Kentucky’s 2014 football season came to a disappointing conclusion over the weekend with a heartbreaking loss to rival Louisville in the finale. A win, which almost happened, would’ve placed one hell of a stamp on Mark Stoops’ second regular season at Kentucky and sent UK to its first bowl game since 2010. But, things didn’t go the Cats’ way and, here we are, looking back at what was still a decent season overall, considering where the program has been.
Before we close the book on Year 2 of Stoops and move on to devoting all of our attention to basketball, why don’t we look back on some of the great memories, the not-so-great memories, and standout performers from the gridiron in 2014.
Rookie of the Year: Boom Williams
If we’re only considering true freshmen, Boom Williams in the undisputed MVP of the new faces in 2014. Williams led the Wildcats in rushing yards with 488 at 6.5 per touch and found the end zone six times, more than any of UK’s other backs. He’s also responsible for some of Kentucky’s most explosive plays, including my runner-up for Play of the Year: his ridiculous 25-yard scamper in the first overtime in Gainesville.
Most Improved: Josh Forrest
Forrest was a pleasant surprise at middle linebacker, his first season playing the position. He led the team and was third in the conference with 110 tackles on the year, and ranked first in the conference in solo tackles with 64.
A journeyman in his first three years at UK, Forrest came to Kentucky as a wide receiver, hoping to be the next Randall Cobb or Chris Matthews in the offense. Then Rick Minter moved him to the hybrid safety position in his redshirt freshman season, a change Forrest was not enthusiastic about, but it proved to be the right call. Forrest will enter his senior season next year as the face of the Wildcats’ defense after a very productive and rather unexpected junior year.
Mr. Clutch: Austin MacGinnis
After missing three of the first six attempts of his career, the redshirt freshman settled in and went 18-for-21 in the final 10 games of the season, including bombs of 54 and 51 yards. The 51-yarder kept the Cats alive in the Swamp, forcing overtime with only a few minutes remaining.
It’s good to know UK has a reliable leg with long range for the more years.
Two Keys Bartender Lookalike Contest Winner: Craig Naivar
Backwards hat, double wristbands… Solid work, Coach Naivar.
Best Performance: JoJo Kemp vs. South Carolina
Though he didn’t have the sophomore campaign many expected, JoJo Kemp single-handedly carried Kentucky back into the game against South Carolina. Kemp carried the ball 17 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns, earning him a “JO-JO” chant from the crowd late in the game when the offense needed him most. After the game, Mark Stoops presented him with the game ball, the first time in Stoops had awarded a player with a game ball at UK.
At one point Kemp, completely exhausted, asked to come out for a breather, but Stoops told him, “You stay in there and grind it out.”
And that he did.
Fan Favorite: Za’Darius Smith
Also this year’s winner of the ‘Please Don’t Go’ award, Smith had a solid season on the defensive line, but it’s his enthusiasm and interactions with the fans during the Cat Walk that will have Big Blue Nation missing him in years to come. On more than one occasion I remember seeing Big Z look up from the hugs and high-fives to see the entire team had already entered the stadium and he was 100 yards back, still taking it all in. We often worried he wasted too much energy trying to touch every fan before the games, and for that, you’ll have a hard time convincing me anyone enjoyed being a Wildcat more than Za’Darius.
Most Supportive Parent Award: Boom Williams Sr.
I’ll have what he’s having, please.
The Star: Bud Dupree
Considering he’s one of the best to ever suit up for the University of Kentucky, naming Bud Dupree “The Star” of the 2014 season is a no-brainer. Dupree made play after play for the defense, often at the most crucial times, and he leaves UK as the second-ranked player on its all-time sacks list with 23.5 over his career. Several legitimate NFL scouting services believe Dupree will be a first-rounder in next spring’s NFL draft, while The Sporting News recently named Dupree its top-ranked prospect from the senior class. Simply put, Dupree is the man and stars like him don’t come around Lexington very often.
Catch of the Year: Javess Blue
Deadspin called Javess Blue’s one-handed grab: “the kind of highlight you’ve never seen before from the Wildcats.”
Worst Pass Attempt, Ever: JoJo Kemp
One week after JoJo Kemp dominated South Carolina’s defense out of the Wildcat formation, Neal Brown got creative with the package and drew up a play for JoJo to go to the air. It did not go well.
White Guy Dance of the Year: Max Godby
Quote of the Year:
“We’re just getting started, bro.”
C.J. Johnson on losing weight: “I guess it’s because I poop so much. I try to poop like five times a day, three times a day; it’s hard to keep weight when you have so much going out.”
Sorry, “We’re just getting started, bro.” That one won’t be topped.
JACKED UP: Blake McClain (Miss St.) & Jabari Johnson (UofL)
Bullsh*t No-Call of the Year:
Kentucky was one Delay of Game call away from beating Florida in the Swamp, which would have us making bowl game plans in the coming weeks. Instead, the Gators were given a fourth down play and converted to keep the game alive. As frustrating as the no-call was, you still have to stop a 4th & 7 to win a football game. No excuses.
Play of the Year:
A video of Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith telling fans to get on their feet for the Bad Boyz played in the stadium as South Carolina looked to drive the length of the field to win the game. And on the very next play, the very next play, Dupree scored the game-winning touchdown in the biggest victory of the Mark Stoops era.
On Second Thought, Play of the Year…
It’s not a coincidence the season went downhill once the officials told Mark Stoops his kicking unit will be penalized if they do this again. That’s when the season turned, when the plug was pulled on Grove Street Party.