JOE COX: Analyzing Kentucky's Performance & Predicting Saturday's SEC Games
By Joe Cox
It was late on Saturday night, and after three hours of hard fighting with the Gamecocks, after a Keeneland/Commonwealth daily double, after one of the craziest Saturdays in college football memory, after chrome helmets and a black out, the ball just hung there in the air.
It had help. Fortune does not come easily to Kentucky football. On this night, it was senior defensive tackle Mike Douglas. Douglas, recruited in 2009 by the staff of Rich Brooks, stayed with the play, collapsing the South Carolina passing pocket on quarterback Dylan Thompson on 2nd down in a tie game late in the fourth quarter. He didn’t sack Thompson — no Wildcat did on this night, but he pushed far enough and hard enough that he reached skyward with his left hand and obscured Thompson’s passing lane.
THWACK! Douglas’s hand deflected the ball. Not to an open receiver behind the defense like in the 2002 LSU game. Not to the ground so that Spurrier could have another play and pull off one more miracle, like in the 1993 Florida game. Not like so many times before.
Instead, the ball soared in the crisp, suddenly fall air of the Kentucky night. It rose high, but angled slightly backward too, and suddenly there were only two men on the field who were in the vicinity. Za’Darius Smith, senior defensive end, one of the original Stoops Troops, one of the guys who shows you just by his toned NFL physique that a new sheriff is in town. The other was Bud Dupree, senior linebacker, recruited as a tight end, grown up in the shadows of defeat, somehow 3-23 in SEC games despite a skill set which will leave him as one of UK’s career sack leaders.
Smith was closing and might have a play, but it was Dupree whom the football gods of chance favored on this night. “The ball got big,” he told reporters after the game. “My eyes got big.” Everybody’s eyes got big. Dupree gathered the wobbling pigskin cleanly at the five yard line and completed one of the shortest, sweetest touchdown jaunts in UK history.
Sure, there were two minutes and some seconds to go. But for the team that always gets the bad break, that’s always on the back side of good luck, how could you doubt the outcome once Bud came away with the ball?
Kentucky 45, South Carolina 38.
And just like that, opportunity takes flight. Instead of listening solely to fans wondering how long until basketball starts, you get an even mix of those fans with ones wondering whether it could be the Music City Bowl or even the Outback Bowl. Maybe it could the division championship. Maybe it could. Who knows?
But before we look ahead, let’s look back a little more. Why the heck not?
Jojo Kemp absolutely ripped the heart right out of the South Carolina Gamecocks. I give Neal Brown much of the credit for this, but with Saturday’s game on the line, UK gave the ball to Jojo and mostly tried to stay out of his way. His 4th quarter numbers? 14 carries, 116 yards, 2 touchdowns. THAT is big time.
The UK offensive line just blasted holes in the Gamecock front line all night. Even including a 10-yard loss on a sack, UK averaged 6.6 yards per carry and ran the football at will. Zack West, glad to have you back.
The pass defense was a superb surprise. AJ Stamps had a big pick late in the first half to swing the momentum, and then Dupree makes the big play to take the lead, and Ashley Lowery comes up with another big INT to preserve the win. It was a hit and miss day for the defense, but there were some big hits in there.
Run defense was bad. This became a game of UK’s Wildcat run vs. USC’s zone read play. Neither defense could stop the runs. Kentucky will need to do better than allowing 5.9 yards per carry, or they’ll have to keep picking off passes to have a chance.
Penalties were rough. Some were questionable calls, but giving up twice as many flags for more than twice as many yards isn’t a good thing.
SEC officiating has been poor all year. The botched call on USC’s early fumble was both critical and inexcusable. The best athletes and best coaches are in the Southeastern Conference. Write me if you have any idea why the best officials aren’t.
WHERE ARE WE — SEC POWER RANKINGS
Put them all in a hat and draw them out. It can’t be any weirder than the last games.
1. Auburn (5-0). Ole Miss showed me that ‘Bama isn’t #1, and then Auburn beat the ever-loving crap out of LSU. Back to back SEC titles on the plains?
2. Ole Miss (5-0). Last week I said “I don’t see them beating Alabama, but I wouldn’t think it was the craziest thing I’d heard this year.” It wasn’t, and they did. Can Bo Wallace hold up? Who knows? But at least for one week, Hotty Toddy.
3. Mississippi State (5-0). I had them third, I still have them third. Don’t sleep on the Bulldogs.
4. Alabama (4-1). It’s one game. They’ll be back, and probably better for the experience.
5. Georgia (4-1). They’re the one bright star of the East. But they did lose to South Carolina, so they’re probably not THAT bright.
6. Texas A&M (5-1). They were human after all. If you can slow Kenny Hill, you can beat them. That’s not easy, but it is possible.
7. Missouri (4-1). I don’t think they’re that good, but the East is bad. They could 10-2 or they could go 7-5. Neither would surprise me.
8. LSU (4-2). Some of the worst QB play imaginable, and now the defense is falling apart.
9. Kentucky (4-1). Why not?
10. Arkansas (3-2). A good team with a brutal schedule.
11. Tennessee (2-3). Just not breaking through. This looks like Tennessee has looked for about the last five years. They’re young, they’re talented, but they lose the games they used to win.
12. South Carolina (3-3). Spurrier just looked lost out there. Just lost.Hubris leads to passing. Passing leads to defeat.
13. Florida (3-1). They didn’t lose, but I still think they’re terrible. Their QB play makes LSU look like the Green Bay Packers, and if Will Muschamp doesn’t get two officiating crews missing pivotal delay of game calls, he’s dusting off his resume.
14. Vanderbilt (1-5). Bowl ineligibility beckons.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
UL-Monroe will be looking to take advantage of a football hangover come Saturday. They aren’t particularly good, though. UL-M edged awful Wake Forest (17-10), Idaho (38-31), and Troy (22-20) and lost to LSU (31-0) and Arkansas State (28-14). UL-Monroe isn’t a high scoring offense, but QB Pete Thomas seems to be a capable, if not super exciting passer. He’s completed 57% of his throws for 1159 yards this year, with five scores and only two interceptions. UL-M is bad on the run — averaging just 2.7 yards per carry and netting just four running touchdowns all year (Jojo Kemp had three on his own last week for UK). Receiver Ajalen Holly has four of UL-M’s six passing touchdowns to his credit, so he’s the red zone threat for this squad.
UL-M likes to get after the quarterback defensively, with 19 sacks to the team’s credit so far. Nose tackle Gerrard Johnson leads the team with four sacks and is second on the team in tackles with 36. UL-M has forced nine turnovers, and is +3 on the season in turnover margin.
I do suspect that the ‘Cats will have a bit of a letdown this week, but they’re too big, strong, and fast for the Warhawks. Hopefully, the explosive Kentucky ground game continues to reap big rewards.
UK 42, UL-M 17
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
A 4-2 week wasn’t brilliant, but it was better than many prognosticators. I’m 37-6 for the year. I did have Mississippi State over A&M, and the ‘Cats in their upset. On the downside, I thought UT could score points on Florida, and that ‘Bama would handle Ole Miss. Live and learn. Maybe?
Week 7 Predictions:
Georgia 34, Missouri 21
Kentucky 42, UL-Monroe 17
Auburn 38, Mississipi State 31
Tennessee 42, Chattanooga 7
Alabama 38, Arkansas 24
LSU 17, Florida 16
Vanderbilt 24, Charleston Southern 14
Ole Miss 31, Texas A&M 28