What a day for CJ Conrad. The BBN has been begging for more from the tight end since basically the moment he arrived on campus, and tonight they finally got it during his final game in Kroger Field.
Against Middle Tennessee State, Conrad had the most looks of his season – four catches for 51 yards. Today’s performance gave Conrad the fourth-highest number of catches throughout his career, behind six catches against Mississippi State in 2015, five against New Mexico State in 2016 and five against Ole Miss in 2017. It was the first time time he surpassed three catches in a game so far this season.
After the game, Mark Stoops said prioritizing getting the ball to Conrad is something “we always do,” but added it was easier to make that happen against Middle Tennessee State than it was against SEC teams.
“Everybody always wants to say [Conrad doesn’t get the ball], but some of our RPO’s are there sometimes and sometimes they’re not. And when we’re playing these SEC teams, they’re not going to give him those. They’re not giving him any freebies,” Stoops said. “There were some good reads today by Terry [Wilson] and there was an effort by us on some to draw the player in and him on a RPO and we had some opportunities there.”
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran went even farther with his belief in Conrad. According to Gran, today’s game plan included getting the ball to Conrad “eight to ten times.” While that obviously didn’t happen, he was still content with Conrad’s efficiency.
“In the game plan, he certainly did have an opportunity. We felt like in those big sets we had the chance to get him the ball. Going into it… we said, man, he’s got a chance to catch eight to 10 balls,” Gran said. “I don’t know how many he caught… He caught four. A guy catching four like that with that production, you do that all the time. We got a couple of explosives that way too, and that’s when we’re really good.”
All of Conrad’s catches came at critical times for the Wildcats, but none were more important than his 11-yard catch through coverage for a Kentucky touchdown. At first, it looked like a possible interception in the end zone. But Terry Wilson’s throw and CJ Conrad’s hands didn’t let that happen.
After the game, Conrad admitted he was happy his quarterback made the decision he did.
“I put my hand up and luckily he saw me,” Conrad said. “I’m thankful he had the trust in me to throw that because, you know, that’s a dangerous pass.”
“I saw CJ in the back of the end zone so I was like, let me give him a chance to catch it. So I just threw it,” Wilson said of the decision to send it to Conrad. “It was close, it was close. After I saw it go through his hands, I was like ‘yes, thank you. I’m good.’ It was a great catch by him.”
Regardless of what you think of Eddie Gran or how many more times you think Conrad should have been given the ball throughout his career, today’s game was special. After the win, the senior said he had 70 people in the stands rooting for him. He’s seen the rise of Kentucky football, and that’s something he’ll hold onto for the rest of his life.
“Our goal as a group, we seniors, was to change this program. We’ve still got some games left but we feel like we’re really heading in that direction and that just means the world to me,” Conrad said. “I just try to go out there and give everything I have to this team.”
He’s certainly done just that. CJ Conrad, thanks for everything.