Well the first game is now in the books and Kentucky fans were able to enjoy something very rare…..a fun, stress-free day in Commonwealth Stadium. The entire scene yesterday was wonderful if you are a Kentucky fan. The amount of tailgating was way up, with more people than I can ever remember seeing for a game against a secondary opponent. I was fortunate enough to meet a number of fans who were more optimistic about this season than any in recent memory. As anyone who has tailgated at UK can attest, Kentucky fans love to be generous, and thus Hubby, the Turkey Hunter and I were visitors to a number of tailgates ranging from the men of Corbin, Kentucky to the Wildcat Nation booth, each of which greeted us with open arms. If you have a particular tailgate that you are especially proud of, let me know and we will stop by. We plan on rating the best of the best at the end of the year.
As for the actual game, well it was a 40 point win and relatively easy pickins. But each of the 10 questions we mentioned at the beginning of the game saw some answers. Lets review….
(1) Will the offense start out as explosive as it finished the year last season. If so, there should be 3-4 touchdowns in the first half relatively easy.
The answer to this question was a resounding YES! The first team offense started as explosively as expected, with a 70 yard touchdown to the artist formerly known as Dicky Lyons Jr. to begin the game. The offense looked crisp in the first half, and the running game developed in ways that were very exciting to see. Lots of positives from Little, Dixon and Smith, while Woodson spread the ball around the field to all the normal targets. Very good start indeed.
(2) Will Andre Woodson be as crisp early in the year as he was last season? 31 touchdowns and 7 interceptions is a record that will be hard to match. Will he do it?
Again, a solid yes. Woodson passed the ball extremely well throughout the game. He was a victim of some early drops, but generally threw the ball exactly where it needed to be, while making the smart decision on play after play. He only badly underthrew one ball (a pass to Steve Johnson) and had no interceptions outside of a ball he threw up for grabs after knowing an offside penalty would negate the play (Andre keeps approaching the passes without an incompletion all-time record). Good performance from Andre and a nice start.
(3) How will Steve Johnson perform as the second receiver? If he hits even close to his potential, the Cats will be unstoppable on offense?
This one was a bit tougher to gauge, likely in part because Johnson had a tough week leading into the game. Johnson made a couple of smaller catches and was open on a likely long touchdown grab but the ball was underthrown. Steve played fine, but this question remains unanswered.
(4) Will an offensive line that at times was simply horrendous last year step up and show its improvement?
In general, the offensive line was better, although their size advantage makes long-term conclusions difficult. On the running game, the O-line made big holes for the quick backs and allowed many scampers into the secondary. On the passing game, there was generally enough time, but there were some problems that led to a couple of sacks. Not a great performance, but some signs of optimism.
(5) Will our band continue to be horrendous?
Generally the answer was yes. The band played songs that put the crowd to sleep and the growing sentiment where I was sitting is that our band needs a major overhaul. It wasnt quite as bad as the EKU band playing Pat Benatar, but there wasnt much in the way of improvement. One woman did say, “they march very well.” Well I guess that is something…..
(6) What will the changes be to the defensive schemes with the move to a (thankfully) non-Mike Archer system?
I dont claim to be a football guru like my man Rob Gidel and Duncan Cavanah, but the defense was much more aggressive early than what we saw last year. The linebackers got into the backfield much quicker and the Cats didnt seem so susceptible to the run. They gave up some long passing plays, but in general a better performance. I am interested to hear Rob’s take on this.
(7) Will a defensive line that once seemed to be extremely deep still be as strong as hoped with the injuries and suspensions that are now in place?
From my standpoint the defensive line was the most positive thing we saw in the game. The only touchdown allowed by the defense came from a botched punt and a pass interference call. The D-line didnt just do the “bend but dont break” line but made two key stops on 3rd and 1 and was generally very aggressive in stopping obvious running downs. Kudos
(8) Will we see Sophomore improvement from Micah Johnson?
Short answer….HECK YES! What is great about watching Micah in a crowd is that the fans are following him on every play. They want to see him do well because they know his amazing potential. And yesterday saw that potential come to fruition….seven tackles, including a couple of strong hits. But more to the point, it was obvious that Micah was in the right place at the right time, something that hasnt always been the case. Very, very solid performance and one that is great to see going forward.
(9) Will the return game show its strength with the new kicking rules?
Not much happening in the return game, in part because the EKU punter got off to a horrendous start. By the time he began kicking better, UK was playing too far in, which led to a couple of over the shoulder grabs. Then as the Cats prepared for the distance, he began shanking again, which led to the duff and the EKU touchdown. Not much to say for the return game, and we likely will see more next week. Kicking/PATs however is an issue.
(10) Will UK play a song from this century during the game breaks?
EMPHATIC YES! The most pleasant surprise of the first game…Commonwealth got a bit crunk. Ok not real crunk, but there was some dancing going on by even our palest fans. There was no sound of “We’re From Kentucky and We Like it that Way” and it looks like we have moved past the all Pam Tillis version of mid-game music. Very, very nice surprise.
All in all, a very good day. Kent State worries me, but today is too beautiful to get all that worked up. If you are fortunate enough to have tomorrow off, enjoy it. We will have some basketball stuff later tonight. Enjoy the holiday!