There’s a significant BBN faction that wants to see the return of the Power K. I’m with you on that, however, due to marketing and branding rights, the possibilities of that happening are slim to none. Thus, here’s my argument to bring back a different tradition that may provide a much-needed kick to the rear end to what appears to be at times an immature team. Bring back the Cat Paw stickers.
For younger readers, Cat Paw stickers were small images that were placed on the back of helmets indicating significant individual and or team contributions. In essence, it allowed for selfish inclination while being forced to be reliant upon teammates.
Trivia question: what year did UK stop issuing Cat Paws, and which Kentucky player earned the most prior to their demise? Answer: 1989 and the player was UK all-time QB sack leader, DE Oliver Barnett. Ollie finished the season with 60 Cat Paws.
Cat Paws were earned for various reasons. Walking into the stadium locker room on game day and seeing new head gear additions excited and motivated players.
Here are a few Cat Paw earning factors that I can remember from many, many years ago:
— Team win: every player on team received one Cat Paw
— What’s now referred to as an offensive explosion play
— Key block or blocks that led to above explosion play
— Critical, game-deciding play as decided by position coach
— Big defensive hit, which most would bring on ejection with the modern rule change, earned defenders individual stickers
— Quarterback sack or tackles for loss
— Defensive fumble recovery, caused fumble, or interception
— Goal-line stand
— Pick 6
— Knockdown block
— Grading out over 90%
— Coached deemed “high effort” play
— Punt/kick return of 40 or more yards
— Kickoff return tackle inside the 10 yard line
The list was much more detailed and lengthy, but 30 years is a long time to have full recall. Why bring back the Cat Paw? Perhaps self-motivation or immediate glorification would be right up this team’s alley. Instead of pointing to their number or name across the back of their jersey, a simple sticker may be the missing spark to decrease inconsistent play and increase team cohesion.
But, there’s one small problem. If above criteria was applied to this 2015 team, there’d be more stickers in the equipment room than on the back of player helmets. The lack of field position and possession changing defensive plays have limited Wildcat chances in several games. Also, when major offensive opportunities were presented, UK failed to capitalize.
Below are SEC rankings outlining where UK stands in league play and also may enlighten the “why” to its current five game losing skid:
— Kentucky ranks 14/14 in interceptions. The Cats have intercepted just 6 passes through 10 games. Alabama leads the conference with 14.
— Kentucky is last, 14/14 in defensive Quarterback Sacks. UK has totaled 13 while the conference leader has racked up 38.
— Cats are 14/14 in scoring defense giving up 28.1 points per game. A factor is losing the turnover margin where UK lies 13th. No big plays, no stickers.
— The Wildcats rank 14th in Tackles for Loss with 40. Leading the way is Texas A&M that’s produced 90. TFL and QB Sack numbers are staggeringly low. This was expected with the departure of Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree, but not to this extent. Troubling.
Just guessing here, but Josh Forrest, Khalid Henderson, Chris Westry, and CJ Johnson would lead the defense in Cat Paws. Farrington Huguennin would be on the list due to his high game grades and leadership through effort. As the above numbers suggest, UK has significantly lacked in field position-altering plays.
— UK has allowed 25 QB sacks, tied for second to last in the SEC. Conversely, Georgia leads the league by only surrendering 10. Pat Towles has been a gridiron pin cushion.
— Cats are 12th in Pass Efficiency with a rating of 111.9. Arkansas leads the way at 164.1. For the season, UK has completed 56% of its passes with 15 interceptions and 10 touchdown passes.
— Kentucky currently sits at 11th in Scoring Offense by averaging 22 points per game. Ole Miss paces the league by totaling 40.7 per. Not a lot of touchdown decals to be handed out.
— While only manufacturing 40 Tackles for Loss, the Cats have allowed 66. That’s good, or bad, for 10th in the conference. Georgia leads by only allowing 34 through 10 games.
— Offensively, the Cat Paw distribution would be more plentiful. Kentucky ranks 8th in the SEC in Long Plays from Scrimmage. The Wildcats have produced 49 plays of 20+ yards and 20 of 30+. On the bright side, at times the Wildcat offense has shown flashes of grandeur. However, explosion plays have been sporadic and limited by inept short yardage execution.
Rough estimation suggests that Boom Williams, Patrick Towles, Dorian Baker, Jon Toth, and Garrett Johnson would lead the offense in Cat Paw stickers. JoJo Kemp also has to be on the list due to his team role acceptance and consistent effort. For example, the play he stripped the football from the Georgia defender that had intercepted a Patrick Towles pass would have warranted two stickers.
Cat Paws would be sparse for the third phase. To be nice, UK’s special teams have not been special. Kickoff returner Sihiem King ranks 10th individually and Kentucky is the 4th as a kickoff return unit. Safe to say, King would be the clubhouse leader. Mike Edwards, Charles Walker and others have given consistent hustle on cover teams and would have garnered Cat Paws for “effort” plays.
What does all this mean?
Kentucky’s defensive struggles are statistically illustrated by owning a dismal big-play deficiency. Is this due to playmakers, scheme or situation? The answer is debatable. Offensively, Cat Paw distribution would have been high in September, but drastically lessened in October and November. There have been numerous missed Cat Paw moments. Dropped touchdown passes, interception drops, missed QB sacks, special team snafus, and other plays that if had gone the other way, our fictitious helmets would have been more decorative.
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh brought back the Wolverine sticker to the UM football program. The Ohio State “Buckeye” stickers are the feature of their head gear. I believe in today’s “look at me” college football mentality, bringing back the Cat Paw sticker could possibly motivate and stimulate certain Wildcats to make plays regardless of situation or surroundings.
Helmets have greatly evolved over the past thirty years. The Cats run — or, based on individuals, walk — out of the locker room with a new head gear almost weekly. Thus, bringing back the Cat Paw probably won’t happen. But coming off an ugly five game losing streak, any and all motivation ploys have to be on the table for discussion.