Kentucky football is on a bye this week, so we have plenty of time to take a breath, rest our tailgating legs, collect our thoughts, and look ahead to the next (little over) half of the season. It has been an up-and-down ride through the first five games of 2015, but I think Big Blue Nation is pretty satisfied, collectively. I know I am, and tonight I would like to share some of my favorite moments and positive opinions from the 4-1 start.
The new Commonwealth Stadium opened with a Boom.
It was a perfect opening to the new Commonwealth Stadium and the 2015 season of Kentucky Wildcats football. Boom Williams took it straight up the gut for a 75-yard rush for a score. Lexington erupted:
“We wanted to score on the first play of the game,” said Williams. “Kind of set the tone and get some momentum going our way. When you believe and visualize something all week, it’s kind of in tune to happen.”
Patrick Towles silenced his critics against Missouri.
Leading up to Kentucky’s home contest with No. 25 Missouri, a large portion of the UK football fan base was stirring up a quarterback controversy. Towles’ 8-for-24, two-interception performance against Florida the week before was heavily scrutinized, and many fans raised doubts he could win in the SEC.
Towles responded with his best game as a Wildcat in the win over the Tigers, UK’s first top-25 win since 2010. He completed 22 of his 27 pass attempts for 249 yards and two touchdowns, plus another score on the ground. There was a pivotal stretch in the game when he completed 11 consecutive passes.
As a huge fan and proponent of Towles, I was not only relieved to see him play well in the biggest game of his career, but happy for him, personally. He solidified his spot as Kentucky’s starting quarterback and proved his biggest critics wrong when his back was against the wall.
Dorian Baker put the team on his back and saved the program.
Is it too far to say Dorian Baker saved the program last weekend against Eastern Kentucky? Not at all. If he doesn’t will the Wildcats to a late, come-from-behind victory, the wheels fall completely off UK football. All of this excitement, gone. Mark Stoops has done an outstanding job getting things moving in the right direction and there is momentum behind the Cats like never before, but a loss to EKU would’ve derailed everything.
So when Dorian Baker hauled in a 50/50 ball on 4th-and-2 in the corner of the end zone, then mauled over EKU defenders for the game-winning score in overtime, it kept the entire ship afloat. Not to mention, it was a hell of a performance, no matter the circumstances.
Prior to the game-tying fade route in regulation, Patrick Towles told his offensive coordinator, “If Dorian has a 1-on-1, I’m going to him.”
Baker said afterward, “There wasn’t a chance I was going to let (the defender) beat me.”
It was a close one, but as I like to say: “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.”
And his second touchdown, the game-winner in overtime, Baker demanded the football. It was his third catch in overtime and he ran through four EKU defenders for the score.
Shannon Dawson said Baker told him, “Gimme the ball.”
The defense has been much better than expected.
I will openly admit I had very little confidence in Kentucky’s defense entering the season. With so much youth and inexperience called on to fill holes on that side of the ball, the defense, I thought, would be what held the Cats back through the first four games.
Boy, was I wrong. It was quite the opposite, actually.
I’ll have another helping of crow as I commend D.J. Eliot and his players for an impressive start to the season. The Cats gave up only 17 points per game in the first three SEC contests and they rank among the best in the nation in red zone defense.
Veterans like J.D. Harmon, Jabari Johnson, Cody Quinn and Khalid Henderson, who many us had given up on, have been vital components of the D all season. You could argue Harmon has been its biggest playmaker, to much surprise.
The preseason talk was Kentucky will have to score a lot of points on offense to make up for what the defense allows. That preseason talk couldn’t have been more inaccurate. The D has come up huge in key moments, and outside of a few winded stretches, has been consistent throughout.
Denzil Ware’s fumble return was the first sign of the new UK football.
When Denzil Ware, playing in only his second college football game, returned a two-point conversion fumble 98 yards for a defensive PAT in Columbia, we knew the tides had turned for Kentucky football.
That is a play that, for centuries, has happened against UK, not for it. And to follow it up with a game-sealing interception by Chris Westry, also in his second game? You mean to tell me we get the big plays now? Get out of here.
Kentucky is 4-1 entering the Auburn game.
Yes, Patrick Towles’ inconsistency is troublesome. Boom Williams’ recent attitude problem is concerning, though it appears to be in the past. Kentucky needed late heroics against Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Kentucky, two teams it was supposed to handle rather easily. The D gives up far too many yards on the ground. Play calling can be questionable at times. The list goes on.
However, Kentucky is 4-1 entering the Auburn game. Kentucky is FOUR and ONE entering the Auburn game. Any of us would’ve taken that record through five games if it was offered before the start of the season. All day long.
We can sit here and complain about this and gripe about that, but sitting at 4-1 and 2-1 in the conference is a pretty damn good feeling entering a bye week followed by what was labeled as the biggest game of year. The bowl hopes look promising and the only loss of the year was by a single possesion to one of the four or five best teams in the SEC.
Auburn is more than beatable.
Once the sixth-ranked team in the preseason poll, Auburn is now an unranked and very vulnerable opponent on Kentucky’s schedule. The Thursday night game we labeled as a loss when the schedule was announced is now looking more like a potential win for the Cats. UK will likely be favored.
Auburn just isn’t very good this year, nowhere near what everyone expected. The Tigers don’t have a quarterback, and to make matters worse, it dismissed its star wide receiver today. Only South Carolina and Vanderbilt rank lower in the SEC Power Rankings.
So a win is not out of the question when Kentucky returns to the field for its sixth game. In fact, it’s expected. Take care of business in that one and then there are five wins on the board through six games, a very improbable scenario two months ago.
All things considered, this UK fan is very satisfied through the first leg of the 2015 season.