Kentucky opened its season last Saturday with a 40-33 win over Louisiana-Lafayette that was at once not as close as the score would indicate, and perhaps even closer. For the first 42 minutes of the game and the last three, UK dominated, rolling up a 40-10 advantage.
Of course, that means that the remaining 15 minutes were owned by La-Laf by a 23-0 count. It was a strange game, but a semi-unsatisfying victory is much more welcome than a defeat as Mark Stoops’s squad harbors bowl aspirations in his third year overseeing the turnaround of UK football.
The next three weeks likely will tell the tale of the season. UK is a touchdown underdog on Saturday at South Carolina. They will then host Florida and Missouri. UK will likely be an underdog in all three games, but by small margins. A 1-2 mark in the three games would put UK on pace to win six games and return to a bowl. A 2-1 mark would leave the ‘Cats ahead of schedule and could mean a seven or eight win season. Of course, an 0-3 mark would render a winning season unlikely if not impossible. And a 3-0 mark would vault UK into the top 25 and a level of national prominence not seen since 2007, if not before.
But before we look ahead, let’s take a quick look back at Week 1.
“Boom” Williams broke an unforgettable 75 yard run on the first play of the season and totaled 135 yards on 10 carries. It was a great effort for the guy who puts the shimmy in the UK running game.
Garrett Johnson stepped up at receiver, with five catches for 85 yards and a score. UK’s receiver corps was solid all-around, but Johnson was perhaps most notable.
Josh Forrest and Matt Elam were two defenders who played well. Forrest had 15 tackles, including a sack, broke up three passes, and intercepted a Hail Mary pass to end the game. Elam set a career-high with six tackles, and looked much more like an SEC player than he did last year.
Patrick Towles wasn’t horrible (257 yards passing and 3 TDs), but he was wildly inconsistent. Towles began the game by overthrowing open receivers, and developed issues late in the game with underthrowing passes, including an interception which keyed Lafayette’s comeback. As Towles goes, so goes UK. He needs to go more consistently if the season will be a successful one.
Defensively, the front seven had some serious struggles in the run game. UL-L was averaging around three yards per carry when UK stretched the lead to 33-10. From there, the Raging Cajuns rushed 19 times for 158 yards. That type of run defense won’t cut it in the SEC.
The student section could’ve gotten a game ball, because the area was full and rocking early in the game. But it had half emptied by halftime, and when UL-L mounted its comeback, there were only a handful of students left. Showing up is good. Staying for the whole game and supporting your team is better. WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
Shane Shackleford ran down the SEC in his column earlier this week. Now, time to rank them.
1. Alabama (1-0) That game should take a little bit of pride out of the Big Ten balloon. 2. Georgia (1-0) Still my upset pick to win the league. They’re fast, strong, and deep. 3. Auburn (1-0) Auburn looked talented, but a bit error prone. 4. Texas A&M (1-0) A tough defense tacked onto that offense could make things interesting in the West. 5. Ole Miss (1-0) Hard to tell much about a team that beats UT-Martin by 73, but they’re pretty good. 6. Arkansas (1-0) See #4, but substitute “a passing game” for “a tough defense”. It’s good to be in the East this year. Sheesh. 7. LSU (0-0) They didn’t play. So who knows? 8. Tennessee (1-0) Showed some defensive weakness, but they run the ball really well. 9. Missouri (1-0) Don’t know much about them yet. 10. Mississippi State (1-0) Not particularly impressive, and I still think UK could beat them in Starkville. 11. Florida (1-0) A good game against an awful team. See #5 above, but not as good. 12. South Carolina (1-0) Didn’t impress in game one. 13. Kentucky (1-0) Ultimately, neither did they. 14. Vanderbilt (0-1) There’s a big gap between 13 and 14.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
Kentucky invades South Carolina on Saturday night for a game with huge implications for both schools. This is not your Dad’s Steve Spurrier team. They don’t do much offensively, and had so much trouble throwing the ball that their best offense in the opener was the Wildcat.
The defense wasn’t that much better. The Gamecocks played tough in the red zone, forcing an immature UNC QB to throw the ball up for grabs and then making picks. LB Skai Moore was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week, but the Gamecocks allowed 6.3 yards per carry.
WR Pharoah Cooper sees time in the Wildcat, because he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball. The problem is that QBs Connor Mitch and Perry Orth had trouble getting the ball to him, or to anybody else. USC managed 5.3 yards per play and allowed 6.9-- which is why their three INTs were huge.
Kentucky can win this game. Towles needs to be much more consistent and whichever running back gets carries (Williams, Horton, or 2014 USC nemesis Jojo Kemp) can have a big day. But winning on the road in the SEC is about avoiding mistakes. You can’t do things like blow 23 point leads. The guess here is that UK will play well, but in the end, will make one too many errors for this to be their break through game.
South Carolina 28, UK 24 MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
It wasn’t a bad week for the old man in the prediction world. Thanks to LSU not playing, I took a 12-1 opener. I didn’t have A&M over Arizona State.
The games get a little tougher in Week 2, but here goes nothing…
Week 2 Predictions:
Auburn 52, Jacksonville State 7 Georgia 42, Vanderbilt 7 Ole Miss 41, Fresno State 20 Alabama 52, MTSU 7 Arkansas 49, Toledo 10 Oklahoma 28, Tennessee 27 Missouri 35, Arkansas State 14 Florida 38, East Carolina 17 Texas A&M 42, Ball State 6 South Carolina 28, UK 24 LSU 31, Mississippi State 20
Joe Cox is contributing editor for Kysportsstyle360.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, with the newest, The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List (with Ryan Clark) due on November 1, 2015. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com