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September 19th, 2017

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.


1 p.m. Kentucky/Florida Ticket Update: Only singles remain

After a busy morning at the UK Ticket Office, only single tickets remain for Kentucky/Florida Saturday night at Kroger Field. How excited are people? Check out the picture of the line at the ticket office a few hours ago:

Former UK players have taken to Twitter to encourage fans to make it a sell out, including Randall Cobb, who will be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend:

And Avery Williamson:

And Tim Couch:

Call the UK Ticket office (800-928-CATS) or get on UKFootballTix.com right now to secure your seats.


Jogger won’t stop pooping in people’s yards

There are headlines and then there are smheadlines. Today’s is definitely the latter. A jogger in Colorado Springs is in the news today for pooping in people’s yards. Yes, you read that correctly. The jogger has been spotted numerous times in her neighborhood dropping her pants and relieving herself, even in front of children.

“I was like ‘are you serious? Are you really taking a poop right here in front of my kids?’ And she was like ‘Yeah…sorry,'” homeowner Cathy Budde told a Colorado Springs news station.

When you gotta go, you gotta go, but apparently, this is a routine thing despite the fact that there are public restrooms along the running path. The neighborhood has put “The Mad Pooper” on notice:

What a crappy thing to do.

[WLKY]


Feedback on Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson’s official visits

2018 stars Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson were on Kentucky’s campus this weekend for official visits, and so far, the feedback has been very positive. Jide Sodipo, the executive director of Quickley’s AAU team, told Kyle Tucker that Johnson and Quickley spent a lot of time working out together in the Joe Craft Center.

“They definitely hung out together,” Sodipo told SECCountry.com. “They went over there by themselves and worked out. They both seem to be gym rats, so they were asking the manager what time they could get into the gym to work out. Immanuel could go to the moon and find a basketball gym so he could work out.”

Quickley had to cancel his official visit to Miami and few weeks ago because of Hurricane Irma, but this morning, Sodipo told TJ Walker it doesn’t look like he will reschedule, which is more good news for the Cats, who are the overwhelming favorite in his recruitment. Meanwhile, Keldon Johnson’s father told Adam Zagoria they enjoyed getting to know “the real Cal.”

“Getting to talk to Cal, you see the real Cal,” Chris said. “He really loves the kids, and I could see Keldon playing there. I think it would be a great opportunity.”

Texas is still Kentucky’s primary competition for Johnson due to his longstanding relationship with Shaka Smart, who started recruiting him in the ninth grade; however, if anyone can make up ground fast, it’s John Calipari.

 


Blue/White Game Tickets go on sale Monday

We’re all focused on football, but basketball is right around the corner. UK just announced that tickets for the Blue-White Game go on sale September 25 at 5 p.m. ET. The game is scheduled for October 20 at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena and will be televised by the SEC Network.

On Monday at 5 p.m., tickets will be available online through Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000. Based on availability after Monday evening’s on-sale, tickets will also be available beginning Tuesday through the Rupp Arena Box Office (859.233.3535) between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The cost of the tickets will be $10 (lower level) and $5 (200 level). All public seating is reserved.

Beginning Sept. 26 at 9 a.m., UK students may claim up to two free eRUPPtion Zone tickets for the Blue-White Game, while supplies last. Student tickets must be claimed in person at the Joe Craft Center ticket office with a valid UK student ID.

As a reminder, Big Blue Madness Campout starts a week from tomorrow. For more details on that, click the link below:

Big Blue Madness Campout dates set

 


1,200 500 tickets remain for Kentucky/Florida

Slowly, but surely, this game is moving towards a sellout. According to Matt this morning, only 1,200 tickets remain for Saturday’s game vs. Florida, down about 600 from last night.

If you’re still thinking of going, I suggest you call the UK Ticket office (800-928-CATS) or get on UKFootballTix.com right now to secure your seats. Let’s sell it out and show this team how much we support them.

