Just Win, Baby! This is a familiar saying among sports fans, particularly those who follow the Oakland Raiders and their iconic late owner, Al Davis. Winning was the one thing that mattered to him. Didn’t care what the score was or what the game looked like, he just wanted to win.
Maybe Kentucky football is living by this saying after moving to 5-1 on the season with a tough 40-34 win over a very competitive Missouri club Saturday night at Kroger Field. The Tigers (1-4, 0-3 SEC) gashed the Kentucky defense for 568 yards of offense and multiple big plays, but the Cats (5-1, 2-1 SEC) had a big night on offense, too, with 486 yards of their own to escape with the win.
I know what a lot of BBN is thinking: we should have won fairly easily against what most believe to be the worst team in the SEC this year. But when you look at it now, Kentucky was in a prime position to be upset on Homecoming night. I see three things that could have spelled disaster for the Cats.
**The Tigers had two weeks to prepare for UK and boy did they. Many times when the Cats ran a play, Mizzou had a player there waiting. Bye weeks are great for teams to prep for a game. The Tigers did their homework.
**Mizzou had absolutely nothing to lose and they sure played like it. Drew Lock was in Madden 18 mode, launching deep balls all night and connecting for 355 yards and 3 TDs.
**Not to make excuses for UK, but the Cats are banged up. Jordan Jones, Chris Westry, Naquez Pringle, and Charles Walker are hurt among others and the stress of six straight games were starting to show on the team. The bye week this week couldn’t be coming at a better time for UK.
But the Cats survived and won the game. Let’s examine UK’s performance against Missouri, shall we?
OFFENSE: A. The Cats were really good on offense Saturday night, but you already knew that right? Stephen Johnson was excellent again, going 22-36 for 298 yards and 2 TDs. He also rushed for 44 yards on 11 carries. Power back Benny Snell went for 117 yards rushing on 20 carries, highlighted by a 71-yard TD run. Senior WR Garrett “Juice” Johnson had 7 receptions for 111 yards and a TD. The offensive line looked better, only giving up one sack. Freshman Lynn Bowden Jr. was a jack of all trades with 49 yards receiving and 79 yards in kick returns. We’ve been waiting on a big performance from the Cats offense, so 40 points and 486 yards later we got it.
DEFENSE: D. Wow. The Cats did a complete 180-degree turn from their stellar start to the season. Mizzou ran the ball for 213 yards and threw for 355 yards. The Tigers also hit on several big deep throws when the Cats secondary seemingly was completely out of position on the plays. I do think the Cats were nicked up on D, but once again Kentucky seemed to be out of position to make plays and the Tigers took full advantage. I do want to give credit to LB Courtney Love with a career high 10 tackles and LB Josh Allen with his 6.5 sack and second caused fumble of the year. Safety Mike Edwards led the Cats with 11 tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Again, the Cats' special teams were stellar in all phases. Kicker Austin MacGinnis had 16 points to become the all-time leading scorer in UK history with 314 points, passing Lones Seiber (305 points). Punter Matt Panton was steady with the punting chores, and the Cats executed a perfect fake punt in the fourth quarter to keep the final scoring drive alive with a 6-yard run by LB Kash Daniel.
Overall, I think the Cats were great on offense and special teams, and struggled heavily on the back end of their defense. The bye week couldn’t come at a more opportune time for Kentucky as it regroups for its second half schedule. Coach Mark Stoops' speciality is defense, particulary defensive backs, so I expect the mistakes to be addressed and cleaned up over the next two weeks. Plus the injury bug can be addressed and hopefully the little nicks and bruises can be healed up. I believe all this will happen; the second half of the season (and destiny) awaits.
Shane Shackleford is a retired teacher and coach residing in Speedwell, TN. You can contact Shane via e-mail at email@example.com, Facebook @ShaneShackleford, or Twitter at shack_daddy_1.