(Note….Madness ticket winner finalists coming later….you will vote on the winning picture)
Now THAT is what we wanted! While I was concerned all week about whether UK would be able to put points on the board and could showcase the improvement that we have heard so much about, Kentucky was not worried. Instead they came out, executed their gameplan and thoroughly dominated Miami (OH) 42-0 in the Rumble at the River. After a quarter of sluggish play, Kentucky found its groove on both sides of the ball and did what a good team is supposed to do in a game like this…dominate. Every time Kentucky got the ball it drove down the field, completing passes, showcasing its running backs and controlling the line of scrimmage. On defense, the Cats gave almost no ground and with the exception of one early drive, were never close to allowing a score. All in all, it was a thoroughly crushing performance and EXACTLY what UK needed. Some notes:
— The story of the game to most casual fans had to be the solid play of Mike Hartline. All summer long, Rich Brooks told us that Hartline was improved and that we would see it when the season started. And today that prediction came true. He threw beautiful passes to Cobb, Matthews, McCaskill and others, and showed a touch that we didnt see last year. In so doing, it was a different Mike Hartline…one who could do more than just fill his position. After the game, Brooks said that last year the media liked to say that Hartline “managed” the game well, but that the difference is “now he can win games.” That was shown today.
— Equally as impressive as Hartline was the great play from the WR position. Randall Cobb was once again excellent. He ran for a touchdown out of the Wildcat and caught a number of passes, dominating the early stretches of the game. We saw the unveiling of Chris Matthews, who showed to be the physical freak that we all thought he could be. His TD catch was spectacular, although Brooks said it actually occurred on a blown play. Gene McCaskill had a great catch in the middle of the field and TC Drake got a big reception at TE. The receivers have to be the most improved players on the field this season for the team to be good..and today they were.
— While all the running backs had good games, one cant help but be the happiest for Derrick Locke. The speedy RB from Hugo, Oklahoma came back from his major ACL injury today and played, well scoring a touchdown in the process. Most importantly, he showcased the burst and quickness that made him such a weapon before the injury. Locke said afterword that it felt good to get hit again and to be back in the flow, but most importantly for the team, it was good to see him be the old Derrick Locke. Joker Phillips said after the game that when Locke scored, Rich Brooks screamed into the headset, “Welcome Back Derrick!” Indeed.
— There was some consternation amongst the fans with the first quarter of the game but the coaches said they had no worries. With Miami having a new coach and new staff, they really had no idea what the gameplan would be. Joker said they ran “basic plays” on both offense and defense until they could get a read on what the new staff would do. After they did, they got more aggressive in the second quarter and the better play began.
— The Cats had a number of plays in the Wildcat formation, scoring on 2 of the 3 set plays. According to Brooks, the Wildcat is something that we will see much more of in the games ahead, primarily because of the presence of Randall Cobb on the field. Joker Phillips said afterward that Cobb is a “dynamic option in the Wildcat because he can run, throw and catch…which means he is perfect for that offense.” I would expect to see the plays increase from 3 to 5-6 next game against Louisville.
— The Kentucky defense was simply tremendous the entire game. While the line didnt get a great deal of pressure on the Quarterback early, they did stop the run throughout the day and after they got the lead, stopped the passing game as well. The Cats got great play from their linebackers and secondary, but the effort was a group effort. As Steve Brown said afterwards, “it was exactly what we had hoped.”
— If there was a star in the defense, it was who Rich Brooks called “the best cornerback in college football, Trevard Lindley.” Trevard had a top-notch game on all levels. He tackled well, stopped the short throws, ran back an interception for a touchdown and had two more near interceptions go off his fingertips. One of those was a focus at the end of the game, where Trevard said that “the entire team was on me for missing that one” and Steve Brown said he told Lindley “you owe me one” for dropping the ball in the first half. So how does Lindley respond? He gets an INT and scores a TD….showing that Brooks’ praise was dead-on.
— A word also has to go out to Ryan Tydlacka, who had a great day in the field position game as the punter. Tim Masthay had been such a weapon at that position over the years that there was some worry whether it could be replicated this season. But Tydlacka kicked the ball well, especially early and showed that the kicking game can be a strong suit when the offense is struggling.
— The atmosphere in Paul Brown was good and the UK crowd was strong. The stadium wasnt quite as full as I would have hoped but the UK fans that were there were loud and full of emotion.
All in all, I think UK fans have to be pleased with that performance. First shutout for a UK team since 1996 when the Cats shut out Vanderbilt in Lexington. As good a performance as one could have hoped from the defense and a lot of improvement shown on offense. The Cats are off this week and this gives two weeks of practice to come with a good vibe from the team and the fans. What more can you ask?
Finally, remember I will be on the radio from 11 am to 1 pm tomorrow on 970 AM and streaming live at louisvillesportsbuzz.com. Please tune in and give me a call.