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The Cats Need a Break After Beating Missouri


Kentucky moved to 5-1 on the season and 12-4 over its last 16 regular games with a gutty victory with a banged up depth chart against an inferior opponent. My concern all week was that the Mizzou offense and all that talent would “wake up;” it did so in a big way by amassing 568 total yards and exceeding its scoring average by 9-points.

Most wanted to see more offense after the Cats scored just 24 points against Eastern Michigan a week ago (Who has a much better defense than Missouri by the way; not talent wise, but in relation to execution). Eddie Gran’s unit answered by totaling 486-yards and hanging 40 on the Tigers. It arguably left another 21 on the Kroger Field turf.

Full disclosure; Missouri was allowing 40-points per game so let’s keep Saturday’s offensive performance in perspective. But, did you know that Kentucky has won 8 of its last 10 home games? There was a sense of testiness following Saturday’s win. But; perspective.

The defense struggled. Missouri is to be credited for its offensive game plan which all but negated UK’s key pass rushers: OLB’s Josh Allen and Denzil Ware.

The Tigers were assisted by a sketchy pass defense and that’s being kind. Of its three long touchdown passes, one was a schematic flaw which matched up linebacker Courtney Love on Mizzou’s top pass catcher Johnathon Johnson that resulted in a 75-yard pitch and catch for six points. J’Mon Moore’s 50-yard score was a result of a great throw from quarterback Drew Lock that was perfectly placed behind the cornerback and in front of the safety in a Cover 2 look.

Hey, football happens. Sometimes the bad guys win. The third came when WR Emmanuel Hall just flat-out ran past the cornerback on a go route to the end zone at the end of the first half.

Missouri’s offensive line was rated as one of the SEC’s top 5 going into 2017. It played so on Saturday night as the Tigers rushed for 213 net yards against a Wildcat defense that was allowing just 74 per game. Kentucky had not faced two dynamic runners on the same team like Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett. Crockett was the foremost concern but it was Witter who ran for 139-yards off 17 carries for an average of 8.2 per.

Yet another game was decided with the opposing team possessing the football in the game’s final drive with the contest in doubt. Mark Stoops’ decision to kick a field goal on 4th and goal at the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter was the right call and forced Mizzou into scoring a touchdown and an extra point for the win with just over a minute to play with no timeouts.

Kentucky won the football game 40-34. Its 5-1 going into a necessary break in action to heal up, clean up, and develop a run game. Now let’s dive deeper:

Hello Drake Jackson

The redshirt freshman center played the majority of offensive plays and more than held his own against future pro defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. Jackson’s snaps were accurate and he was a key blocker in several of the Cats explosive plays. Plainly, given the status of the Mizzou defensive line; Drake Jackson played his guts out. Having the rookie solidify that position frees up Bunchy Stallings to move back to guard, a position that he played at a high level in 2016. Perhaps Jackson’s performance could be a step forward in answering offensive line questions. Time will tell.

Johnson to Johnson

See the first sentence of this post. Kentucky is 12-4 in its past 16 regular season games with Stephen Johnson at quarterback. The senior was 22/36 (61.1%), 298-yards, 2 touchdowns, and was intercepted once. He also rushed the football for 44-yards off 11 carries; many of which were drive extenders. I don’t know how others evaluate quarterbacks but I’d describe his game as solid, motivational, gutty, and indispensable. Remember, Johnson is also beat up and has taken several shots over the course of six games.

Senior receiver Garrett Johnson led the team with 7 receptions for 111 yards and 1 score. Juice has proven time and time again to be UK’s go-to pass catcher during critical 3rd down plays. He’s also continuing to climb the program’s record books in several receiving categories.

The Receivers and the Emergence of Lynn Bowden

I said in the preseason that the receivers would be better in 2017 than it was a year ago. I stand by that statement. Kayaune Ross played his best game as a Wildcat with 4 catches for 77 yards. The resurrection of Blake Bone continued as the senior grabbed 3 passes for 30-yards including a touchdown. True freshman Lynn Bowden’s route running has drastically improved. A specific instance impressed as he executed a flawless three-move corner route for a catch. He’s starting to understand the position. Bowden finished the game with 3 receptions for 49-yards and had one explosive play called back due to penalty. The BBN got a glimpse of his special playmaking abilities with spectacular runs after catch. There was a dropped potential touchdown on a post route. UK cannot afford missed touchdown opportunities especially in a season that scoring points and connecting on explosive plays have proven to be a challenge.

Kentucky Can’t Deliver the Knockout Punch

Cornerback Derrick Baity, “I think our instinct to destroy an opponent, we don’t really have it. We’ll jump out on them and it’s good, but we’re not consistent enough to keep going on them…. We’re letting up ourselves.  We’re getting complacent once we take a good lead and I think that’s why it’s coming down to the wire.”

