Some holiday leftovers.
--Blowout and Bizarre. A couple of buzzwords that perfectly describe the last Friday of the 2017 calendar year for the Big Blue Nation.
First, the blowout. UK’s 29-point victory margin over Louisville at Rupp Arena Friday afternoon was a huge surprise. No one really expected a remarkable performance against the Cardinals by the youthful 16th-ranked Wildcats especially after a recent setback to UCLA in New Orleans. The 90-61 win was Kentucky’s largest margin of victory against U of L since the 1999 game (76-46) won by Tubby Smith’s club against Denny Crum’s Cardinals at Rupp Arena.
And it sure was a little odd to see UK freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sporting a new look after getting his haircut. In fact, I think he looks awesome. Just my opinion.
The rookie from Hamilton, Ontario, was also awesome in coming off the bench to hit a game-high 24 points, including 17 in the second half when UK rallied to a blowout. He also had four assists and grabbed five rebounds.
“Shai was ridiculous,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari of the 6-6 guard.
Calipari is now 15-7 against Louisville in his head coaching career
Going into Sunday night’s game with Georgia, Gilgeous-Alexander -- who was also named MVP of the annual rivalry game by the Bluegrass Sports Commission -- was leading the Wildcats with 50 assists with a 10.8-point average, third-best on the team.
--Second, the bizarre. The 20th annual Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on late Friday afternoon is perhaps the wildest football game that I have ever seen in person. The announced crowd of 48,675 saw the very controversial calls made by the Pac-12 officiating crew led by referee Chris Coyte.
We saw UK sophomore running back Benny Snell Jr. -- SEC’s second-leading rusher -- get ejected from the bowl after a contact with Coyte in the second quarter. I’m sure you saw it on television and subsequent replays, and I’m not going to repeat it here. Ridiculous! Wow!
Even former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, who once took the Wildcats to four bowl trips, including three Music City bowl appearances, tweeted. “If Snell didn’t use foul language, he should not have been ejected,” he said on Twitter. “He also needs to keep his cool and not push the hands of the ref away.”
One former NFL official who was a head linesman also told me the Snell penalty was the worst call of the postseason, adding that he himself wouldn’t even have thrown the flag. He preferred not to have his name mentioned in this column.
After the game, Coyte said Snell didn’t say a bad word during the incident. The referee also attempted to explain or justify the penalty in his other but brief comments to a pool reporter for the bowl, Adam Sparks of Nashville’s The Tennessean, who asked five questions overall.
In the second quarter, we also saw Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson (pictured with coach Mark Stoops) tackled on a late hit on the UK sidelines. But no flags. No personal foul penalty against Northwestern. Ridiculous! Wow!
We also witnessed freshman star linebacker Paddy Fisher of Northwestern -- a second-team All-Big Ten selection who was leading all FBS first-year players with 110 tackles and 62 solo tackles -- get thrown out for targeting. A very, very questionable call. Ridiculous! Wow!
It is really a downright shame that the game officials actually took the national spotlight away from the players and created a social media firestorm throughout the night and afterwards with their "ridiculous" calls. And the national media, including folks like Tim Tebow, agreed, crying foul.
It sure was a wild first half with Northwestern, which just lost its junior QB Clayton Thorson with a knee injury, leading 17-7 at the intermission.
To make the dramatic second-half story short, the Snell-less Wildcats, a decided underdog, somehow managed to bounce back with a chance to win with 37 seconds remaining. A successful two-point conversion would’ve given Kentucky a 25-24 lead. But a Johnson-to-Tavin Richardson pass failed and the other Wildcats from Chicago won.
Personally, I didn’t agree with two-point call by Stoops. However, I understood the pros and cons of this particular episode especially when dealing without Snell’s valuable rushing yardage. Just call me a football conservative, I guess.
As a sportswriter, I’ve now have covered six bowl games involving Kentucky in person and this 2017 Music City Bowl oddly ranks as the most memorable one (among the six bowl appearances) for the wrong reason. And it certainly ranks as one of the most bizarre postseason games of all-time.
--Stephen Johnson finished No. 9 in school history with 4,342 passing yards despite playing only two years at Kentucky. A fighter with a big heart, Johnson will be missed by the Big Blue Nation.
--Benny Snell Jr. now has 2,424 rushing yards in his UK career, which is good for No. 8 in school history. He will return as a junior next season.
--Somewhat overlooked at Music City Bowl are UK senior kicker Austin MacGinnis, who made his only field goal of the game, a critical 48-yarder in the fourth quarter, and UK sophomore wide receiver Tavin Richardson, who had his best game as Wildcat, setting career highs with five receptions for 89 yards.
--Defensive standouts - junior Darius West and senior Courtney Love - led Kentucky with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
--USA Today recently published a full-page article by Brent Schrotenboer about the financial compensation for bowl game executives. According to the tax forms compiled by the national newspaper, the highest-paid bowl boss is Cotton Bowl's Rick Baker, who earns $1.2 million. Baker, now in his 30th year with the Dallas-based bowl, is considered by some as the dean of bowl executives. Outback Bowl's Jim McVay follows with $993,458. Scott Ramsey of the Music City Bowl gets nearly $500,000. The USA Today story also states that many bowl organizations sponsor many events in promoting tourism throughout the year in local communities.
--Coach Mark Stoops’ brother, former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, was featured in a Page Three column by George Schroeder in the current edition of USA Today Sports Weekly.
The 57-year-old Bob Stoops, after his surprising retirement from coaching last summer, said his life has been strangely good. He also plays golf and he is having a pretty good time in following Oklahoma’s 12-1 club, which is the No. 2 seed in the national College Football Playoff. As the article stated, Stoops is a regular at Sooners’ practices and had handpicked Lincoln Riley, the current head coach, to take his place when he retired.
Stoops has said his retirement is permanent and will not coach again.
His younger brother, Mike Stoops, by the way is still on the Oklahoma staff as the defensive coordinator.
--In the College Football Playoff, my rooting choices for the national title game are Georgia (which faces Oklahoma in Rose Bowl) and Alabama (which meets Clemson in Allstate Sugar Bowl). Two SEC teams in the championship contest on Monday, Jan. 8 in Atlanta? That would be awesome if you are a SEC fan.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught