With upwards of 100 recruits expected to be attending the UK-UofL game earlier today, Mark Stoops and his staff had obviously had this game circled as one that would highlight all the positive things the UK Football program has to offer. I don’t blame him for that. In front of a packed house at Commonwealth Stadium, the Wildcats showed something that had departed the program for the last couple of seasons: hope. No they didn’t win the game, but that’s not the only thing that matters.
What the recruits did see was a team that showed life against a Top-10 ranked opponent. They saw the way the Kentucky defense rallied throughout the majority to keep their team in the game. They saw a coaching staff capable of drawing up a solid gameplan that frustrated the QB that some consider to be the #1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft for a good chunk of the game. They saw the Kentucky fan base in all its glory, from the tailgate, to the Cat Walk, to the intensity in the stadium. With a large contingent of UK’s 2014 recruiting class also at the game, they got a glimpse of the “family atmosphere” that Stoops and Co. have worked hard to foster between the current and incoming players.
More importantly though, they definitely saw opportunity. UK’s leading rusher and leading receiver were both freshman, a strong message of “If you’re good enough, you WILL play”. They saw the areas where the Wildcats need help, particularly when it comes to catching the ball. They saw the Wildcat defense get wore down in the 2nd half, but that it wasn’t for a lack of trying, instead a lack of depth that they will be invited to fill. Watching the Kentucky defense in the first half, you could see why Mark Stoops has been heralded as a great defensive coach. The same team that was gashed on the ground and through the air by Western Kentucky 2 weeks earlier was suddenly filling gaps properly, getting off blocks quicker, and making tackles on the initial contact. That’s coaching.
Yes, a win over the Cardinals today would’ve been a monumental leap forward for the program, but a loss doesn’t make it a leap backwards either. In defeat, Kentucky showed flashes of the skills that are necessary to elevate the program out of the cellars of the toughest conference in football, something that could rarely be stated last season, if at all. With all that being said, the Wildcats will need to bring that same intensity throughout the rest of the season to continue the momentum the program has gained in the last 9 months, and with 3 Top 25 teams up on the schedule over the next month, they will have plenty of opportunities to showcase it to the world. Don’t get hung up on the final results, because the full production of UK’s recruiting pitch was on display today, right down to the black jerseys.