A few notes on what was a crazy night in Commonwealth Stadium and a nice finish to a fantastic sports weekend for the Big Blue Nation….
– Obviously, the biggest star of the night was Mike Hartline, who not only played like a senior quarterback, but took it to the next level and played like an All-Conference player for the second week in a row. His numbers were mind-blowingly good (349 yards and 4 TDs) and his decision-making was perfect. For a quarterback who has been criticized for not beating any teams of consequence, it was sweet vindication and the post-game pictures of him embracing his father and Randall Cobb could make even the most hardened man’s heart warm. Don’t look now, but Kentucky might be sporting the second-best quarterback in the SEC…at least statistically. Hartline is now second in the conference in passing yards, passing touchdowns and has thrown the fewest interceptions. It doesn’t mean he’s the second-best NFL prospect, but as of this evening, you could argue that he’s only behind Cam Newton in the conference in terms of signal-callers. And, speaking of NFL prospects, I’d be interested to see where Mike Hartline fits in now as to where he was (if he was even there) before the season.
– After looking like an odd man out or just a flat-out forgotten man for 5 out of the season’s first six games, Chris Matthews made his presence felt. The 6’5 senior hauled in 12 balls for 177 yards (half his 2009 total) and gave the Cats legitimate hope when he used fancy footwork to turn a 10-yard gain into a 38-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. It was by far his best game as a Cat and his 12 catches tie for the second most in a game in school history.
– Another game, another great performance by Randall Cobb. If you just look at the box score, you see 27 yards rushing and 63 yards receiving and one touchdown. Nothing exceptional. But, Cobb converted a fourth and one by carrying for twelve yards, which led to the Chris Matthews touchdon on the next play. He took a brutal hit on the two-point conversion and responded two drives later by catching the game-winning 24-yard touchdown on fourth and seven and then carried for a successful two-point conversion. The unquestioned heart and soul of UK’s team played like it tonight and his post-game show of emotion was fitting of a player who has given so much this season.
– Meanwhile, the guy who has continually made big plays and flown a bit under the radar again made big plays. For the second consecutive game, sophomore LaRod King was a huge safety net for Hartline, catching four important passes, two of which went for touchdowns. In the past several recruiting classes, UK has loaded up on tall, athletic receivers and King has developed nicely into the epitome of what they hope these players can become. Another great game from a rising talent.
– Still sporting a cast on his right hand, the Randall Cobb of Kentucky’s defense, Danny Trevathan had 11 tackles for a unit that looked very inspired in the second half. Trevathan, who along with Winston Guy gave UK their first duo of plus-10 tacklers in a game since last year’s Georgia game, again layed the role of emotional and phyical leader. He also tweeted a picture of the team’s bulletin board after the game, which featured a quote from Marcus Lattimore saying that the UK linebackers looked slow on film and he wasn’t worried about them. I think both he and his ankle might feel differently now.
– Faced with no Derrick Locke (or DeQuin Evans), UK found little success in the running game as Donald Russell carried the ball 18 times for only 41 yards. Randall Cobb did fill in out of the WildCobb formation some, but the Cats did not have the running game typically needed to win these big games. Of course, they had Mike Hartline and that’s all that they needed on this night.
– Now, in the interest of fairness, the injury to Marcus Lattimore changed what South Carolina wanted to do on offense dramatically. Prior to hurtin his ankle, the freshman had run for 79 yards and two touchdowns and caught for 148 more and another touchdown. But, as we said all week, the Gamecocks lack depth in the backfield and when they had to turn to senior Brian Maddox with a 28-10 lead early in the third, the running threat disappeared. The Gamecocks called 16 of their final 21 plays as passes, with three of those runs being sneaks by quarterback Stephen Garcia. To Kentucky’s credit, they shut down the pass with an outstanding pass rush (and blitz calls!) and strong coverage in the secondary.
– To put things into perspective, South Carolina entered the game having played three ranked teams and were giving up an average of 18 points per game. UK scored 21 in the second half. This is a good offense. It’s not just matchups and stats padded by non-conference. UK’s offense is very strong and scored more points against them than any team besides Auburn, including more in the second half than Alabama did the entire game.
– One interesting note: Anthony Mosley’s interception to seal the game was UK’s first red zone stop of the season. Let’s hope it’s not the last.
– Finally, we won’t get too deep into this because there will be plenty of time to analyze and break down, but UK’s defense again clamped down in the second half. And, despite all the criticism fired in his direction, defensive coordinator Steve Brown showed for the second straight game the ability to adapt and find a way to effectively use the players on the field. In their last three games, UK has given up an average of 27 points in the first half and only 9 in the second. If you just count SC and Auburn, those numbers change to 26 and 3. Let’s hope they’ve turned a corner and found something that works.
– Here is my favorite stat of the night: UK is now 3-1 on the last four Big Blue Madness weekends and has beaten LSU, Auburn and South Carolina on those Saturdays.
– And, finally, here’s a little something for you to marinate on. Had UK beaten Ole Miss, the Cats would currently be your SEC East leaders. If they catch a few breaks (Georgia over Florida and SC loss to Florida or Arkansas) and win-out in conference (definitely doable), they could still win with three losses. It’s a crazy year in the SEC.