With four games under our belt, allow me to get an early start on the midseason reviews and take the Commonwealth’s pulse on all things football. What better way than in the language the kids speak these days: emoji. So, through the tiny little faces and figures that even your mom is using in texts now, here’s my take on how things are going with Mark Stoops and his squad.
As one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the league, Patrick Towles came into the season with sky-high expectations. He faltered a little bit in his debut, looking shaky in the second half vs. Louisiana Lafayette and giving life to the contingent of fans calling for Drew Barker. After a reassuring performance against South Carolina, Patrick looked awful against Florida, completing only 33% of his throws. In what may have been the most important game of his life, Patrick delivered, turning in one of his most efficient performances, going 22-27 for 249 yards, two touchdowns passing and one on the ground. Patrick’s haters aren’t totally gone, but they have been silenced…for now.
Arguably the most solid and consistent unit on the team. UK’s trio of running backs (Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp, and Mikel Horton) has kept the Cats’ offensive attack balanced. UK’s only game without a rushing touchdown was Florida, but that was a pitiful outing for the entire offense, so I’m willing to overlook it. Each of UK’s three major running backs have had their moments: Boom’s 75-yard season opening touchdown, Mikel Horton’s game-winning touchdown later that game, and JoJo’s performances against South Carolina and Missouri. It speaks to the depth of the unit that Stoops can motivate and make headlines by bumping one running back over the other for the starting spot. That’s a GOOD thing, guys.
I’d put wide receiver next to running back in terms of depth and consistency. Save Dorian Baker’s drops, I have very few complaints about the receiving corps, which is better than Kentucky’s had in years. The Florida game is the outlier, and Patrick didn’t give his receivers much of a chance to do anything. Thankfully, everything got back on track vs. Missouri, with Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker emerging as the biggest threats.
I’d like to go back to the preseason and apologize to the defense. With Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith gone to the NFL, most expected the defense to take a big step backwards, but they’ve proved us wrong. The unit was without Ryan Flannigan and Jason Hatcher for the first few games of the season (Flannigan the first three), and in the first outing against Louisiana Lafayette, our fears appeared to be legit; however, the defense turned it on against South Carolina, gave the offense every chance possible vs. Florida, and repeated that performance against Missouri. I’d argue the defense was the only good part of the Florida game, which makes the offense’s ineptitude that much more frustrating; regardless, I think we can all agree the defense has overachieved thus far.
In lieu of breaking down each defensive unit game by game, here are brief emojis for each after the win over Missouri:
Defensive line: ðŸ˜Š
CJ Johnson is the most recent standout on a line that’s improved over four games. Johnson had a career-high 11 tackles vs. Missouri and outplayed the Tigers’ All-SEC center Evan Boehm to earn the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honor. As Freddie Maggard pointed out earlier today, UK used a 2-4-5 defense against Missouri, a new scheme specific to the Tigers, which explains why we didn’t see Matt Elam.
That’s a relieved face, in case you were wondering. Ryan Flannigan finally returned from injury on Saturday, and his presence was felt, even though Josh Forrest and Khalid Henderson ably held down the fort in his absence. Having Flannigan and hybrid DE/LB Jason Hatcher back helped UK’s defense become the aggressor vs. Missouri, a trend that hopefully continues upward.
Young, strong, and fearless. True freshman Chris Westry is the obvious standout at corner, but veterans AJ Stamps and Marcus McWilson have also stepped up at safety. The thing I love most about Westry is teams keep targeting him because of his youth and he keeps proving them wrong.
Commonwealth Stadium atmosphere
The opening night of the new Commonwealth Stadium was like your first major concert. You start pregaming before noon, get sunburnt, forget to eat, enjoy it for a while, tell yourself how awesome it is to keep your spirits up, and finally, at the first quiet moment, you can’t wait to sit down. By the end of the night, you’re exhausted, dehydrated, and just.want.to.go.home. It didn’t help matters that the game was a little too close for comfort at the end, but oh well. All around, a great day.
The BBN went in prepared for the Florida game, properly hydrated and fueled by 28 years of losses to the Gators. I wasn’t there, but by all accounts, the scene around Commonwealth Stadium was electric before the game, with the biggest Catwalk crowd ever and a special feeling in the air leading up to kickoff. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, and people were so bitter about the loss they actually complained it was TOO LOUD. Quelle horreur! Fortunately, the crowd responded last Saturday for the Missouri game, not quite filling the stadium up but being loud enough to make a difference.
All in all, the atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium is ten times better than ever before. I can’t wait to see what it’s like for the Thursday night game against Auburn.
Coming into this season, UK fans were cautiously optimistic about going to a bowl. Hype spiked a bit when some national media members pushed their chips in for the Cats, but for the most part, projections ranged from 6-7 wins. A so-so performance against a good Louisiana Lafayette team didn’t do much to change that, but a win over South Carolina skyrocketed the BBN’s hopes, just in time for them to be dragged down by Florida yet again. Fortunately, the Cats rebounded with their best win yet over #25 Missouri to make the path to a bowl not only manageable, but promising.
“Grove Street Party” popularity
Coming into this season, “Grove Street Party” was a nice little reminder of the South Carolina win, the fun video you’d watch to get yourself hyped up for football. When the Cats beat South Carolina in Columbia and the locker room video surfaced of the team dancing to it, the song skyrocketed to popularity once again, with EVERYONE in the Commonwealth, babies to grannies, singing “It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party” and tweeting they GOT A WHOLE LOTTA MONEY (as do iTunes and Waka Flocka after the song’s Bluegrass renaissance.) After the loss to Florida, I vowed to never listen to the song again, but sure enough, found myself bopping along during the Missouri game.
Basketball interest level
Had Kentucky lost to Missouri, the pendulum would have quickly swung in basketball’s direction. Fortunately, the Cats beat the Tigers, keeping football alive and well…for now. Big Blue Madness campout starts tomorrow, putting basketball back in the headlines, but the real indicator of football’s ability to co-exist with basketball will be which storyline reigns supreme the weekend of October 15-17: the Auburn game, Big Blue Madness, or the Kings/Pelicans exhibition game (probably not the latter). If the Cats can upset the Tigers, they’ll move to 5-1 (unless they fall on their face vs. EKU) and the BBN will be talking about the oblong ball well into November.