It has been a good football weekend for me. First, my Middlesboro Yellow Jackets ended a 15 year losing streak to our arch-rival up on Log Mountain, the Bell County Bobcats, winning 28-14. Our Eastern Kentucky crater has been in celebration mode ever since. Then, the Cats played admirably (more on that later) on Saturday versus the dirty Cards and allowed the momentum of the program to continue. My Bears woke up on Sunday and overcame a host of stupid errors to get a last second drunken Jay Cutler win. And all was topped off by the return of one of the best phrases in Kentucky football history, “Stevie Got Loose”, as Johnson helped the Bills get a final play win. There is probably no UK football moment that gave me the elation of Stevie Got Loose (as the fact that the phrase, which has now entered the UK fan lexicon forever, was uttered by a friend of mine to me moments after the game…take a bow Brooks Mayer…and is now said with knowledge by nearly every UK football fan is amazing) and I still remember the sheer ecstasy of the moments after the victory. I sent a text to everyone in my phone (which included Jai Lucas, who responded from Florida…”Congrats Matt”) and still bear a scar from the post-moment celebration. When Stevie did the same thing against the Panthers, exploiting some confusion in the secondary and staying by himself in the end zone, I jumped out of my couch as if I was Tim Russert with happiness. UK football doesn’t always give us the most moment of elation but when we have them, they stick. And here on Sunday I was able to remember one of my favorites by seeing Stevie get loose for the second time, bringing happiness with him to another long-suffering football fan base, the Buffalo Bills. No we didn’t beat the Cards, but for me, it was still a great football weekend and I will take it every time.
By the way, earlier we had a picture of a fan up here that was reading during the game. While I still think reading during a game is unacceptable fan behavior (as is wearing orange, etc), I have gotten conflicting information on the age of the person in the picture (you couldn’t see the person’s face, only the book they were reading). Since we aren’t in the business of shaming children here (as opposed to adults, who generally should be shamed), we took it down. It doesn’t change however the overall point of the picture…if you want a SEC football team, we have to act like SEC fans…so leave your books, video games and abacus at home. And on that note, here is an adult (as shown by his beard) drawing superhero pictures during the game (although to be fair, it was halftime). CATS!:
As we get going, five things to take away from the weekend, each followed by a picture of something noteworthy:
1. UK’s Defense Makes a Stand
Conventional wisdom with this UK football team has generally been wrong. We thought the QB position would be rock solid and now there are questions. We thought the Defensive Line would be beastly and it wasn’t (at least for the first game). And we thought the back seven would be awful and surprisingly, they have handled themselves fairly well. Saturday was probably the best defensive performance by Kentucky since 2011. The Cats stifled Teddy Bridgewater and the Cards in the first half in a way that I bet no other team on their schedule will be able to do. UL couldn’t run, couldn’t pass and Teddy didn’t have time to dissect the defense as he has against so many teams thus far in his career. The second half saw some tiring, but not before making UL earn every first down and getting some key stops that led to two field goal opportunities (one that was blocked). This defensive group isn’t perfect and will still probably have games where they are exposed. But they have improved EXPONENTIALLY and there are young guys out there making plays. We wanted to see improvement and competitiveness all year…we saw both on Saturday against a top 10 team.
This young man walked down the streets of Lexington after the game on Saturday. While a belt might be too much to ask, a longer shirt would have at least been courteous. Hope we had the city fumigated
2. What Now at the Quarterback Position?
Going into fall camp, Mark Stoops said often that the one position he was not worried about was Quarterback. And one can understand why he had that opinion. With UK possessing three quarterback with game experience, it looked to be an embarrassment of riches on a team with very little depth at any other position. It certainly hasn’t been a disaster, but as of now, Quarterback has also not been a strength. Had Max Smith or Jalen Whitlow played a little bit better, avoided mistakes and had some help from receivers, the outcome on Saturday might have been in question until the end. Whitlow’s interception and Smith’s botched exchange were both crucial mistakes that basically eliminated the chance of the upset. But even before that, both quarterbacks made errors that were not of the type we expected prior to the season. They need help from the receivers, who while young, still have to catch the ball. But both players now have serious question marks. Is Max Smith’s arm sufficient now, or has the loss of velocity and the potential injury made him a non-factor. And can Jalen Whitlow get comfortable early in games? His first series fumble made the coaches hesitant to use him in the first half, causing UK’s offensive output to be less explosive and diverse and making it difficult to get any drives sustained. When he played in the second half he was better, but he must start more consistently. And there is the Patrick Towles question. Is there a point where you pull the redshirt and allow him an opportunity? We don’t know now but what we do know is that questions have arisen at the one position we thought they would not.
