JOE COX: How Good Are the Football Wildcats?
By Joe Cox
Fans of Kentucky football are like thirsty wanderers in a desert. After two 2-10 seasons in which UK spent more time getting thumped like a drum than playing sound football, everybody affiliated with the blue and white was ready for Saturday’s 59-14 tail-kicking of Tennessee-Martin. And we’ve all enjoyed a nice long weekend of watching the highlights, plugging UK’s inflated offensive stats, and started working on our Patrick Towles for Heisman campaign. But do me a favor. Let’s stop now.
I had friends who were forecasting a 12-point or a 14-point UK win before Saturday’s game. I told them then, “If UK ONLY wins by 12 or 14, this is going to be a loooooong season. This is the worst team UK will play this year. By far.” And they were, God bless their FCS hearts. But I heard people Saturday saying things like, “It’s been years since UK just took care of a team like this.” Really? I remember the second game last year, when UK beat Miami 41-7 and racked up the second most yards in a single game in school history. Or the 48-14 win over Alabama State. Of course, those were the ‘Cats’ only wins last year.
But my point is this. Stoops and Company have already shown the ability to beat inferior competition into the ground. The question is, can they take the next step? Can they beat comparable competition? Enter Ohio University this weekend and Vanderbilt two games and three weeks away. Neither is a brilliant team, but neither is UT-Martin, either. Before we start buying bowl tickets in sunny destinations, let’s see UK win a close game, or establish clear dominance over a couple of middle of the pack FBS teams.
OK, so now that I’ve been Debbie Downer, let’s actually talk about week one. There was plenty there to like. Of course, there should’ve been plenty. But where do the ‘Cats stand? What will they see next? Who are we? Where are we?
Patrick Towles played as well as his coaches could’ve hoped. He missed a few passes, and completed a few loping throws that won’t be complete against SEC defenses, but for the most part, he ran a solid huddle, found open receivers, and looked better than any UK quarterback since Mike Hartline. Still plenty to prove, but a good start for Patty Ice.
The playmakers showed up. Braylon Heard’s two carries for 116 yards and two scores are the kind of day you’d hope somebody wearing blue would have. Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton looked good out of the backfield, and freshman receivers like Blake Bone, Dorian Baker, and T.V. Williams showed big play capability.
A.J. Stamps had the best game I’ve seen from a UK defensive back in at least a couple of years. Stamps’s one-handed diving interception is exactly the kind of play that UK hasn’t had the personnel to make over the past two years. Even more pleasing to me was his big play ability in run support. It was one game, but A.J. looked like an NFL defensive back. Glad to see him in blue!
There aren’t many, but every punt return seemed to bring a flag. That’s got to be cleaned up. Special teams in general were very mediocre, with McGinnis missing a field goal, and kick coverage being only adequate. That area is key for Kentucky, and it wasn’t sharp in week one.
Frankly, the only other problem is that neither the offensive nor defensive lines dominated the game. Sure, UK won by 45, but the running game was kind of sporadic, and UT-M had way too much success running on the edge past overpursuing UK defenders. Every team UK plays the rest of the way will run the ball better than Tennessee-Martin, so that 3.9 yards per carry that UK allowed on Saturday isn’t very encouraging.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
I admit, I didn’t see every SEC team play. But I did sneak a peak at most of them. After one week, here’s how I see it.
Alabama (1-0): Not an inspiring effort, but they’re the most talented until somebody proves they aren’t.
Georgia (1-0): Glad to help my Dawg friends. I always think that it’s going to be Georgia’s year. This year, I expected them to bomb versus Clemson, and they looked like a national title contender.
Auburn (1-0): Lot of distractions down there, and I don’t think Auburn will stay this high all season, but until they screw it up, here they are.
Texas A&M (1-0): What can I say? Johnny Football was thought to be the secret, but he may have just been a replaceable part. A&M put on an absolute clinic in Week 1. Makes me excited about games like A&M/Bama or A&M/Auburn.
LSU (1-0): LSU looked very pedestrian for about 2 ½ quarters, but then looked like a force to be reckoned with. Which one was the “real” LSU? We’ll see.
Ole Miss (1-0): A slightly underwhelming performance from Ole Miss, and the West is loaded this year, but not a bad result. That said, I thought Ole Miss was my sleeper in the West. Texas A&M looked like they’d eat the Rebels’ lunch right now.
Tennessee (1-0): I hate this. I thought they’d be around #12. But Butch Jones took care of business. Maybe Utah State is that bad, but I suspect (fear?) that UT is that good. Might get to, say, the Outback Bowl this year.
Mississippi State (1-0): I hate that the Bulldogs are only 8th. I really think this is a good MSU team, and that Dak Prescott could make them jump some of these teams above them—say, Ole Miss and LSU, for instance. But a dominating win against a horrible team (see UK’s week one) doesn’t tell us a ton.
South Carolina (0-1): Glad I didn’t do one of these for pre-season, because the Gamecocks and A&M probably would’ve been switched the other way around. SC looked slow on defense and only average on offense. Could be a 6-6, 7-5 type year in Columbia.
Missouri (1-0): The only thing worse than beating a bad team like a drum is beating a bad team less soundly. There are real questions with this Missouri team. The only things they really have going for them are a good QB and a weak division.
Florida (0-0): Probably better than this, but they got rained out, so I have no clue. Should probably be in the 7-9 range.
Kentucky (1-0): I want to believe. I saw some reason to believe. Let’s get two more wins and then I can start moving the ‘Cats up the board and wondering about a bowl game.
Arkansas (0-1): Arkansas really isn’t this bad, but the West is a complete juggernaut and somebody has to lose. The Hogs are dangerous though. If they switched divisions, they’d give South Carolina and UT a run for their money.
Vanderbilt (0-1): Hello, Commodores, my old friends. The difference really was James Franklin. Now have fun going 3-9.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
The fighting Bobcats of Ohio University invade Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. Ohio, from the Mid-American Conference, has played in bowl games for the last five seasons and is ably coached by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats opened the season by beating Kent State 17-14, on a last second field goal from kicker Josiah Yadzani.
The Bobcats were kind of underwhelming in Week 1, running the ball almost twice as much as they passed. The Bobcats gained only 4.0 yards per carry against Kent State and fumbled the ball away four times. That said, OU threw for 262 yards, including both their touchdowns. The OU defense held Kent State to 1.4 yards per carry, but was gashed for 264 yards passing. Receiver Landon Smith is the big-play threat for OU (both OU touchdowns in week one), with quarterback Derrius Vick passing him the rock. The running game was led by tiny 5’7” back Daz’mond Patterson, who had 17 carries for just 61 yards against Kent State.
The OU defense did not force a turnover, although they did have eight tackles for losses, including two QB sacks. OU was solid in special teams, and that run defense is a bit scary, even though they’ll be outsized by the UK line.
I heard an initial line of UK -6 in this game, but I’m now hearing the ‘Cats as a 10 or so point favorite. Despite what you read at the beginning of this post, I do believe. I think the ‘Cats are getting there… just not all the way there yet.
UK 31, Ohio 17.
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS:
Alabama 56, FAU 3
Missouri 24, Toledo 13
Tennessee 42, Arkansas State 14
Miss. St. 41, UAB 3
Florida 41, Eastern Michigan 10
Arkansas 45, Nichols State 0
Ole Miss 34, Vandy 7
South Carolina 31, East Carolina 20
Auburn 49, San Jose State 7
LSU 52, Sam Houston State 3
Texas A&M 63, Lamar 6