Up 13-0, which could have easily been 21-0 with more efficiency in the Red-Zone; Missouri was ready to quit. UK didn’t oblige when Lock hit J’Mon Moore down the sideline for a touchdown strike. Up 20-7, the Cats allowed its opponent back into self-esteem land by giving up a 58-yard TD pass with :40 prior to halftime. This was reminiscent of Southern Miss-2016.

Quarterback Stephen Johnson, “It’s just execution on our side, putting the game out of reach.  That’s something we have to work on this Bye Week and the following week after that get it all together.”

Benny Went Back Over 100 and into the End Zone

Snell’s night included 117-yards off 20 carries and two touchdowns. That involves a 71-yard scamper to pay dirt. The sophomore averaged 5.8 tough yards for the game. Reality is that he’s not gotten the same level of offensive line support as he did a year ago when he rushed for over 1,000-yards. But seeing him break a 71-yarder had to be considered encouraging. Another positive was seeing Stephen Johnson go under center to hand off to Snell for a touchdown. He looked comfortable in that role.

Austin MacGinnis is the Kentucky G.O.A.T

The senior kicker became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 314-points. MacGinnis made all four of his field goals and four extra points, totaling 16 for the night. The 16 points tied his career high for a game and is the second-most points for a kicker in one game in school history. He also became the first player in school history with three career field goals of at least 53 yards.

Pass Defense Deficiencies 

That’s been covered throughout this post. Starting cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have both battled injuries. Not an excuse, but relevant. Depth must continue be developed at that position. Safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards have both played an enormous amount of snaps through six games. But, the trend of surrendering explosive plays through the air is alarming. Missouri QB Drew Lock was the SEC’s 2nd rated passer entering Saturday’s contest. We knew that the Missouri receivers averaged 15 yards-per-catch which ranks high nationally. J’Mon Moore was averaging 26 yards-per-catch entering Saturday. However, giving up homerun grabs for points has to stop or at least slow.

Run Defense

Kentucky entered the game 3rd in the nation by allowing just 74 rush yards per game. Missouri gashed the Cats for 213. Missed tackles again reared its ugly head. But, give credit to Missouri and that mammoth offensive line for opening running lanes for RB’s Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett. Preseason All SEC tackle Paul Adams was excellent. The running backs ran through arm tackles. Mizzou won the line-of-scrimmage for the better part of sixty minutes.

What does all this mean?

Simple; UK is 5-1 going into the bye week. I may have been wrong with my assessment that the 2017 schedule was more challenging than 2016. But, there are teams left on the slate that are very Missouri-like. This means that even though records and recent results aren’t extraordinary; there are still very talented individual players and especially quarterbacks remaining in the back half of the season. Saturday’s pass defense didn’t exactly sanction confidence. This team has simply found ways to win.

The first half of the season has produced a heartbreaking nightmare against Florida, impressive road wins at South Carolina and Southern Miss, two ho-hum home wins over EKU and EMU, and a scarier than necessary victory over Missouri. As we are at the halfway point in the season; I think most would have taken 5-1 going into the bye week and labeled that outcome as a success. Style points don’t count in football. At the end of the season only W’s and L’s matter. Right now Mark Stoops’ team sits at 5-1 and a whole bunch of teams across the nation are not.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

21 responses to “The Cats Need a Break After Beating Missouri”

  1. catlaska

    Well said.

  2. DelrayCat

    This team is interesting. The two areas I thought we’d be strongest, the secondary and the o-line, are the weakest elements of the team. They are clearly beat and banged up at this point in the season. The bye was sorely needed and I think they will give MSU all they can handle on the road in 2 weeks. I think the coaches are too hell-bent on running the ball that they sometime get way too predictable. We’ve seen the most success when we throw to set up the run and not the other way around.
    Also why don’t they target CJ Conrad more often?? Is it because he is needed to protect the QB on most passing downs? That is my biggest gripe for this team….other than that great win and I am proud to be a Wildcat Football fan again!

  3. krautdog

    Good time to rest up & get ready for the “implosion”!

  4. MAYS24

    Excuse my ignorance but can Freddie or anyone explain to me why it is better to kick the field goal? It is 37-34 and we are at the 2-yard line. If we fail with a play on 4th and 2 then Missouri takes over at the 2 with 98 yards to go and needs a touchdown to beat us. Once we kick the field goal and go up 40-34 Missouri still needs a touchdown/extra point to beat us. I think Missouri takes over at what? the 25 yard-line with 75 yards to go. 98-75 is 23 yards or almost a 1/4 of the field further to go. The only advantage I can see if you kick the field goal they cannot tie you with a field goal. I must be wrong because both Stoops and Freddie say so! There has to be some flaw in my logic or math?

    1. callitlikeiseeit

      If we miss the 4th down Mizzou only needs about 60 yards for potential tie. This way they needed 75 yards to win so that is probably the thinking of why to kick. I agree with your point as well. Biggest issue I have is we were 1st and goal at the 2 and end up 4th and 3. Also I hate the Wildcat on 3rd or 4th and 1. Why limit your options and limit what the D has to cover. There is no pass threat and we have been stuffed all year as the defense has been bringing 9 or 10 guys. If the QB is in we have all options open and the D must set up to cover all options, it worked when Benny went 70 yards on a 3rd and 1, NOT from the Wildcat but from a handoff.

    2. ukfootball

      Missouri didn’t put a long drive together all game to score a TD all their TD’s came off of big plays and Kentucky would be playing prevent defense the whole final drive making it impossible to bust a big play so kick the ball making it were they had to get a TD

    3. callitlikeiseeit

      Can agree to a point but the prevent allows them to drive down the field just like they did on the last series. If not for Allen knocking the ball away they would have had 3 chances for a winning TD, and based on how our pass defense was the odds re they would have won the game. Great move Josh, you just got the MVP for this game.

  5. callitlikeiseeit

    I need a break as well, between UK and the Bengals they are wearing out my emotions.

  6. chris43

    5-1! That’s great and I’m very happy for the team. But I’m not going to get too excited as the second half of the schedule will be much tougher competition. What worries me is that we’re 5-1 but even against the likes of Southern Miss, EKU, Eastern Michigan and MIZZ we by no means dominated the game and honestly could have lost. We’ll learn a lot about this team when they play MISS ST and if we can beat UT at home this year…..lord help us.

    1. Mathlete

      I would argue that some of the teams we’ve already beaten are better than some of the teams we have left to play (looking specifically at Tennessee, Vandy, and Ole Miss. Eastern Michigan would pound all three). Georgia is legit, but Mississippi State is overrated after hammering a bad LSU team, and Louisville is just Lamar and some red and black traffic cones. No reason to think 9 wins is crazy or that 10 is out of reach

    2. Rembrandt

      Yes, the second half of our 2017 schedule is tougher. But our team is improving, and that’s more important. Our offensive line is playing better. Our receivers are making plays. Benny looks healthier than a few weeks ago. After a week off, I think our defense will play better too. We committed turnovers last year, but we haven’t been committing turnovers this year. That’s not being mentioned much, but it is significant. Most of our remaining games are winnable if we play our brand of football.

  7. DennyC

    5-1 Baby!!!!! Time to sign Mark Stoops to a LIFETIME contract Mitch!!! Look at the teams we dominated so far this season! SEC Championship tickets on sale yet???? askin’ for a friend….

    1. runningunnin.454

      We have a winning record in our conference…unlike some teams (UL?)

    2. Booby Petrino

      Have a better record than your University 6. And we’re going to beat you all again this year. All while your program is a national laughing stock. You still butt hurt over NC St fans chanting FBI? LOLOLOL

    3. Booby Petrino

      Also, who the hell is your AD right now? Oh, that’s right…riding UK’s jock again and picking a former UK player. You all love our scraps! Hopefully this one works out for you better than Slick Rick.

    4. Rembrandt

      Glass half empty?

    5. dshwildcats

      DennyC,

      If I were you (and most Louisville fans, for that matter) I’d consider wearing a paper bag over my head like the Saints’ fans back in the day! Your athletics program is a national laughingstock, brother! Hookers, strippers, paying recruits, FBI investigation, NCAA investigation, etc!! There’s something for everyone at “The ‘Ville”! Lol!!

      You should really considering crawling back into your hole, and staying there! Your basketball program is going to be in shambles for several years; and your football program is not the “National Championship contender” that your fans wanted everyone to believe! Sorry about your luck there, DennyC! Enjoy the misery!! Lol!!

  8. DennyC

    LOL . . . Cards still ranked higher in BOTH AP polls and College Coaches polls SUCKERS!!!!!!

    1. Mathlete

      That’s cool, let them be ranked and favored by 28 points when they come to town next month. Vegas loves sucker bets like that, and the poll voters don’t watch the actual games outside of the top 5-10 because nobody has time for that.

    2. runningunnin.454

      LOL is right…UL is great on paper, racking up big stats against Kent State and Murray State.
      But, they couldn’t beat NC State who couldn’t beat South Carolina who couldn’t beat UK.
      That’s called OVER RATED.

  9. MAYS24

    Thank you, CALLITLIKEISEEIT, for taking the time to explain the reasoning behind the field goal choice at 4th and 2. They thought the important thing was not to allow Mizzou to go 60 yards and tie with a field goal. Though I realize things could have turned out that way with a tie score. To me, it is a no-brainer that you try for the touchdown at the 2-yard line. If we do not send Bennie up the middle our chances are above 60% IMHO. I would decoy Bennie up the middle because they have to jam defenders inside to stop him. I would roll Stephen out behind Jacob Hyde with Bowden an option at receiver or being handed off to following Hyde. Send your receivers deep in the end zone corners. If that fails my primary thoughts are to not give up a touchdown. Make them go at least 98 yards instead of 75 yards. Their field goal kicker missed a field goal in the 40’s. If they did go 60 yards for a field goal to tie it I am not second guessing myself trying to end it with a touchdown! Those are taking your best odds and I feel you have to go that way every time.