JOE COX: Big Blue Nation Still Not Too Happy Even With UK's 4-1 Mark
Like the Kentucky Wildcats, I almost got run over by Brogan Roback on Saturday. Late in the fourth quarter, the Eastern Michigan QB, who had frustrated Kentucky throughout the game, watched the pocket break down and took off for a short run to keep EMU driving. And he ran right at me, standing just behind the sideline, watching the play develop.
I’ve reviewed the tape, and my backward scramble out of harm’s way is hardly the stuff of legend. But Roback didn’t run me down, and I lived to fight another day. Kind of like Kentucky football.
Saturday night at Kroger Field, with the end coming a few minutes after I avoided getting trucked, the Wildcats similarly dodged disaster from a pesky Eastern Michigan squad, 24-20, to move to 4-1 on the season. For a program as intimately connected with heartbreak as UK football, the ugliness of the game can become a distant memory. The part that mattered was the win. (Well, and for me, that I didn’t get crushed on the sideline).
By moving to 4-1, Kentucky is in excellent position to win on Saturday and reach 5-1 at midseason, ahead of the annual bye week. In an SEC where aside from the top three teams, there is a massive amount of parity, each win keeps alive Kentucky’s hopes of climbing from seven wins last season to eight or even nine this season.
Offensively, Kentucky continued to struggle to forge an identity. The longest run play of the game was Benny Snell’s 12 yard touchdown run after a Josh Pascal blocked punt. Kentucky averaged just 1.4 yards per carry, which was only marginally better after the five sacks allowed on Stephen Johnson are taken away. Johnson was 18 for 27 for 175 yards and two scores, but even his solid play was limited by a porous offensive line that simply allowed Johnson to take way too much punishment.
Defensively, Kentucky stopped the run remarkably well, allowing 27 carries for 13 yards—excellent numbers even when UK’s own five total sacks are taken out of the equation. In the passing game, Kentucky picked off EMU passer Brogan Roback twice, but did allow the Eagles to roll up 299 passing yards, including a gimmick 43 yard touchdown pass on a trick play from Jaron Johnson. Those types of plays have haunted the UK defense this season.
Austin MacGinnis missed two 53-yard field goal tries, which seemed a bit much in terms of placing a needless risk on one of Kentucky’s best players. The Pascal punt block helped UK open up a 24-14 lead, after which the Wildcats held on for dear life. On the game’s final play, Mike Edwards intercepted a desperation throw from Roback to end the game.
It's almost inconceivable that after a 4-1 start, Wildcat fans aren’t happy. The woeful play of the Wildcat offensive line (3.4 yards per carry rushing, 14 sacks allowed in five games) has led to many games becoming low-scoring grind-it-out affairs. So far, it’s worked. But will it hold up in Kentucky’s last seven games? If so, the grumbling will gradually subside. If not, well, it could become a rough October and November for the Wildcats.
Kentucky will host Missouri at 7:30 EST Saturday night (SEC Network). We’ll bring you a preview of that game later this week. Meanwhile, stay alert out there, you never know who could be coming your way.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books. His most recent, Almost Perfect (a study of baseball pitchers’ near-miss attempts at perfect games) is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.