The Cats played their home opener yesterday against Central Michigan in front of a crowd of 58,022. It was Hero’s day and the pregame festivities were a nice touch on a beautiful day. Fans finally got a look at the new scoreboards and heard the upgraded sound system. Not only did the Cats win, Randall Cobb made an appearance and brought a huge ovation. It really was a great day for UK football.
Joker Phillips said, “They say there’s no such thing as an ugly win. Well, we just had another not-so-pretty win. But we are 2-0. Probably about a third of the teams across the country are 2-0. We found a way to win this one. Rick Minter echoed Joker’s comments, “It really only matters how the game ends.” Remember that next week when the Cats take on the Cards.
A lot of people are going to look at the Cats performance today and say, “They started slow.” That’s not really accurate. Joker Phillips didn’t feel his team started slow. The Cats missed a few opportunities early. On the opening drive, Morgan Newton threw a beautiful pass to Matt Roark in the end zone, but he couldn’t come up with the touchdown. That’s a ball that has to be caught. UK had to settle for a field goal.
The Cats missed back to back opportunities in the 2nd quarter on the same drive. Morgan Newton failed to connect with a wide-open La’Rod King in the end zone and Craig McIntosh missed a short field goal attempt. As I have said many times before, this team can’t afford to miss opportunities and really can’t afford to leave points on the field.
While the Cats trailed 13-6 at half time, they should have been winning. Give Central Michigan credit. They came out with a good game plan and took it to the Cats early. Once UK was able to make adjustments at halftime, things were different in the second half. UK’s defense flexed their muscles and the momentum started to swing again. Central Michigan started to show a life again on offense, but UK had no part of it. The Cats came up with back to back stops on 3rd and 4th down, then Morgan Newton connected with La’Rod King on a deep ball to tie the game.
The momentum had shifted, but Central Michigan wasn’t ready to give up just yet. They came out on the next series and moved the ball down field. UK’s defense stepped up and forced another punt. Then the momentum completely shifted when Josh Clemons took the hand-off and went 88 yards for the touchdown. It was like Clemons’ run lifted the entire team and everyone relaxed. The run was the longest ever by a freshman and the third longest in UK history. The last time UK had a freshmen rush for more than 100 yards was in 2002. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes the starting running back.
On UK’s last scoring drive, fans saw an offense determined to score. Morgan Newton showed he can create problems for opposing defenses with his feet and both running backs had nice runs. Then Joker Phillips found himself in an interesting situation. It was 4th and goal inside the one-yard line. This is where Joker asked the team to “pick me up.” He made the decision to go for it up one score instead of kicking a field goal. While some may question his decision, I had no problem with it. The staff called the naked bootleg and Newton scrambled into the end zone. At that point, the game was over.
This game wasn’t what many had hoped for, but it was a big step in the right direction. The Cats offense showed improvement. UK’s defense continues to carry the team. Ryan Tydlacka, Joe Mansour and Craig McIntosh could be the best kicking trio in the SEC when it’s all said and done. Danny Trevathan continues to put up All-World stats. This was his 11th-consecutive game with double-digit tackles. UK’s offensive line had a much better game and Darrian Miller received his first career start at right tackle.
The Cats have a few guys banged up. The staff will need to evaluate Brian Adams, Matt Smith and Billy Joe Murphy. These didn’t dress against Central Michigan. Also, Winston Guy and Martavius Neloms will probably miss practice time this week to get healthy for next weekend.
UK is 2-0 and they play Louisville next week. The Cards just lost to FIU and will be desperate for a win. I’ll have a full preview later in the week for the Governor’s Cup. Next Saturday should be another great night in Lexington.