After 15 minutes of pacing and cursing, I can finally accept a season-ending loss to Louisville, 44-40. The heart was there, the execution was not.
After getting drummed for five weeks straight, we didn’t know what to expect from the Cats. Most had already conceded the Cards would get the W, including myself, but Kentucky started the game with a fire we have not seen from these Cats.
Three pre-game scuffles translated into defensive aggressiveness, playing with a tenacity you saw from Mark Stoops’ defense early in the season. Not only did they stop the run game from the get-go, they hit them in the mouth, HARD. Za’Darius Smith’s sack on the first possession forced a three and out. When the Cats couldn’t respond, Mike Douglas’ hit on Reggie Bonnafon caused the ball to fly aimlessly into AJ Stamps hands.
The Cats had the early momentum, but could only muster a field goal. After another quick 3 and out, UK once again had great field position, but could only get a field goal. Just like when Louisville lost to Florida State, they had the chance to go up big early, but settling for field goals would come back to bite them in the rear down the road.
Patrick Towles looked uncomfortable the entire game. And by uncomfortable I mean he looked like someone stole his puppy. Granted, Louisville was getting to Patrick easily when only rushing three, but even the screen passes were thrown into the dirt. Towles’ longest completion in the first half was for 9 yards.
Even though they couldn’t get it in the end zone, Kentucky’s defense AND special teams (yes, the speical teams) were there to pick them up, blocking a punt to setup a Boom Williams’ touchdown. Up 13-0, the Cats stepped on the accelerator. Forcing a 3rd and long, Reggie Bonnafon left the game with an injury, forcing third-strong and Lexington Catholic alum, Kyle Bolin, into the game. A first down completion, than a fallen cornerback left Devante Parker wide open for a score, and the back-and-forth began.
A Michael Dyer touchdown gave Louisville the lead. After UK quickly gave the ball back to the Cards, Fred Tiller took an interception to the house, closely resembling his dropped pick 6 against Florida that fell into Damarcus Robinson’s hands. It looked as if the Cats’ had shaken off their demons.
Down 21-20, Kentucky had the chance to score first in the second half but could only manage one first down. The defense followed it up with a 3 and out, until Mike Douglas hit Bolin out of bounds. It kept the drive alive for another play, letting Bolin hit Devante Parker for another big touchdown. Even though they let the bad happen, the Cats didn’t give up, especially the Senior, Douglas.
Za’Darius Smith forced a fumble to put the Cats within striking range, but once again had to settle for a field goal. Shortly after, another promising drive ended with just a field goal. It was discouraging, until the defense was ready for YET ANOTHER big play. Against South Carolina, Mike Douglas tipped a pass to Bud Dupree for the game-winning score. This time, Bud stripped Bolin and Douglas took it to the house. The amazing play appeared to be exactly what they needed to get the W, but like all good things, it had to come to an end eventually.
The Cats had Louisville backed up on their own 4, 3rd and 10. Four plays later, the Cards had gone 96 yards for a touchdown to take a 34-33 lead. It was the disheartening beginning to the end for the Cats. Towles threw an interception the following drive, but the defense kept it within reach by forcing them to a field goal. Demarco Robinson provided a spark to get the Cats within striking distance, finsihing the drive with a powerful touchdown score by Boom Williams. Just when you thought the Cats were out of it, they had a 40-37 lead.
The Cats had a chance to close it out, but Marcus McWilson let an interception slide right through his fingertips. The Louisville offense got rolling soon after, with Parker getting them inside the 15, setting up a Brandon Radcliffe touchdown. Down 4 with 2:47 to go, the Cats had 75 yards to go for the victory. They got a few first downs, but the QB draws seemed out of place and Towles never looked confident until he threw Gerod Holliman his 14th-interception of the year, tying an NCAA-record.
Just like that, the Cats’ season was over.
Kyle Freaking Bolin
Bolin has always been a lightning rod for criticism. Since his days at Lex Cath he’s been despised by many. He has a hyper-QB personality, but his arrogance was never validated by accomplishment. Today he shut the haters up with 381 yards and 3 touchdowns. You must give credit where credit is due, but I’m still perplexed as to why Parker wasn’t being double-teamed the entire game. Parker finished with 6 catches for 180 yards and all three touchdown receptions.
On the other hand, Patrick Towles
Entering this game, Patrick was poised to be the player that took Kentucky to the promised land. His hate for Louisville had him in a zone that could take down the Cards. But it didn’t go that way.
Entering the game, Stoops said the gameplan was to run timing routes to the outside 6-8 yards downfield. That was quickly abandoned when Towles seemed too “erratic” in the pocket. He never looked comfortable, often scrambling as soon as the ball was snapped. Yes, he was pressured, but Pat made those throws under pressure at Florida (as well as many other times). What was wrong, I don’t think anybody knows, but hopefully the BBN will not forget what Pat did earlier in the season because of how he finished.
That Bye Week REALLY Helped
The Cats had been flat on defense for seemingly forever, but their energy nearly carried them to victory. They played pissed off, making not only sound tackles, but packing a punch behind each one. Not many Kentucky teams would respond the way the Cats did today.
For the first time since ’95, rushing yards didn’t get the W
If the team won the rushing battle, they won the Governor’s Cup. Today the Cats had 151 compared to Louisville’s 83, 63 more yards than the third-ranked rushing defense in the nation allows on average. Boom Williams’ finished with a career day; 126 yards and two touchdowns.
Bud and Z Deserved It
They were the difference-makers that almost willed Kentucky to a win. Bud disrupted everything, forcing two fumbles while getting a sack and a tackle for loss. Za’Darius frequently flushed Bolin out of the pocket. They both had their fair share of big hits, combining for 12 tackles. They will be tough to replace.
If they keep doing this, we’re all going to go insane
The move to the end of the season will change the rivalry game forever. The drama from today’s wild and crazy game is just the start of what Stoops hopes to build. From Monday’s press conference:
“We’re trying to create a bigger and better rivalry,” Stoops said. “I think that comes from us having to play better football and winning more games and putting ourselves in a position where we can get this game on a more national scale. But it’s important. It’s important to the people in this state. It’s important to our fans and our players and coaches.”
Today was the first step. Now it all comes down to finishing: if the Cats had turned just two of their field goals into touchdowns, we’re popping champagne like we won the championship game.