Kentucky entered Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium as a 27.5-point underdog and later left the Ville with the Governor’s Cup Trophy, respect, and a program boosting 41-38 win over the 11th ranked Louisville Cardinals.
This was no fluke or gimmicky win; the Wildcat’s offense dominated the line-of-scrimmage as the defense forced 4 turnovers against the nation’s top ranked scoring offense.
Let’s take a look:
Simply stated; Eddie Gran outcoached Louisville’s defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Gran mixed the run with the pass as the Wildcats rolled up 581 total yards against the nation’s 7th ranked defense. Stephen Johnson continued to do Stephen Johnson things but on a much grander scale this time. The junior quarterback merely wins while offering the offense a sense of California calmness mixed in with a heavy dose of JUCO shoulder chip confidence.
By the Numbers
Scoring: 41 points
Rush: 229 yards
Time of Possession: 32:30
3rd Down: 10/18, 55%
Red Zone: 2/2
Sacks Allowed: 0
Points off Turnovers: 10
-Offensive Line: 581 total yards while allowing zero QB sacks and just 11 negative yards for the game. John Schlarman’s big fellas were the game’s MVP’s.
-QB Stephen Johnson, Passing: 16-27, 338 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception. Rushing: 8 carries, 83 yards, 10.4 yards per carry.
-WR Garrett Johnson: 5 catches, 164 yards, 2 TD’s.
-WR Jeff Badet: 4 catches, 52 yards.
-WR Ryan Timmons: 4 catches, 50 yards.
-WR Dorian Baker: 1 catch, 35 yards, 1 TD.
-RB: Boom Williams: 14 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD.
-RB Benny Snell: 11 carries, 51 yards, 1 TD
-Stephen Johnson was not 100% and walked with a noticeable limp. However, the robust signal caller was clutch during critical, chain-moving runs. Johnson was his best on the season’s biggest stage.
–UK’s two-deep, physical offensive line dominated the line-of-scrimmage. Kentucky’s final numbers demolished Louisville’s seasonal, defensive averages in virtually every statistical category.
-Guard-Center-Guard (Jon Toth, Nick Haynes, Logan Stenberg, Ramsey Meyers, Bunchie Stallings) neutralized UofL DT Deangelo Brown as the senior registered just 1 tackle for the game. Brown had accumulated 11 TFL and 3 QB sacks on the season. This trio, regardless of rotation, has to be considered the strength of the offense.
-Tackles Cole Mosier, Landon Young, George Asafo-Adjei, and Kyle Meadows all but shut down and all but shutout Louisville’s elite edge defenders James Hearns and Devante Fields. Fields and Hearns combined for just 4 total tackles and 1 QB hurry.
–Louisville presented the nation’s 7th ranked defense surrendering just 292 yards per game. Kentucky finished with 581.
-The Cardinal rush defense was ranked 6th in the nation as it allowed 99 yards per game. Cats finished with 229.
-Card pass defense came into Saturday ranked 24th in the nation; 193 yards per game. Stephen Johnson torched the turf with 352 yards and 3 touchdowns.
-Eddie Gran and Mark Stoops were universally praised following Saturday’s win. I’d argue that QB coach Darin Hinshaw deserves a bulk of the praise for identifying and signing Stephen Johnson as well as developing the JUCO transfer into winning 7 football games.
-Boom Williams and Benny Snell were steady and dangerous. Williams had a 36-yard sprint to the end zone. Snell later scampered 18 for a score.
-Receiver drops had the BBN, and me, flustered in the 1st half. Lamar Thomas’ crew made up for it in a big way in the 2nd. The former UofL WR coach had been the target of social media banter from the Card Nation. The blue cladded Thomas had the last laugh on Saturday.
The Kentucky defense had their hands full for 60 minutes as it faced the nation’s top rated scoring offense and the likely Heisman Trophy winning quarterback. Stoops’ defenders bent and broke but also forced 4 turnovers.
By the Numbers
Scoring: 38 points
Rush: 280 yards
Total: 71 plays, 561 yards
Forced Fumbles: 1
Sacks Allowed: 3
Points off Turnovers: 7
Time of Possession: 27:30
-LB Jordan Jones: 10 total tackles (8 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB sack.
-Safety Marcus McWilson: 9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss.
-OLB Denzil Ware: 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss.
-Safety: Mike Edwards: 6 tackles, 2 interceptions, .5 tackle for loss, .5 QB sack.
-CB Chris Westry: 6 tackles.
-DE Alvonte Bell: 6 tackles, 1 pass breakup.
-OLB Josh Allen: 2 tackles, .5 tackle for loss, .5 QB sack.
-DL Naquez Pringle and Courtney Miggins: combined for 1 QB sack.
-Lamar Jackson was as good as advertised.