UPDATE: Apparently there’s been another surge in ticket sales since Matt got his last update. Here’s an update from Mitch Barnhart:

 


BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Tuesday Morning Defensive Breakdown (South Carolina)

Each Tuesday I will break down the defensive numbers in hopefully a more interesting way that you normally see.  I like to see if there are certain situations where the UK defense excels, based on down and distance.  I will also keep a running count of the stats over the course of the season.  Against South Carolina,    

1st Down
Pass: 13-17, 196 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack for -3 yards
Run: 6 rushes for 37 yards (6.2 ypc)

Combined Season Statistics
Pass: 31-51, 416 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack for -3 yards
Run: 30 rushes for 90 yards (3.0 ypc)

Breakdown: The defense was fantastic but if there is one poor spot it would be pass defense on first down.  Even if you take away the opening touchdown, USC was still able to torch the UK pass defense on 1st down.  Now, the 2nd and 3rd down was so good it didn’t matter.
—————————————————-
2nd Down and Long (6 yards or more)
Pass: 2-5, 23 yards, 1 INT
Run: 3 rushes for 10 yards (3.3 ypc)

Combined Season Statistics
Pass: 20-29, 198 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Run: 15 rushes for 57 yards (3.8 ypc)

Breakdown: Awesome defense here.  UK’s run defense has been stout in this situation all season but their pass defense improved greatly on Saturday.  Game finishing interception by Baity included in here as well.

2nd Down and Short (5 yards or fewer)
Pass: 4-7, 48 yards
Run: 3 rushes for 5 yards (1.7 ypc)

Combined Season Statistics
Pass: 7-11, 96 yards, 1 TD
Run: 10 rushes for 33 yards (3.3 ypc)

Breakdown: One long pass completion but otherwise another awesome performance.  The run defense was so good.  On two different occasions USC has 2nd and 1 and were not able to get that yard on a rush play.
——————————————————
3rd Down and Long (6 yards or more)
Pass: 2-3, 11 yards, 1 INT (converted 0 of 3)
Run: No Plays

Combined Season Statistics
Pass: 10-15, 83 yards, 1 INT, 3 sacks for -32 yards (converted 3 of 18)
Run: 2 rushes for 7 yards (3.5 ypc) (converted 0 of 4)

Breakdown: Perfection.  Cats got a turnover and kept USC from converting any long 3rd down plays.  This season, they have been AMAZING in 3rd and long, which is not something they’ve always been so great.

3rd Down and Short (5 yards or more)
Pass: 2-4, 17 yards, 1 sack for -3 yards (converted 2 of 5)
Run: 4 rushes for 8 yards (2.0 ypc) (converted 1 of 4)

Combined Season Statistics
Pass: 8-12, 62 yards, 1 sack for -3 yards (converted 6 of 13)
Run: 10 rushes for 31 yards (3.1 ypc) (converted 5 of 10)

Breakdown: I’m not sure the Cats have ever had numbers this good on 3rd and short.  This was all about TOUGHNESS.  Multiple stops on the run game and for some reason USC threw the  ball twice on 3rd and 1.  Nonetheless, UK holding the Gamecocks to 3 of 9 in easily convertable situations was the key to the game.


One step closer to the Florida game (Tuesday Show Thread)

Why is that UK fan dancing? Because it’s time for Kentucky Sports Radio. Tune in as the guys preview the Florida game, discuss Matt’s interview with Mitch Barnhart, and much, much more.

Join in on the fun by calling (502) 571-1080 or send a text to the KSR Texting Machine at (859) 300-3264.

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Today on KSR: Chrome domes for Florida?

What do you think Derrick Baity, Matt Elam, and Lynn Bowden were discussing right here? Baity’s game-sealing interception? Elam batting down Jake Bentley’s passes? The latest episode of Bachelor in Paradise? I’ll let you leave your best guess in the comments while I roll on to today’s agenda.

Excitement continues to build for the Florida game

After Saturday’s big win over South Carolina, excitement is ratcheting up again for another shot at Florida. As we are all painfully aware, the Gators have won 30 straight vs. the Cats, but Kentucky is riding a huge wave of momentum and Florida hasn’t exactly looked like world beaters so far this season. Last night, word broke that the suspended Florida players could be facing felony charges for credit card fraud, which would normally suggest they won’t play, but I’ve been to this rodeo enough times to rule them out. One thing is for certain: Kroger Field will be rocking.

