Note: this post was originally scheduled to run next Saturday, after Kentucky shocks the world by taking down No. 1 Alabama for the first time since 1997. However, KSR’s inside sources from next week got the game tape to us early, so we decided to go ahead and write it up in this “precap”. We figured this way, you won’t have to stress about a silly old football game during Big Blue Madness. Go Cats!
WOW!! What just happened???
As the final seconds ticked away in Kentucky’s historic 31-30 victory over Alabama tonight, Tom Hart may have said it best: “Big Blue Nation, you can celebrate tonight from Benton to Big Bone Lick because you just beat ‘Bama!”
Yes, Tom, you better believe we will. Oddly alliterative hyperbole aside, this is one of the most shocking results in recent memory. It will go down as one of the biggest wins in program history, and easily the biggest result of the Mark Stoops era. But man, what a weird game, right?
Kentucky’s offense started fast, with the “Big Blue Wall” opening holes early and often for Chris Rodriguez up the middle through Alabama’s vaunted rush defense. An eight-play opening drive ended in a six-yard touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Keaton Upshaw, who managed to sneak in behind the ‘Bama blitz. Then, an uncharacteristic fumble on the kickoff return from freshman receiver Trey Sanders allowed the ‘Cats to tack on another score, with Rodriguez scampering into the end zone on the very next play. Another perfect extra point from Chance Poore made it 14-0 in the blink of an eye.
The crowd of 19,000 in Bryant-Denny stadium looked stunned, as Nick Saban stormed down the sideline looking for someone to scream at. He was unsuccessful, judging by the state of his discarded headset.
Of course, the Tide didn’t stay down for long. Former UK commit Mac Jones looked like a regular Ken Seals as he marched down the field launching darts into the Kentucky secondary. The drive ended with a 14-yard dash from running back Najee Harris, who leapt gracefully over Kelvin “Bossman Fat” Joseph at the goal line to score untouched.
As the second quarter began, Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran could feel the momentum shifting in Alabama’s favor, so he decided to dial up something special. That special thing was three consecutive screen passes to Isaiah Epps and AJ Rose, netting four yards, followed by a punt. Gran was baffled by this, reports say.
Soon the game was tied at 14-all, as WR DeVonta Smith got loose down the right sideline for a 52-yard touchdown on a third-and-nine at midfield. UK responded by going to the ground with Rodriguez and Wilson, and managed to get back in Alabama territory, but came away with nothing after a 38-yard field goal attempt by Poore clanked off the left upright. The Tide had a chance to add another score before halftime, but a wide-open tight end dropped the ball when he got distracted by a screaming, chest-painted Josh Hopkins on the UK sideline, who was evidently making obscene remarks about the young man’s mother. ‘Bama settled for three and took a 17-14 lead into the half.
At this point, despite being locked in a surprisingly competitive game with the nation’s top-ranked team, aviator-wearing Kentucky fans sounded off across Twitter, outraged by the team’s lack of grit. In the locker room, Vince Marrow gave a rousing address, encouraging the boys to “hit ’em in the mouth, don’t back down, and keep going at ’em with everything y’all got.” After the game, several players credited this inspirational moment for sparking the late comeback.
In the third quarter, Alabama managed to grow its lead as high as 16 points, thanks to a pick-six and another long touchdown connection, this time between Jones and John Metchie. But then Saban got cocky and tried to take advantage of UK’s depleted special teams unit by going for a two-point conversion. Jones’ scramble was stuffed by Yusuf Corker, and on the ensuing drive, Josh Ali climbed the ladder for a spectacular catch deep in the red zone, setting up another score for Rodriguez.
With the score 30-21 after three in Tuscaloosa, national media started to take notice. On Twitter, Kirk Herbstreit attempted to take credit for predicting it would be close. Maria Taylor responded with multiple eye emojis.
UK managed to string together a few stops, but Alabama’s defense proved just as effective. With five minutes remaining, Wilson juked several defenders on a big third down run and managed to scurry inside the Crimson Tide 40. A few plays later, Poore got his chance at redemption, sailing a gutsy 49-yard kick through the wind and between the goalposts to pull Kentucky within six. On the sideline, Stoops looked around in confusion, having missed the entire play while he arguing with an exhausted official over an uncalled hold from five plays earlier.
What happened next was a blur. Just when Alabama appeared ready to march down the field and put the game away, Jones was stripped by a disheveled Jamin Davis, who sprang out of nowhere in the backfield after apparently digging a tunnel right under the line of scrimmage. UK recovered the fumble, and suddenly, they had the ball at the 28 with 2:36 on the clock and a chance to win the game.
Now brimming with unwarranted confidence, Gran dipped into his bag of tricks one more time. On 2nd-and-5, he drew up a play-action pass for Wilson intended to find Justin Rigg on a slant route to the end zone. Unfortunately, he forgot to communicate this plan to Rose, who grabbed the handoff by mistake and was stood up for a loss. On the next play, Wilson was sacked, setting up 4th-and-12. With 53 seconds on the clock, Kentucky called its final timeout.
I’ll let SEC Network commentator Dave Neal describe what happened next:
“Kentucky’s coming back on the field now… wait a minute, is that the punting unit? What on earth??”
Yes, in the end it was Colin Goodfellow, the backup punter filling in for Max Duffy, who played the hero in this story. In a daring move that nearly everyone saw coming, he faked the punt and ran the ball in for the winning touchdown. It only worked, of course, because they surrounded Goodfellow with no less than 16 blockers leading the way; but thankfully all of the refs missed it, as they were still distracted by Stoops’ animated holding argument.
Pandemonium. Chaos. Saban in tears. “Grove Street Party” booming from the visitors’ locker room, so loud it could be heard in Auburn. And in Kentucky, couches are aflame from Benton to Big Bone Lick. It’s a great day to be a Wildcat.