One of the great things about doing this blog is that I get to meet a ton of fans from all different walks of life. After the game today, I was making my way to the Johnny Bruce post-game tailgate party (complete with Cary Bruce taking his shirt off in celebration), I talked to 10 or 12 fans, all of whom said some version of the same thing. “We didnt play all that good, But we won.” “But we won”…if you are a Kentucky football fan, those are words that we dont hear very often. Usually we have left saying, “man they played well, but then…..” Now Rich Brooks has the team in the “but we won” category and man it feels good.
Kentucky’s 31-27 victory over Louisville will not go in the vault as one of the great UK performances. UK played uncharacteristically stupid, prompting one long time UK writer to say it was the dumbest he had ever seen a Rich Brooks team play. Yet, they found a way to come back not once, but twice and when the Cats needed to make the big play, they found a way to do it. That in and of itself is worthy of praise and the Cats have found themselves 2-0. There was a lot to get to and some of it is negative….however remember, “but we won.”
— After the game Rich Brooks said he couldnt take many more 4th quarter thrillers. He said that he believed that while UK made many mistakes, it didnt play all that badly overall. He gave a great deal of credit to Louisville and Steve Kragthorpe in particular, saying they had a “great gameplan that they executed very well.” Brooks made clear that there were some problems that he was very frustrated with, but that overall 2-0 was the statistic to remember.
— In terms of things Brooks was pleased with, he was relatively satisfied with the performance of Mike Hartline. He obviously was frustrated with the fumble, but I question the notion of having Hartline run the option at any point. As Michael Porter can surely tell us, when you make a player do things he cant do, you are setting him up for failure and that fumble falls in that category. Overall, Hartline made some good throws and led two drives (one short) that took a team that was behind and put them ahead. That is a vast improvement from last season.
— On offense, the star is of course Randall Cobb, and he had the two biggest plays of the game. Most will focus on the touchdown catch and it was tremendous. However the most crucial play of the game may have been when Cobb broke a bubble screen that was ready to go astray and took it for a first down on 3rd and long. That was a tremendous momentum turner and led to the later touchdown. Only Cobb on the team could have made it happen.
— The running backs for Kentucky played well, but the story of their game was epitomized by Derrick Locke. Locke of course had the big touchdown run on the kickoff (which Brooks then said led to a prompt throwing up of his breakfast on the sideline), but he also had the fumble that was a major factor in Louisville’s momentum. In general, Rich Brooks was happy and it was great to see Locke’s burst back. While I love Smith and Allen, when Locke is good, he is the best on the team and overall his day was positive.
— Defensively, there were a number of breakdowns for the Cats. Early in the game they struggled with the run and then late, they struggled with the pass, making Justin Burke look like something more than Jonathan Crompton’s brother. (On a side note, it is always interesting to hear reporters talk about how great a player is that they have never praised before. Lets just say the “I have always said that Justin Burke is a player” talk was everywhere from the media that I had never heard mention his name prior). The problems were all over the field, with the defensive line getting very little pressure on the quarterback, the LBs missing their reads and overpursuing and the secondary just getting beat. It wasnt a red-letter day, although they did come through in the end.
— Most of the problems for the team occurred in the secondary that had a poor game. Trevard Lindley played well, but Louisville went after him and completed a couple of passes. But generally, Lindley held his own and the action was on the other side of the field. Then he got hurt, Paul Warford ended up on the other team’s best or second best receiver, and you had the bomb pass to Trent Guy that could have been the game winner. Paul Warford has long been my nemesis (he is almost like Michael Bradley from the basketball years past), and he got beat a number of times today. Lindley’s health (and Brooks thinks he will be ok) will be important to watch in the coming days.
— Want some good news? The kicking game was pretty good. Lones made all his emo kicks and even put one in the end zone, which led to a Rich Brooks chest bump that has to be seen to be believed. The kickoff coverage was good all game except the kick to start the second half, which you could tell infuriated Rich Brooks. But generally speaking, I think Brooks was happy with the kicking game and will take how it did today.
— Many Louisville fans will point to the muffed punt and say they got unlucky, and that is true. However dont let them forget that UK had three turnovers in the third quarter, without which the Cats likely win with relative ease. Those turnovers led the Cats to only be able to run four plays in the 3rd quarter and they came from an INT, fumble and kickoff fumble. The strength of UK has been limiting turnovers…that didnt happen today and very nearly cost them.
— It was rough out there. So rough that Randy Sanders was hit during the game and ended up breaking his wrist. The fall was actually quite vicious and looked very bad as it happened. Sanders will be ok, but he actually was in a great deal of pain and left the field as soon as he could.
— After the game, the scene on the field was very interesting. Multiple UL players were crying and you could see that they truly had given everything on the field. While we talk a lot about hating UL and there is nothing to be said for cheering for them, they did give quite an effort today. In a perfect world, it will be just enough to keep Kragthorpe’s job. 🙂
Overall, it was a great day at Commonwealth Stadium. The crowd was jacked up, the weather was great and the atmosphere was solid. One can point to a lot of things that Kentucky did wrong, “but we won.” This wont be a game like two years ago that we will watch and remember where we were, but had we lost that memory would stick for a long time. This could have been a bad loss,the kind that hurts the program and stick with them for some time. It was the kind of game that had the ability to deflate many fans and leading into a terrible four game stretch, take all confidence away from the team. But we won. And now we can move on and get ready for Tebow, with the season’s dreams still within reach.