As of 8 p.m. last night, only 1,500 tickets (250 lower level) and 300 student tickets were available, and it sounds like the student tickets are now sold out. If you’re even entertaining the idea of going, I suggest you call the UK Ticket office (800-928-CATS) or get on UKFootballTix.com right now to secure your seats.

Banners are even popping up on campus

@KyleGregory2

If any students are reading this and thinking about making a banner of your own, here’s my humble plea: please be clever. No hurricane jokes. No incest jokes. We’re not South Carolina.

Are the Cats going to wear chrome helmets?

@cameronrduke

This picture from Drew Barker’s Instagram story suggests it.

This tweet from Finebaum will get you going

For more on SJ’s appearance on Finebaum, click here.

I’m just now seeing this video from Saturday night

And it might be my favorite UK Football thing ever. Love Benny.

John Calipari’s handing out more 2019 offers

After hosting Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson on Friday and Saturday, John Calipari traveled to New Jersey on Sunday to see 2019 stars Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis. Both are top five players in the 2019 class and both got scholarship offers on the visit.

Calipari has handed out four scholarship offers in the past week in the 2019 class:

  • James Wiseman, PF
  • D.J. Jeffries, SF
  • Bryan Antoine, G
  • Scottie Lewis, SG

On Wednesday, he’ll go see Vernon Carey, considered by three of the four major recruiting services to be the top player in the 2019 class (James Wiseman is ranked #1 in the other). I think you can count on Carey getting an offer. Meanwhile, in 2018 recruiting, Zion Williamson is scheduled to take his official visit to Kentucky this weekend, and with John Wall being inducted into the UK Hall of Fame and the Florida game going down, we’re being told UK is pulling out all the stops to impress the superstar.

UK Basketball opened the doors to photographers yesterday

Our own Dr. Mike helped USA Today’s Mark Zerof out on the photoshoot, and while we can’t share all of the pictures yet, this one of Brad Calipari kissing a basketball is too good to keep under wraps:

Should we have Ryan Lemond replicate it? No? Too soon. For outtakes from the shoot, check out Jack’s post from last night. This seems like a really fun group.

WATCH: UK Men’s Basketball has a blast at Photo Day

Radio in an hour…


September 18th, 2017

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.”


Suspended Florida Players Reportedly up for Felony Charges

A credit card fraud case could put suspended Florida football players behind bars.

According to The Read Optional, the nine football players who are facing allegations of having misused school funds could be arrested as early as the end of this week on charges of felony grand theft.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain and athletic director Scott Stricklin have yet to provide any specifics on the case, but the report’s sources shed a little more light on the matter.

“The investigation began back in mid-August when seven players were suspended indefinitely from team activities for purchasing electronic items with their school debit cards, selling them for cash, then claiming the cards as stolen.”

The seven players repaid the lost money, but it did not reach the total.  That led the investigation to two more players, star running back Jordan Scarlett and wide receiver Rick Wells.

The other players involved are wide receiver Antonio Callaway, freshman linebacker James Houston, freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Smith, junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis, and redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones.

With or without the nine players, Florida will take on Kentucky at Kroger Field Saturday night at 7:30.

[The Read Optional]


Louisville City FC’s Top 10 Tweets of the Day

Louisville City FC, Kentucky’s professional soccer team, returns home to Slugger Field this Wednesday, and the club is offering discounted tickets to our readers through a special partnership. Click here and use promo code “KSR” to save on your purchase.

LouCity plays in the United Soccer League, only level below Major League Soccer, and features UK graduate George Davis IV. Support the state’s fastest-growing pro team with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday


You can be a part of KSR’s Top 10 Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtop10. You can also nominate tweets by mentioning them with the hashtag. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day.
 

#10 Alex Page

Hopefully more of BBN is doing the same.