-Edge defenders Denzil Ware and Josh Allen provided containment and pressure as the sophomores outplayed Louisville’s vaunted duo comprised of James Hearns and Devonte Fields.
-UK defensive line played its best game of the season. NT Naquez Pringle registered just 1 tackle, but the junior controlled the interior of the line-of-scrimmage as he consistently ate up 2 blockers and pushed the Louisville center into the backfield.
-DE Alvonte Bell played his best game as a Wildcat.
-LB’s Jordan Jones and Courtney Love battled, chased, and disrupted. Love’s tackle on Lamar Jackson during a Run/Pass/Option play was textbook. Jones has played himself into All SEC contention. Love’s leadership was never in question, however his late-season improvement is noteworthy.
-Safeties Mike Edwards, Marcus McWilson, and Blake McClain were explosive. The trio combined for 3 interceptions, 2.5 QB sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss.
-CB Chris Westry contributed 6 tackles including a high effort, touchdown saving stop on Lamar Jackson.
-The Cats produced 2 turnovers in the 4th quarter. Resiliency and “don’t flinch” defined.
-The Kentucky defense was resistant. At times, Lamar Jackson ran through, past, and around the Cats. But, it prevailed with 2 turnovers on Louisville’s last 2 offensive possessions.
-The Wildcats racked up 8 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback sacks. Given the season’s trend, this was a high number for both categories.
Kicker Austin MacGinnis: 5-5 PAT’s, 2-2 Field Goals.
-MacGinnis’ 47-yard FG with :12 left in the 4th quarter proved to be the game winner He also hit a 35-yarder with 2:43 left in the 3rd quarter.
-MacGinnis is money. The junior has 2 game-winning field goals on the season.
Punter Grant McKinniss averaged 35.8 yards per punt.
-Punt team limited the ever-dangerous Jaire Alexander to 2 returns totaling just 6 yards. This stat won’t jump off the box score but it should be considered a key component of the UK win.
What does this all mean?
-Lamar Jackson sprinted Louisville out to an early 7-0 lead. Instead of an “uh oh” response, Stephen Johnson connected with Garrett Johnson for a one-play, 75-yard touchdown drive which set the tone that the Wildcats were not going to back down from the high flying and highly ranked Cardinals. “Don’t flinch” was this team’s motto; Kentucky put those words into action on its first offensive possession.
–Mark Stoops and his staff coached their guts out. Left for dead after starting the season 0-2 and losing its starting quarterback, the Kentucky head coach said what Mark Stoops always says, “We gotta put our heads down and go back to work.” These simple words frustrated some but provided an accurate picture of the 2016 Wildcats. It wasn’t always pretty and had obvious flaws. However, it improved weekly, never doubted, and kept working.
-Stoops now has a win over Bobby Petrino. Saturday’s Governor’s Cup victory could prove to be invaluable on the recruiting trail as Stoops and staff have the vast majority of their depth chart returning for 2017. National talking heads now have the Cats trending upward.
-Bowl destinations were upgraded with the 41-38 win. Now it looks as if the Cats will be Holidaying at either Nashville or Jacksonville instead of Birmingham or Shreveport.
-Stephen Johnson has won 7 games in which he has played extensively in both the 1st and 2nd half. He didn’t start the New Mexico State or Austin Peay games, so there’s that technicality. Johnson has been unfairly criticized throughout the season to my dismay. I’d think that after his Governor’s Cup performance and 7th win that the BBN will take a more appreciative stance on their quarterback. Oh yeah, he throws a pretty deep ball.
-UK is the only Power 5 football program that sports 2, 1000-yard rushers in Boom Williams and Benny Snell.
-Mike Edwards has to be considered as an elite SEC safety. Same can be said of Jordan Jones at linebacker. It’s imperative to remember that UK starts 7 sophomores on defense. Kentucky started just 1 senior on offense.
-Kentucky beat a talented Louisville team with several future professionals on its roster. UofL may have featured the Heisman favorite and a high ranking; but UK was the better team on Saturday.
-The victory ensured that Mark Stoops will finish with a winning record in 2016.
The BBN welcomed its team home in style. Fans, players, administrators, and coaches were ecstatic, rightly so. Good on them. This team was chastised on both the local and national level. A former Louisville coach once proclaimed that UK had the worst defense in the history of college football. That defense and team overcame strife and cheap shots from the cheap seats to finish the season 7-5. A CBS talking head once described the Cats as the “Kentucky Junior College”. That JUCO is bowl eligible, went 4-4 in the SEC, and will possess the Governor’s Cup Trophy for the next 364 days after beating the #11 team in the country on their home field.
I was happy to see Mark Stoops and his family smiling upon their return to Lexington. However, I can most likely predict Stoops’ press conference remarks, “We’re going to put our heads down and get back to work.” Heck, what else can he can say?
That’s so Kentucky Football.