Yes you won, but as a fan base, pants control is not a strong suit. #L1CYourCrack
3. Commonwealth Stadium is Better
I have to give credit where it is due. The game experience Saturday was much better. The sound on the field is louder now (thanks to new speakers, a band playing more up to date music and fans getting into the game at times) and Saturday before the game certainly had that “big game” tailgate atmosphere. We still need to see some changes (fans have to get in their seats earlier….students did their part, other fans did not and we have to stop playing “It’s My Life”….please) but overall this was much closer to what a SEC environment should be. I hope it sustains against Florida because the Cats could have a fighting shot at that game if people bring it and make Commonwealth rock. Saturday was a good start and in two years it is going to be nuts…but the next few weeks will need more stellar efforts from the fans and the UK folks in making it feel like big time college football.
Either this is a UL fan nicknamed “Stink” or a UK fan with a witty sense of humor. I am going to hope it is the latter and give Kudos to whatever UK fan has this license plate…much respect.
4. This Game Kept the Football Recruiting Momentum
Louisville and Kentucky are fighting for many of the same recruits. And on the surface the Cards, off a Sugar Bowl and top 10 ranking, should have a HUGE advantage. They don’t. Of the 11 players that have had offers from both schools, 9 of the 11 have picked Kentucky. That is a pretty firm butt-kicking. But to keep that momentum going, you can’t come out and get crushed by the team on your home field. UK didn’t win but showcased that they could compete and that the gap between the two schools could narrow quickly over the coming years. Throw in the fact that the players at the game (and at home) could see playing time opportunities on the field and the game Saturday went very well. I was worried about this rivalry game and the prospect that we could have a situation like occurred at Commonwealth two years ago, when Kentucky lost to a lower UL team (at the time) and the recruits at the game collectively thought the UK program was in trouble (they were right). This year was the opposite. Recruits saw promise and I think it strengthened their position with many commits and future players. A great weekend for UK football, even with the loss.
Just hope that no one ever writes an obituary for you like this one. This was published in a Nevada newspaper, although the date of death was incorrect. Kind of makes me sad
5. UK Gets its Point Guard of the Future
Friday night Tyler Ulis committed to the Cats in what was one of the more ho-hum commitments in recent years. This is not a reflection on Ulis’s talent (which I am very excited about) but the fact that most had assumed the commitment for most of the week. It is an interesting move by Calipari and one that will represent a slightly different philosophy by him. Ulis is not a one and done point guard, and will almost certainly be in school for a number of years. He is much shorter than anyone else Calipari has recruited (only the third non-6 footer given a scholarship since 1990 at Kentucky) and his skills are very different than what Cal has usually had. He is a passer and distributor, while also scoring as a second option. Players LOVE playing with Ulis and he can still get buckets while setting up his teammates. He is very popular with the Class of 2014 and I think his commitment will only help UK with Devin Booker and Jahlil Okafor. I expect Booker to eventually join Ulis at Kentucky and I think Tyler will be taking the lead in recruiting the rest of the class. It will be fascinating to watch Calipari work with an elite level point guard for the first time at Kentucky that he knows he will have for a number of years. It is different but I think it will be successful and it has the added benefit of breaking the hearts in East Lansing, where Tom Izzo had Ulis penciled in as his point guard for the next four years.
We get back to it on radio tomorrow and get ready for the bye week. Lots going on as Kentucky finished its first basketball practice and more. We will see you then…and oh by the way, I hope you played the KSR Fantasy NFL Football game this weekend. It was a lot of fun and while I beat most of you, some of you took me and won a good deal of money. Congratulations!