Back-to-back SEC East champions had won eleven consecutive road games by forcing games to be decided in the fourth quarter. Tonight, roles were reversed as the Kentucky Wildcats took a 14-10 lead into the final period and closed the door on the Tigers for a 21-13 win.
Let’s break down questions that hovered over the Cats following the Florida loss.
Question: Could Patrick Towles bounce back after the Florida frustration and silence the critics?
Answer: Yes, he did and in impressive fashion
Patrick Towles played the game of his career by going 22-27 for 249 yards with 2 TD passes and one rushing touchdown. Pat’s numbers were exceptional, but his leadership mannerisms were even better. At one point in the game, Towles completed eleven consecutive passes and made even better decisions while being pressured in the pocket. The world doubted Patrick Towles, me included. He responded like a champ. Towles played a role in all three Kentucky touchdowns: a 14-yard touchdown run, 24-yard TD pass to CJ Conrad, and by tossing a striking fade route to Dorian Baker from the five-yard line. After the Gator loss, Towles swore off Twitter. I hope that trend continues because tonight, he earned the BBN’s respect and impressed national talking heads. Very proud of and happy for Patrick.
Question: Can Shannon Dawson call a complete football game and does he become too conservative in the second half?
Answer: Yes, he can and no, he did not.
Much like the South Carolina first half, Dawson called a nearly perfect game against the SEC’s top-rated defense. This was especially obvious in the second half as Missouri adjusted and became much more aggressive in the pass rush. It went away from its 4-3 scheme by varying fronts and coverages. Kentucky’s scoring drives were sustained, resourceful, and balanced. Play action passes kept MU linebackers honest. When the Cats needed to get physical to salt the fourth quarter lead, JoJo Kemp ran behind his pads and an offensive line that struggled a week earlier but impressed against the formidable Missouri defensive front seven. UK scored 21 points against a Tiger defense that led the conference by surrendering only 9.7 points per game.
Question: Could the defense repeat their performance that stymied the Gators?
The night belonged to CJ Johnson and his eleven tackles. He disrupted and frustrated All-SEC center Evan Boehm. LB Ryan Flannigan’s return from injury exponentially increased the overall unit’s speed as he made eight tackles while breaking up two passes. Josh Forrest was his steady self with nine tackles and a tackle for loss. Jason Hatcher deflected a pass and had eight tackles. Denzil Ware contributed with his first college football sack and five tackles.
A look at the defensive stat sheet showed that other than defensive lineman CJ Johnson, the Cats were led in tackles by its four linebackers. That is playing within defensive intent and design by maintaining constant and disciplined gap responsibility. NT Melvin Lewis and DE Farrington Huguennin ate up blockers which allowed the linebackers to run free and make tackles.
DJ Eliot dialed up an efficient game plan that presented varied pre- and post-snap looks as well as situational substitutions. The Cats did allow QB Maty Mauk out of the pocket at times, but overall, held the Mizzou quarterback and offense in check. MU gained only 111 rushing yards. That low total was mainly due to troublemaking defensive linemen and an aggressive linebacker corps that was backed up by sure tackling defensive backs. Total team effort.
Question: Would the fans respond after a disappointing Florida loss?
The 58,008 that took the time to support the team were outstanding. As for the empty seaters, sorry you missed one heck of a game. The BBN was loud. Hats off to the students, again. This week, the team provided several moments for the crowd to explode. It didn’t disappoint. Very proud of the fans. You deserved this win. My postgame walk through the parking lot was wonderful. I get more joy by seeing fan excitement than watching the team in the Victory formation.
Question: Would the receivers get rid of the dropsies?
Answer: Yes, they did.
Dorian Baker’s circus catch is what was expected from the sophomore since the day he signed on the dotted line. The end-zone fade was a next-level reception. In addition to those grabs, the vertical route completion that was called back due to penalty displayed his strength and speed against an elite SEC cornerback. Dorian was triumphant in one-on-one situations.
Garrett Johnson had himself a night, to the tune of six catches for 119 yards. With many of his catches across the middle of the field, Johnson exhibited grit, guts, and determination. The sky is the limit for Juice. The group’s talent has never been questioned. The concern was could it chain four quarters together and make both the routine as well as athletic catch in critical situations? Tonight, answers to both questions were an astounding yes.
Question: Will CJ Conrad or any tight end ever catch a pass?