#9 Bub Tackett

Sewer > key

#8 Steve Foster

Hahahahaha, good one.

#7 David Chemosky

Grey shirt, blue pants.

#6 Shawn Jacobs

Funniest or scariest?

#5 Kyle Mickeydub

I hope your neighbors enjoyed that sweet smell of victory!

#4 Michael Rains

I think it’s safe to say Cats fans had an awesome time in Columbia!

#3 Chris Crabtree

You called it, Chris!

#2 Colby Brown

….I can’t recall but I’m sure it’s not anytime soon.

#1 Kristi Wright

I think Rick was wearing her jersey.


Stephen Johnson: “(If we keep winning the turnover margin) it’s going to be hard for us to lose.”

This afternoon, Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson went on the Paul Finebaum show to discuss what he and the team have worked on this offseason and the team’s mindset going into Florida.

UK finished the 2016 season with a total turnover margin of -7, good for dead last in the SEC. For Johnson, fixing issues in that department was the primary focus this offseason.

“Consistency and turnovers,” Johnson said. “That has been the main thing we have stressed over the offseason, summer, and camp.”

Thus far, they’ve been able to finish on the positive end of the turnover margin. If the team can continue that, Johnson believes they’ll be tough to beat.

“Right now I think we are plus-four (in the turnover margin). If we keep that going, it’s going to be hard for us to lose,” he said.

When it comes to team’s matchup on Saturday against the Gators, the team is ready to go.

“We can’t wait for it,” said Johnson. “Guys are hyped up, everyone was ready to go as soon as we came in today. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Watch Johnson’s entire interview on Finebaum here:

Saturday can’t come fast enough.


An eight-step guide to Kentucky winning the SEC East (it’s not as crazy as you think)

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Admittedly, I know my role here at KSR, and that’s to be the guy who gives an outsider’s take on all things Kentucky sports (specifically basketball). But I’m also human dammit, and like everyone else I can’t help but get swept up in a little football fever every once in a while. So as you can probably imagine, after watching the Wildcats beat South Carolina on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think one thing: UK is going to the College Football Playoff, baby!!

Ok, maybe that’s slight hyperbole (ok, a lot of hyperbole) but the more I thought about it on Sunday, the more I realized that big-time UK football success this season might not be as crazy as some might think. The playoff is obviously off the table (in defense of Kentucky, it was for about 115 of the 128 FBS teams before the season even began) but the more I thought about the ‘Cats and the more I thought about the overall state of the SEC, the more I realized that – as crazy as it sounds – an SEC East title is absolutely in the equation.

Is it likely? Of course not. But with the East division a smattered mess of teams on the rise but not quite there yet (Georgia, Vandy) and former powers on the way down (did you want to help Butch Jones set up a LinkedIn account, or should I?) the idea of Kentucky representing the East in Atlanta the first weekend in December isn’t inconceivable either.

Here’s an easy eight-step path to getting there:

1) Kentucky already beat South Carolina

You can’t go undefeated if you don’t win the first one, and you can’t win an SEC East title without winning a few “swing” games on the schedule. Kentucky did both to open league play on Saturday night.

I’ll save the hard-hitting analysis for Nick Roush and the rest of the football guys, but South Carolina is a good team and Saturday was a quality win. It’s also one victory to put in the bank towards that elusive SEC East title.

2) Missouri is God awful

At this point, the Tigers are unquestionably the SEC’s worst team, a club which is 1-2, and already lost a home game to the same South Carolina team that Kentucky just beat. By the way, did I mention they also fired their defensive coordinator just two games into the season, and that Barry Odom is on the hot seat less than a year-and-a-half after taking the job? Or that their 35-3 loss to Purdue Saturday was way worse than it looked considering that the Boilermakers were up 28-3 at halftime before calling off the dogs after intermission?

Point being, Missouri football is a bigger mess than Duke’s admissions department trying to get a bunch of academically questionable basketball players cleared in time for the start of the season.

You never want to “assume” any victories for Kentucky football. But at home, against the league’s worst team, it seems pretty comfortable put another check in the “win” box for UK.

