage. I underestimated the difficulty in replacing Jon Toth and Cole Mosier. Their loss has caused obvious distress. Both were leaders, team-first locker room influences, and very good at their jobs. Guard Nick Haynes was forced to start the game at center due to center turned guard turned back to center Bunchy Stallings’ injury sustained against Southern Miss. Difficult sentence to understand right? Well, that’s kinda how perplexing it has been to mix and match healthy five offensive linemen in UK’s first two games. What once was a team strength has morphed into a makeshift Rubik’s Cube-like series of personnel combinations. However, in the second half, the group seemed to click when Stallings returned center which allowed Haynes to move back to his natural position at guard. UK Football from 2016 was back for a string of series.

CJ Conrad continues to be a dangerous weapon and has now scored a touchdown in back-to-back games. The formerly maligned receiver Blake Bone had his best day in Lexington and provided offensive coordinator Eddie Gran a spark with a 43-yard catch. Bone’s height advantage over the EKU secondary paid dividends for the senior receiver. The offense seemed confident with Johnson behind the center and the running game rolling which opened up the play action pass.

Quarterback Stephen Johnson wins games. Period. Those Ws may not be a thing of beauty, but his winning percentage is entering rarely charted waters when compared to historical Wildcat signal callers. He also proved to be dangerous while running the football as his scamper in the end zone was a game changing play. However, for the second straight week the offense continued to be its own worst enemy. Bad snaps, penalties, and untimely errors coupled with difficulties along the offensive line produced what some would describe as an offensive clunker. However, I refer you back to the stats. Kentucky rushed and passed for over 200 yards. That could be considered a balanced game. Furthermore, it didn’t endure a single turnover for the first time in two seasons.

I’m not going to sugar coat the obvious. There are several areas that require drastic improvement as SEC play begins against the vastly improved South Carolina Gamecocks. EKU deserves a tremendous amount of credit. Cliché warning, but like I said a week ago: if 2016 taught me anything, it is to take the 12-game season one game at a time. The OL was horrifically bad this time a year ago. I don’t think the ceiling is as high with this unit as was with last year’s; but improvement is a possibility. That goes for every position group under Eddie Gran’s control.

Team Statistics

Scoring 27 points
Rushing 207 yards
Passing 229 yards
Total 436 yards
First Downs 27

Top Performers

Passing Stephen Johnson 15/22, 224 yds, 1 TD
Rushing Benny Snell 19 carries, 103 yds
Receiving Blake Bone 3 rec, 93 yds, 1 TD

DEFENSE

On the Depth Chart Podcast I tried to warn folks about all those EKU transfers, in particular QB Tim Boyle as well as receivers Neiko Creamer and Ryan Markush. Those two receivers can flat out play the game of football and earned the respect of the Wildcat defenders and the BBN in attendance. EKU’s game plan was to freeze the UK pass rushers through play-action and rely upon short-to-intermediate passes to move the chains. It succeeded.

Boyle and fellow QB Austin Scott were accurate and released the football in a timely manner. Couple that with the play-action motion and UK registered just one sack and three tackles for loss. Much like with the offense, a look back at the stat-line doesn’t match the game’s feel inside the stadium. The vibe was that Eastern rolled up 500 total yards and mastered time of possession. But the secondary were efficient tacklers and UK actually possessed the football for 31:28 compared to EKU’s 28:32. From first glimpse it would appear that the defensive line took a minor step back from its performance in Hattiesburg. But again, the stat sheet reads differently. In fact, its opponent only rushed for 62 net yards although the pass rush could have presented more of a threat even if EKU’s game plan was to take away that element of its game.

Safety Darius West led the team with 11 tackles. Josh Allen registered 8 with a QB sack. EKU finished the day 6/14 on 3rd down. The defensive wasn’t extraordinary by any means of the imagination, nor was it awful. Mike Edwards’ interception was a huge play in the game. Matt House has a great deal of work to do prior to traveling to South Carolina. Much like its offensive counterparts, the defense will be a continuous developmental project for the next 10 weeks. Lots and lots of 1st timers are registering clock. One positive for the defensive coordinator was facing an accurate quarterback in Tim Boyle, WRs Markush and Creamer to go along with that exceptional group of Southern Miss pass catchers. South Carolina’s QB and WR combinations will obviously present a much more difficult challenge.

Team Statistics

Scoring Allowed 16 points
Rush 62 yards
Passing 256 yards
Total 318 yards
First Downs 17

Top Performers

Tackles Darius West 11
QB Sacks Josh Allen 1
Tackles for Loss Josh Allen/Lonnie Johnson 1

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams are not a sexy topic unless its overly tremendous or spectacularly unsuccessful. I’d evaluate Saturday’s performance at a C or just average. Austin MacGinnis’ kickoffs were short and possessed very little hang time. This presented the kickoff team with a precarious situation that resulted in favorable field position for the Colonels after it averaged over 35 yards per return. He also missed a 48-yard field goal prior to halftime. Punter Matt Panton was solid by averaging 38.8 yards per kick with one placed inside the twenty-yard line. Again, wasn’t awful; but wasn’t spectacular. The Cats MUST be near perfect to beat South Carolina. The Gamecocks have excelled in this phase.

What does all this mean?

Kentucky is 2-0. It wasn’t impressive or overbearing but a win is a win. Got to give credit to EKU, again. Expect a more detailed review of this game in Monday’s After Action Review.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

25 responses to “Kentucky Won the Game, Right?”

  1. DaniTheGirl

    The only thing I’m pissed about is how horrible Stephen Johnson looks in a helmet… So unnatural….. Gives me the creeps…shew

    1. runningunnin.454

      Not a beauty contest.

    2. UKPROF

      He tucks his hair up, inside the helmet, and that elevates where to top of his helmet should be. It scares the opponent, they think his brain is much larger than the average human.

    3. BBNDan7

      Hahaha

  2. DennyC

    Freddie, maybe if you took off your blue glasses and did some real reporting, people might read and comment on your posts. You are still trying to make Southern Mississippi (C-USA) and (gulp) Eastern Kentucky (OVC) victories mean something. If UK has won by 35 or heck 14, you might have a little more credibility in your posts !.. But for both of those teams taking UK to wire is RIDICULOUS! Quit trying to put lipstick on a PIG! UK looked HORRIBLE against inferior caliber opponents. . . #TruthHurts

    1. KYcats11

      I’m sure you know a lot more about football than a former collegiate starting quarterback. We are 2-0!!!

    2. runningunnin.454

      The truth that hurt was Houston, UK, and LSU….choke choke choke.

    3. ryanbruner

      Have some faith bud! We are 2-0 I don’t understand what else you want to be happy? They have showed some signs of improvement from those dreaded 2-10 seasons ! They can win close games now! This is a new team and regardless of opponent they have shown they can win! Heck last year Alabama almost lost to the worst team in the SEC last year Ole Miss! Things happen but have some faith

    4. steve simpson

      Agreed. Not long ago we’d be 0-2 right now after those games.

    5. Eazy

      I wouldn’t say we looked horrible. The defense was great overall. And we are 2-0. ULs defense on the other hand looks bad. They are giving up 30 plus vs bottom level power 5 teams. Didn’t you learn anything last year? UL is ridiculously overrated and UK will only get better. Our overall talent is superior to Louisvilles. Oh, and you guys got waxed last time you played a non power 5 team. Go back to your boards. UK owns you clowns. UL is the laughingstock of college sports.

  3. DaniTheGirl

    Man !!! And can we talk about that helmet ….I mean …CREEPEEEEEEE

    1. TakenNotGiven

      Wut

  4. Luether

    Good post as usual, Freddie…

  5. AGSlater

    Knew Freddie was gonna post this b.s. That game was trash all the way around. This team sucks at everything. EKU is so terrible and made us look bad at home. Give me a break. I hate 100% biased reporting. Tell it how it is. Im sure runnin gunnin and cats runnin love some Freddie

    1. runningunnin.454

      Freddie does tell it how it is, and I do love it.
      Speaking of b.s.
      how are you?

    2. TakenNotGiven

      UK outscored EKU 17-3 in the first half. A dumb penalty extended EKU’s drive and led to their first touchdown. If we clean up the penalties, keep our QB1 in the game the whole time and play two halves of football, we win that game by 3 – 4 touchdowns. But continue to spew your pessimism if you must. I’m sure you’re a blast to hang out with at parties.

    3. TakenNotGiven

      *second half

    4. Eazy

      I’ll tell it like it is…UL lost their last 3 games last year and went 0-2 vs SEC teams. I guess you learned nothing from that epic choke. UL is a one man show. UK out recruits them every year and once Jackson is gone we will be far superior. Uk is 2-0 and will improve just like last year.

    5. UK Big Board Update

      41-38

  6. notFromhere

    Well said, Freddie. We’ve been on the same page in that regard. Team will improve if they don’t lose more to injury.

    Never mind the nabobs

  7. UKPROF

    Freddie is trying to stay positive. He’s thinking what he is not reporting, that UK is in deep kaka if they expect to go to a bowl game. MAJOR improvement MUST surface, effective IMMEDIATELY, or it’s gonna be a L O N G season. Oh, Hey Eddie! WAKE UP!!!!

  8. thenamerobdigity

    Got to the point where,” expectations are a son of a gun.”

    In our worst years we were beating these dinky teams. The O-line needs to figure it out. The announcers said the d-line for Eastern averaged 250. Either the SEC has pathedic offensive lines, or the UK line is EXTREMELY overrated by the so-called “experts.” I am going to go with the latter.

    Same goes for the secondary, although that could be due to a piss poor pass rush. Being +5 against South Carolina seems low. I sure hope this team was playing to competition.

  9. Jayy

    Man that Jeff Brohm for Purdue can coach.

  10. RackEmWillie

    UK is indeed 2-0, but there are some issues with their game that will cost them games with any higher level opponent. Their offensive efficiency is bad, really bad. Their ability to score on long drives hasn’t been ideal.

    Penalties have been absolutely killers these 2 games.

    Pass defense has been lacking. They lost deep plays to Southern Miss, and struggled overall against short and quick throws with EKU.

    These are all fixable things, and they have to be fixed to start 3-0. They started 2-0 in 2014 and 15, and didn’t end up where they needed or wanted to be.

    So, forgive me for not being amped over an ugly 2-0.They could be a lot worse, but they can definitely be a lot better as well.

  11. gahami

    Special teams a C?? Really?? Kick off coverage was horrible. The kicker had to make tackles twice to save tds. We were lucky as hell to win against a FCS school. Be very very concerned…