[caption id="attachment_207826" align="alignnone" width="2047"]Photo by UK Athletics[/caption]
Hot air was blowing outside Commonwealth Stadium. Inside, a ticked-off group of Wildcats played their guts out to beat South Carolina 17-10. Carolina punched; the Cats punched back. Let’s take a look:
-- Kentucky racked up 351 total yards in spite of a minus 2 turnover margin while going up against the Southeastern Conference’s 4th best scoring defense. RBs Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp, and freshman sensation Benny Snell Jr. are proving to be a formidable trio. Williams went over 100 yards for the second time this season by rushing for 123 yards off 15 carries. Snell again seemed invincible and stubborn to be tackled by racking up 77 tough, physical yards. Kemp provided spark and a breather with 4 carries for 16 yards.
-- Stephen Johnson was sacked 4 times but completed 11 passes for 135 yards. His steady impact was mostly felt in the Run/Pass/Option scheme through quick decisions and persistency. UK did not attempt a 4th quarter pass as it buckled down in the run game. This offensive philosophy change seemed to work well.
-- UK won the time of possession battle 32:40 to 27:20. Third downs were not pleasant: 4/13. But, it converted a crucial 4th down to seal the win late in the 4th quarter.
-- During the game I received several messages that the offensive line struggled. In actuality, UK rotated several front-line players while physically wearing down a good South Carolina front seven. One grouping included true freshman Landon Young, redshirt freshman Logan Stenberg as well as sophomores Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo Adjei. It faced a salty, veteran group. Overall, the OL played an operative football game.
-- South Carolina came into Saturday allowing a 31% touchdown ratio in the Red Zone. Kentucky was 50% for the night as it scored on a WildSnell, 1-yard TD run.
-- Kentucky rushed the football 50 times for 216 yards. My priority key to the game was for the Cats to rush for 200. Check.
-- Turnovers continue to be this team’s own worst enemy. Kayaune Ross fumbled a Stephen Johnson pass in the first quarter which could have taken the wind out of the Big Blue sails. It didn’t. Johnson later overshot a wide open receiver which resulted in his first thrown interception of his career.
-- This team’s lack of offensive physicality was called out during many pregame television shows. Kentucky countered by exercising a rugged, 2nd half game plan.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="960"] Pic by TheState.com[/caption]
We often discussed that either the Kentucky defense or the South Carolina offense were going to uncharacteristically win the football game. Chalk this matchup to the Cats' D. It held Carolina to just 268 total yards (287-avg) and impressively stopped the Gamecocks on 3rd down by forcing punts or 4th down attempts on 3/13 occasions. Credit is due to the front seven. Yes, that same front seven that has taken an absolute beating by media and fans alike.
-- UK's defensive linemen had not registered a QB sack going into Saturday. DE Alvonte Bell and NT Naquez Pringle were both credited with one each. NT Matt Elam joined Denzil Ware for another. The DL answered the bell and criticism by playing their best football of the season. Much like their offensive line counterparts, Mark Stoops rotated defensive linemen on a regular basis.
-- Linebackers are expected to make the majority of tackles in the 3-4 defense. LBs Jordan Jones, Josh Allen, Courtney Love, and Denzil Ware did just that. Ware sacked QB Brandon Mcllwain twice. He added 2 tackles for loss while totaling 5 tackles. Josh Allen played his best game as a Wildcat by accumulating 1 QB sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 7 tackles. Jordan Jones continues to be the heart and soul of the defense by leading it in tackles with 8.
-- DEs Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell decreased containment errors that have plagued in 2016. Both stretched the option and managed to limit Mcllwain’s running lanes as the true freshman signal caller finished with 13 rushes for 41 yards. Miggins and Bell were obviously the two most improved defensive players on Saturday.
-- The secondary was solid. It did break down on one zone coverage bust that allowed a free roaming Hayden Hurst for a long gain. QB Brandon Mcllwain finished the night 15-30, 177 yards, 0 TDs through the air.
-- Defense played fast and intentional
-- Mark Stoops coached his rear-end off. I’m happy for him and his coaching staff. Adjustments were made, mistakes corrected, and attitudes altered.
Kicker Austin MacGinniss found his range by nailing a 30-yard field goal, his first of the season. True freshman punter Grant McKinniss continued to be consistent by averaging 40.8 yards per kick. Coverage teams were sufficient, but did allow a punt return for a touchdown that was nullified due to a block in the back penalty.
[caption id="attachment_207786" align="alignnone" width="2048"]Photo by UK Athletics[/caption]
What does all this mean?
I totally understand that South Carolina is not Alabama, Florida, or Tennessee. But, after the game, I saw a happy group of Wildcats meet and greet appreciative fans on their walk from the stadium to the new training facility. This team responded after being continually beaten down by their own fanbase, on message boards, blogs, talk shows, social media, and so forth. National talking heads had been equally as brutal. A CBS head, name unknown, referred to UK as a junior college following a lackluster performance in the Swamp. College Gameday’s Lee Corse said, and I paraphrase, that Kentucky’s defense may the worst in the history of football. Perspective=reality; regardless of opponent or situation, an SEC win is a SEC win.
-- Yes, Kentucky has surpassed South Carolina in the SEC East. Said it two years ago. Said it last season. Said it again on Saturday. UK has now extended its winning streak to three consecutive victories over the Gamecocks.
-- BBN: hats off, kudos, well-done my friends. Students packed their section and were rowdy throughout. I count folks in seats; I don’t fixate on those that are unoccupied.
2-2 is not the start many wanted or predicted. Truth of the matter is that Southern Miss is a much better football team than South Carolina. Remember the uniform sterilization theory that I constantly preach. 3-1 would have been optimal. But that’s not the case nor can history be altered.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and overplay a win over an average football team with the Tuscaloosa Juggernaut on deck; however, UK should celebrate a much needed and hard-fought triumph. Will Kentucky win another game this season? Yes; especially if it plays like it did vs. Carolina. Will UK lose another game in 2016? Yes. But it doesn’t matter what happened before or who-what is next. Mark Stoops’ team tasted success on Saturday night. It’s perfectly ok to savor the moment. Kentucky is 2-2.
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