3) Ole Miss will have quit on their season by the time they play Kentucky

All joking aside, I give credit to any Ole Miss player who has stuck things out in Oxford. They were sold a bogus bill of goods just to get them there (Hugh Freeze promising that Ole Miss wouldn’t get hammered by the NCAA) and then their coach got fired just a few weeks before the season. Keep in mind that even before that, Ole Miss gave itself a bowl ban for 2017, meaning that even if they went 12-0 the Rebels wouldn’t have been eligible to play in the postseason.

So yeah, Ole Miss didn’t have much to play for this season anyway, and that trend is only going to continue as the season wears on. The Rebels already suffered their first loss of the year Saturday at Cal (in a game they easily could have won) and after a bye next week, they face a gauntlet prior to Kentucky that plays out like this: At Alabama, at Auburn, Vanderbilt at home (more on the Commodores coming), and LSU and Arkansas at home before that Kentucky game. Looking at that schedule, 2-3 feels like a best-case scenario, with 1-4 likely. Going 0-5 isn’t completely off the table either (depending on how you feel about the early returns on Vanderbilt and Arkansas).

To Ole Miss’ credit, the players have handled themselves well so far this season and said and done all the right things. But by the time they see Kentucky on the schedule, they’ll be a beaten up team who is only playing for pride… pride which will have been pounded out of them by that point by bigger, deeper and more physical teams. By the time November 4th comes around, the only thing Ole Miss will be excited for is the end of the season.

This one could and likely should be another win for UK.
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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


WATCH: UK Men’s Basketball has a blast at Photo Day

Today was UK Men’s Basketball Photo Day, and KSR was there to grab some footage and pictures at the event.

Check it out:

We’ll have more from UK Photo Day in the coming days, so check back later!


Matt Jones interviews Mitch Barnhart on Hey Kentucky!

We’ve got a special treat for you guys tonight.

This afternoon, Matt interviewed UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart on the growth of the football program and the UK brand in the season two premier of Hey Kentucky!

Watch Matt’s one-on-one interview with Barnhart Below:

You can watch the full episode here: http://bit.ly/2wCrEaz


Kentucky-Florida Nears a Sell Out

Tickets are flying off the shelves for Kentucky’s Saturday night showdown against Florida.  Time is running out for your chance to witness history.

University of Kentucky officials have told KSR that only 1,500 tickets (250 lower level) and 300 student tickets are still available.  At this rate, they’ll be long gone days with a few days to spare.

For your chance to see Kentucky potentially end the 30-game losing streak to Florida, visit UKFootballTix.com before it’s too late.


Toby Keith and Kirk Herbstreit joined The Mark Stoops Show

@UKSportsNetwork

The Mark Stoops Show had a little extra swagger after the Cats’ third win of the season.  ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and country music superstar Toby Keith joined the Kentucky head coach to talk about his program.  Herbstreit was hesitant to praise Stoops too much; Keith was not.

“This is my boy right here,” Keith said.  “This boy’s going to take down Florida this week.”

Toby Keith always knew Stoops was the right guy for the job at Kentucky.

At the end of the video, Toby mentioned that it’s tough to succeed in football at a basketball school.  A few minutes later he asked, “How many great basketball schools have a good football team?”

“Kentucky,” Stoops immediately responded.

It was an entertaining interview that featured plenty of praise for Stoops and criticism for Herbstreit.  If Tom Leach didn’t cut him off, Keith would’ve spent the entire time bashing Herbie for picking Ohio State to beat Oklahoma.

“He picked against my Sooners last week.  Him and Lee Corso and all them other talking pundits, all picked against my Sooners because they thought the only football played in the whole world is at Ohio State.”

You can watch a replay of this week’s Mark Stoops Show on the Kentucky football Facebook page.


LOOK: Kentucky students already hanging banners for the Florida game

@KyleGregory2

Florida may have a 30-year winning streak on their side, but Kentucky’s got a whole lotta money momentum. The excitement surrounding Saturday’s game is so high that banners are already popping up around campus:

It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party.