Answer: CJ Conrad’s night resulted in 3 catches for 55 yards including a 24-yard touchdown reception. I’m not sure when Commonwealth Stadium was louder; after Patrick Towles’ quarterback sneak to secure the win or when Conrad made his first catch down the middle of the field. It was only a matter of time and opportunity.
— Unlike vs. Florida — when at no time did I think UK would win the game — against Missouri, there was no time that I felt that UK would lose. Kentucky was the better team. Credit Missouri for its past two-year run, but in 2015, personnel advantage went to the Wildcats. That’s a testament to selective recruiting, player development, and playing with a mentality that mirrors its head coach. In essence, Kentucky’s program is taking shape much like Missouri did under Gary Pinkel.
— In a game that featured two of the SEC’s best centers in UK’s Jon Toth and Mizzou’s Evan Boehm, Toth had the better outing. Jon consistently opened holes for UK runners while Boehm had his hands full with Melvin Lewis and CJ Johnson. Center has been the offense’s most consistent position. Tonight’s performance showed the SEC what we’ve been saying since preseason camp: Jon Toth is perhaps the league’s best at that position.
— For most of the night, UK offensive line consisted of four redshirt sophomores and the aforementioned Jon Toth. Regulars Jordan Swindle, Zach West, and George Asafo-Adjei didn’t see much, if any game action. Replacing the injured Swindle, former walk-on Cole Mosier didn’t blink against the SEC’s leader in tackles for loss, DE Charles Harris. Ramsey Meyers and Nick Haynes also contributed with effective blocking along the line of scrimmage. This combination may have a different look, but it played the best game the five-some have played in 2015. Monday’s press conference will be interesting to see if depth chart changes are permanent, or temporary due to injury.
— Here’s a look at the statistic the best represents Kentucky’s offensive output. Missouri’s defense was giving up only 217 total yards per game. Kentucky gained 369. On average, Mizzou had held its first three opponents to 112 passing yards; Kentucky’s 249 more than doubled that number. The Tigers led the SEC in pass efficiency defense, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 54% completion percentage. Patrick Towles’ 81% beat that number by 27 percentage points. Again, Shannon Dawson called an excellent game. The players effectively executed his plan for 4 quarters.
— UK’s defense held Mizzou to 13 points, the fewest points allowed by UK against a ranked opponent since Ole Miss in 1993.
— Down the stretch, JoJo Kemp’s physical running style proved too much for Missouri. His 13 carries for 68 tough yards against the SEC’s stingiest defense provided a significant boost. Kemp’s yards after contact exemplified his effort, toughness, and effectiveness against the Tigers.
— Won’t show up in the stat sheet, but Kyle Meadows played an excellent football game.
— Mark Stoops is 7-0 when going into the fourth quarter with a lead.
— In a season-defining game, Kentucky beat a ranked SEC opponent and closed September at 3-1. Last night was critical in the Cats’ path to bowl eligibility. Now, realistically six wins is the new minimum expectation. EKU is next. Auburn is struggling. Optimism surrounds the Kentucky football program.
— Several recruits attended the game. I’m fairly certain that they left either highly impressed or solidified their commitment to Vince Marrow. UK played its fourth game in its fourth uniform combination and beat Missouri in convincing fashion. Yes, eight points is convincing when against the defending SEC East champs. And yes again, uniform combinations matter to impressionable prospects. Missouri may be fairly new to the SEC, but its brand is national.
— How big was tonight? UK’s win over Missouri was its first victory over a Top 25 team in 19 tries.
— Mark Stoops won his first game against a ranked opponent.
Later in the week, expect the “Eye in the Sky” post but tonight, it’s all positive. X’s and O’s can wait. Has Kentucky turned the proverbial corner? Not sure, there’s lots of football left. But it sure did take a giant step forward in changing the program’s SEC and national perspective. Within the Cats first four games, the most valuable aspect doesn’t just lie within its 3-1 record. I’d argue that game film of three hard fought victories and one heart-breaking loss have provided invaluable teachable moments that will only benefit Stoops’ team down the stretch. Incredibly proud and happy for Mark Stoops. I’m even happier for the BBN who’s patiently waited for a night of this magnitude. Enjoy the moment, then move forward. Now let’s pack the house vs. EKU. I’m pretty sure both teams will not be reliant upon pregame locker room speeches for motivation.