How ’bout those Wildcats?
Last night, Kentucky snapped an SEC home losing streak and the winless streak to Missouri by getting the job done in Commonwealth Stadium. The 21-13 victory over the No. 25 Tigers moved UK to 3-1 on the season and third place in the SEC East. It was a win that changed the entire landscape of the rest of the season.
Mark Stoops said afterward, “Obviously a very big victory for us. I’m very proud of the team. Like I told them just a moment ago, it was just very gratifying to win a game like that against such a quality opponent in a hard-fought SEC football game.”
Now that we’ve slept on it (a little bit), let’s take a moment before NFL Sunday to reflect on the many positives from the game. There’s plenty to celebrate, but here are a few takeaways as I look back on the pivotal W.
A bowl bid is very, very likely.
With two conference wins already on the board, a bowl bid is almost a certainty for Kentucky. Assuming Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte are wins, the Cats will only need to beat a very bad Vanderbilt team to hit the six-win plateau on the season. And that’s just doing the bare minimum.
Auburn is now a very winnable contest and anything can happen in the Tennessee and Mississippi State games. The bowl ticket may be punched long before most people expected this year.
Suddenly those 8-4 predictions some optimistic fans made in the preseason don’t sound too farfetched. There is still a lot of football to be played, but closing out the first four-game stretch at 3-1 is a dream situation.
Patrick Towles is Kentucky’s quarterback.
Sorry, Drew Barker fans. Not this week.
Towles played arguably his best game as a Wildcat when it mattered most. With the weight of the Big Blue Nation on his shoulders and a quarterback controversy breathing down his neck, he stepped up and silenced his critics with a three-touchdown night. Two of those came through the air on 22-for-27 passing for 249 yards, while the other was Kentucky’s first points on the board, a 14-yard scramble to paydirt.
Towles’ 81.5 completion percentage was the best of his career and it came against a very good Mizzou defense.
Hello, C.J. Conrad.
Well would you look at that: Kentucky does have a tight end in the passing game.
Conrad hauled in the first three receptions of his career and scored his first college touchdown last night. The TD came on first and goal from the 24-yard line when UK trailed by a field goal in the third quarter.
Conrad has blocked well all season, but his emergence as a pass-catcher really changes things for the offense. Looking forward to more of what we saw last night throughout the season.
Dorian Baker is on his way to stardom.
I can’t remember a swaggy receiver in Lexington like Dorian Baker. There have been good receivers, but Baker has the ‘it’ factor fans love to see at that position. From the one-handed grab (filthy) to his eagerness to knock someone’s head off in the open field, Baker is a very exciting player to watch. He knows it, too.
He and Garrett Johnson make one of the better receiving duos we’ve seen in Kentucky blue. Legit weapons in the passing game.
And, can we forget about those drops now?
The offensive line held its own.
The big bodies up front played well against a very good Mizzou pass rush and they did it without Jordan Swindle, the starting left tackle and team captain. There were definitely some slip-ups, but it was a solid job of protecting Towles for the most part. Much better than the effort in the Florida game, for sure.
Kentucky has a defense.
All the talk entering the season was Kentucky will need to score a lot of points because it won’t be able to stop anyone. All offense, no defense, we thought. Boy, were we wrong. Kentucky’s defense has been solid this season and some of the biggest plays have come from the unlikeliest heroes. (Looking at you, J.D. Harmon.) Now, with Ryan Flannigan and Jason Hatcher back in the mix, and the young guys finding their groove, linebacker play has improved and will only get better each game.
And what about C.J. Johnson last night? A career-high 11 tackles and a sack on the defensive line. The line is getting better everyday, too.
27 points allowed in games against Florida and the defending SEC East champ. Didn’t see that one coming.