JOE COX: Looking Ahead After "Flat" UK's Ugly Win Over Eastern Kentucky
“Glory days/They’ll pass you by/Glory days/In the wink of a young girl’s eye/Glory days” — Bruce Springsteen
As a long-time advocate of the philosophical position that I have learned most of the useful knowledge in my life from the songs of Bruce Springsteen, Saturday night looked alarmingly like the glory days of UK’s 2015 season passing the team, the fans, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky by. In slightly longer than the wink of a young girl’s eye, the EKU Colonels held a 27-13 lead with 7:39 to play.
For all that Mark Stoops have accomplished on the recruiting trail and in changing the culture of UK football, he and his team stood at the precipice of watching it all slip away, of becoming arguably the 4th best football program in the state, and of squandering good work toward the first bowl bid since 2010.
But for everything UK had done wrong in the first 52:21 of Saturday’s game, the remaining portion showed everything they did right. Patrick Towles consistently kept making positive plays, working the ball to super-sized receivers Dorion Baker and Blake Bone, and the opportunistic defense put the finishing touches on a 34-27 win that felt more like relief than inspiration.
At the end of the day, there is no statistical column for “pretty win.” There is only “win” and “loss,” and on a night when so much went so wrong, Kentucky kept the progression moving toward its own glory days. Barely.
C.J. Johnson earned his second upside in a row. His 19 tackles are the most by a UK defensive lineman since at least 1985, and on a night when so many guys were a step slow or a touch disinterested, Johnson left it all on the field. I wish I could say anybody expected C.J. to make 30 tackles in two games. I certainly didn’t, but UK wouldn’t have won either of the last two games without him.
Speaking of which, whether you like or you don’t, Patrick Towles personally willed the offense into winning the EKU game. Yes, he threw two sloppy interceptions early in the game (although one should be discredited to Dorian Baker as much as Towles), but his effort on the last three UK possessions was as close to perfect as you’ll see. Patty Ice isn’t always pretty, but he’s the best thing UK has.
Dorian Baker has officially become the head man of the receiving corps. His 4th down grab in the last minute of regulation to tie the game was season-defining. Let’s hope his focus is as sharp next week for Auburn. DOWNSIDES
The UK offensive line was awful. Towles was sacked five times, UK averaged under two yards per rush. Admittedly, injuries hurt this group and killed any continuity. But they have to be better for UK to win even six games.
The UK front seven defensively, other than C.J. Johnson, missed the chance to make a ton of plays. EKU’s mobile QB Bennie Coney hurt UK often, frequently with plays where a defender put a hand on him but didn’t tackle him, only to see Coney run or throw for a first down. When the Cats have chances to make big plays defensively, they can’t afford to miss.
Mark Stoops and the coaching staff deserve a fair helping of blame for flat not having their team ready to play. I know Stoops and his assistants don’t throw a pass or make a tackle, but a friend on the field told me that this UK team was flat in warm-ups, joking and loafing and generally looking like a group that wasn’t taking the game seriously. With 12 games per year, a no-show (or 7/8ths of a no-show) is inexcusable.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
1. Alabama (4-1) Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. Make Saban an underdog again and see what happens. 2. Texas A&M (5-0) Are they this good? Every team that I think is good isn’t, so probably not. 3. LSU (4-0) They win ugly against bad competition. But they seem good. 4. Florida (5-0) Didn’t see this one coming. 5. Georgia (4-1) Brutal game when they needed one. Can still win the East with relative ease. 6. Ole Miss (4-1) Boatraced by a flu-ridden Florida team. Hmmm. 7. Kentucky (4-1) Almost lost to an FCS school. Maybe the big gap here is between No. 6 and No. 7? 8. Missouri (4-1) Taking care of business, but not very good. 9. Mississippi State (3-2) They’re better than this, but life is tough in the West. 10. Arkansas (2-3) Could have saved their season Saturday. 11. Auburn (3-2) Very upsettable foe for UK next week. 12. Tennessee (2-3) If they come to Lexington 2-5, who knows what happens? 13. South Carolina (2-3) Lose a game then get a home game with LSU pushed to Baton Rouge. Rough. 14. Vandy (2-3) Could beat South Carolina. Or a 5-6 UT team late in the year.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
It’s a bye week for UK. The talk of 8-9 wins looks pretty foolish in the aftermath of the near debacle vs. EKU, but it is still a relatively favorable schedule for UK. Auburn is very beatable on Thursday night. Mississippi State is talented, but not one of the stronger teams in the West. Tennessee is struggling and Georgia has some bipolar tendencies. Auburn is, by default, the NEXT big game, and as long as UK can keep winning a fair share of big games, they’ll stay in the hunt for the East and for a very nice bowl game. How long will that be? Maybe until the end. Maybe until next Thursday. We’ll see.
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
Another tough week for me as I went 5-4, dropping me to 40-12 for the season. Why did I think Ole Miss was good, or that Georgia was too? Another week, another round of follies. Here goes nothing:
Ole Miss 45, New Mexico St. 7 LSU 42, South Carolina 10 Georgia 31, Tennessee 21 Mississippi State 41, Troy 13 Alabama 38, Arkansas 20 Missouri 25, Florida 24
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com magazine. 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