JOE COX: Kentucky Could Be Heading For A Memorable Campaign; Faces EKU On Saturday Night
After Kentucky’s 21-13 win over Missouri last Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, you might have to forgive the optimists out there.
With FCS foe Eastern Kentucky coming up next on the schedule, UK is likely to head into its bye week with a 4-1 mark and a 2-1 conference record. Not only do six wins look almost certain, but the UK true believers can look at the schedule and see seven wins, eight wins, perhaps even nine. Those dreams aren’t looking so crazy these days.
But it will be pivotal for UK to take matters one step at a time. UK is 3-1, but could relatively easily be 0-4. The line between success and failure in the SEC is razor-thin—and while that means fans shouldn’t freak out over losses, it also means that the wins aren’t guarantees of any further success.
That said, EKU should give UK the margin to step off the gas a bit. A few linemen are dinged up, and all-world RB Boom Williams is missing practice due to some unspecified personal problem. UK needs to get out early, beat the Colonels, and get the young players some extra snaps.
More below on the week to come, but first, last week’s review.
Patrick Towles seemed as unconcerned as Taylor Swift with the haters and their propensity to hate, hate, hate, hate. (Sorry) Towles was 22-for-27 passing for 249 yards and two scores, and he scrambled for UK’s other touchdown. More important than the numbers, Towles looked like the leader of the UK offense. He was steady and made his receivers chances to make plays—and they did. Speaking of which…
Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker played to their capabilities. Johnson totaled six grabs for 119 yards and had another 50-plus yard play wiped off by penalty. Baker’s slow-burner one-arm sideline grab is a play of the year candidate and helped set up UK’s game-clinching score. The Kentucky offense played huge on Saturday, and the playmakers had much to say about that.
Defensive tackle C.J. Johnson finally became famous for something other than talking about pooping at SEC Media Days. Johnson had eleven tackles, and led a sticky UK front seven which halted the Mizzou running attack. Now, if only the DBs can catch a ball or two, the Wildcat defense will be a force to be reckoned with.
Boom Williams is an incredibly talented young man. But he had a relatively poor game and allegedly was sulking on the sideline after he was supplanted by Jojo Kemp down the stretch of the game. Now, he’s out of practice with personal problems, which hopefully have nothing to do with his role on the team. I know Williams is a kid, but it is a team sport, after all. Here’s hoping Boom gets back on the practice field and gets his head in the game, because when he’s right, there’s nobody better.
I try to avoid criticizing the various officiating crews, but Saturday’s group were not the league’s best. UK did benefit from a fairly questionable pass interference penalty on Missouri which kept alive a drive leading to a UK lead. But there were some real head-scratches Saturday, both in terms of calls made and those that went unmade.
For the second straight week, UK’s secondary had several chances to make interceptions, but couldn’t come away with the relevant passes. J.D. Harmon did nab one against Florida and Chris Westry is playing beyond his age, but the other defensive backs have to capitalize on opportunities. UK was two dropped picks away from a 7-5 mark last regular season. It would be terrible to be two dropped picks away from an SEC title this year.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
Well, much of this was fairly predictable. But here’s the standings.
1. Ole Miss (4-0) Ugly win, and better focus will be required from here in. 2. Georgia (4-0) Didn’t learn anything about them, but will learn this Saturday vs. Bama. 3. LSU (3-0) Can anybody even slow down Fournette? 4. Texas A&M (4-0) They just keep winning, and for that reason, I jumped them over ‘Bama. 5. Alabama (3-1) Hard team to figure out so far. Could make waves Saturday. 6. Florida (4-0) As I said last week, I don’t think they’re really this good, but there’s a big gap between No. 5 and No. 6, whoever it is. 7. Mississippi State (3-1) Still a good match-up for UK later this month. 8. Kentucky (3-1) I said they could jump four spots with a solid win, and they jumped three. 9. Tennessee (2-2) Starting to look cursed. Could really lose this season on Saturday vs. Arkansas. 10. Missouri (3-1) Very vanilla, now without their senior QB. 11. Auburn (2-2) Really, really struggling. 12. Arkansas (1-3) Really, really, REALLY struggling. Could right the ship vs. UT. 13. South Carolina (2-2) Just not very good this year, although they could jump by beating Mizzou. 14. Vandy (1-3) Played better than expected, but could have a really bad loss vs. MTSU this weekend.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
EKU is 2-1 this year, and a couple of EKU players and a couple of UK players were involved in two apparently related brawls back last winter. EKU also tragically lost a player in a car accident last weekend, defensive lineman Joey Kraemer.
UK is 3-0 all-time vs. EKU, but Eastern is No. 17 in FCS and has recently played competitive games against Indiana, Louisville, and Kansas State. It’s not impossible for them to make it a competitive game.
EKU has struggled to run the ball, gaining just 3.3 yards per carry so far in 2015, largely because running back (and former Wildcat) Dy’Shawn Mobley has been banged up. Mobley is listed second on the EKU depth chart, so his status for Saturday is unclear.
Defensively, the Colonels are plus 4 on turnovers for the season and has seven QB sacks in three games, led by linebacker Noah Spence, who has three. EKU has returned two interceptions for TDs in the early going.
EKU is better than most fans will think of FCS foes as being. UK may be a little unfocused, and might let the Colonels hang around for awhile. But in the end, I think UK will be fine.
UK 38, EKU 7 MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
Off of a brutal week three, I rebounded with a solid 8-1 mark in week 4. That’s 35-8 overall. Only Auburn losing to Mississippi State kept me from a perfect week. My Week Five predictions go like this:
Ole Miss 27, Florida 17 Tennessee 31, Arkansas 24 Texas A&M 35, Mississippi State, 27 Missouri 17, South Carolina 14 Georgia 38, Alabama 31 Auburn 35, San Jose St. 14 LSU 45, Eastern Michigan 6 MTSU 24, Vanderbilt 21 Kentucky 38, EKU 7
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.