The Kentucky Wildcats have reeled off a surprising 5-1 run to begin the season, playing amazingly solid football and looking very much like a bowl team. This weekend leaves me asking the ‘Cats for one more favor.
Get my name out of the record book.
A word of explanation. In three seasons at UK head coach, Joker Phillips never won an SEC game on the road. Not once. Despite a couple of close calls in 2013 and earlier this year at Florida, Mark Stoops is also 0 for the same category. The last SEC quarterback who UK beat in his home stadium? Well, it was between the hedges at Georgia back in 2009. Rich Brooks was the UK coach and the opposing quarterback who lost was... Joe Cox.
Sure, I’m not the ginger-haired former Georgia signal caller. Pretty sure we’re not even related. But I’d like to get my/his name off the rolls as the last SEC QB to lose at home to UK. LSU’s Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris would be a fine replacement.
Before we get there, it’s worth a look back at one of the stranger UK football games of recent vintage. After a first quarter in which UK looked determined to sleepwalk against a mediocre UL-Monroe team and fell behind 14-3, the Wildcats awakened and poured off 45 unanswered points, basically in two quarters of the game. The 48-14 win was particularly impressive for the defense, as one of UL-M’s two scores came on a nine yard drive off of an interception return. UK totaled six sacks of the UL-M quarterbacks, and made their life miserable. The offense was hit and miss, but made enough big plays to more than assure the victory. As a reward, it’s back to the salt mine that is the SEC, this week in Baton Rouge against the Bayou Bengals (Is that Bayoux?)
Two pick-sixes for the Wildcats, as defenders Josh Forrest and Marcus McWilson took back interceptions for defensive touchdowns three and four of the young season. The lack time UK scored two pick-sixes in one game? It was 1986, the UK coach was Jerry Claiborne and I was in first grade. Good times.
I mentioned six QB sacks, but Bud Dupree (who now is tied for second on the career UK sack list) and Cory Johnson were two of the defenders who stood especially tall. Big Matt Elam also played well, making three tackles, and deflecting the pass that Forrest caught for an interception and touchdown. Great game by the big guys, and Saturday will require more of the same.
The last helmet sticker goes to the kid they call “Boom”—Stanley Williams. He wasn’t shooting air guns on Saturday night, but UL-M probably wished he had been. Boom broke a long run for 58 yards and a score and reached 104 yards on only seven carries. He added a 75 yard kick return just for fun.
The Wildcat formation turned Mildcat in this one. Jojo Kemp attempted a pass out of the formation, which looked like Garo Yepremian in Super Bowl VII (look it up if you don’t know the reference) and nearly cost the ‘Cats a touchdown. The Wildcat did little damage, and when it did, penalties derailed it.
No catches for UK’s tight ends, who have totaled three receptions in half a season. I don’t look for that to increase much, which is a shame. A big tough Jacob Tamme type down the seam would be a huge benefit for Towles.
It’s not really a downside, but I’m sorry for anybody who missed the catch Javess Blue made for a score early in the 3rd quarter. The defender blanketed him so well that Blue could only reach up with one arm, and pin the ball into his body and complete the rolling catch in the end zone. That was easily one of the best catches in UK history, and if you missed it, THAT was a downside!
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
What a week!
1. Mississippi State (6-0) You all remember how I used to say that I like Dak Prescott? If the season ended today, he’d get my vote for Heisman Trophy.
2. Ole Miss (6-0) Might be in their state rival’s shadow just a bit, but they shouldn’t be. I think the Rebels are probably the better team, but there’s plenty of football left to play.
3. Auburn (5-1) They’ll get another chance. The Iron Bowl is looking like the elimination game for the Final Four of football.
4. Alabama (5-1) Terrible game by the Tide, and I’d drop them if I had faith in anybody else. Surely Nick Saban will get things fixed quickly.
5. Georgia (5-1) The Dawgs looked legitimate. If they did so all the time, they’d be 3rd or 4th instead of 5th.
6. Texas A&M (5-2) Mississippi State and Ole Miss are going to beat plenty of people. No need to feel bad, Aggies.
7. LSU (5-2) They still have no QB. Will they wish they did Saturday night? Hopefully.
8. Kentucky (5-1) The ‘Cats can earn some big respect on Saturday… or leave us all wondering when the sixth win will come. Big game!
9. Missouri (4-2) Sometimes impressive, always bipolar.
10. Arkansas (3-3) Just like I said last time-- a good team with a brutal schedule.
11. South Carolina (3-3) Furman should make them feel better Saturday
12. Tennessee (3-3) Looks an awful lot like a 5-7 team.
13. Florida (3-2) Dead coach walking.
14. Vanderbilt (2-5)
Let’s make a deal. I’m not going to explain it. Vandy has beaten UMass and Charleston Southern at home by a combined four points and is otherwise 0-for-the-season. Until they improve enough to climb out of 14th place (which I think will be a couple of years and a coaching change away), I’m just going to list them there and move on.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
LSU is not a very hospitable spot to take a football team. But then, while the Tigers are rarely pass-happy, they’ve pretty much always had better quarterbacks than right now. Sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris alternate, although both sometimes look like they were introduced to their receivers five minutes before kickoff. Travin Dural is LSU’s big play wideout, averaging over 26 yards per catch.
In the backfield, freshman tailback Leonard Fournette is a bad, bad man. He’s the best running back in the SEC not named Todd Gurley, and is capable of winning the game all by himself. Kentucky has to stop that. Fournette has 504 yards and six scores on the ground, and backup Kenny Hilliard would lead UK in rushing, as he has 324 yards and six more scores himself.
LSU has had some defensive struggles. The Tigers have just 11 QB sacks in seven games, with no defender having more than two for the year. LSU picks off the occasional pass, with 8 total on the season. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, with 46 tackles in six games, is one of the defensive standouts. This said, LSU averages 4.4 yards per carry on offense, but allows 4.7 per carry on defense.
Kicker Colby Delahoussaye nailed a 50-yard kick to beat Florida, and is solid and accurate. Fournette makes life worse by returning kicks in his spare time.
This LSU team is prone to struggle and underachieve. This was a game that I had circled before the season as a near-certain loss. With UK about a 9 ½ point underdog at the time of writing, that isn’t the case anymore. While Fournette and Harris are talented, they’re both greener than the grass of Tiger Stadium, which could hurt LSU.
I’d love to see Kentucky get the sixth win here. If they can do so, the ‘Cats truly are right in the thick of the SEC race. I think they’ll give LSU a good game, but I don’t think this week will be the one. I’d love to be wrong. Saturday night crow is a fine dish and I hope I have a big helping. That said…
LSU 28, UK 24
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
Last week, I went 7-1, misfiring only with Auburn over Mississippi State. I did have LSU edging out Florida and UK 42-17 over UL-M. Not bad. That’s 44-7 for the year. Let’s take another crack at forecasting.
Week 8 Predictions:
South Carolina 45, Furman 10
Alabama 38, Texas A&M 30
Georgia 42, Arkansas 35
Missouri 28, Florida 27
Ole Miss 42, Tennessee 20
LSU 28, UK 24