As I sit here and wax nostalgic over the Kentucky Wildcats' monumental win over No. 25 Florida 27-16 Saturday night, Sept. 8, in The Swamp, I'm reminded of a quote from “The Office” and its fearless leader Michael Gary Scott. Here goes:
“It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong, and I am that big man.”
You see, I’d love to tell you I picked the Cats to finally end the 31-year losing streak over the Gators, but alas I did not. I thought that something, somewhere, would go awry and my beloved Cats would see that long streak extend to 32 years.
But I was wrong. Bad wrong. And I couldn’t be any happier.
Kentucky survived turnovers, penalties, missed opportunities, and who knows what other kind of voodoo to finally get the program and coach Mark Stoops a signature win over a ranked SEC foe on the road. However, when you break down the game statistically the Wildcats effectively handled Florida in nearly every aspect of the game.
Let’s examine and assess this unforgettable performance, shall we BBN?
OFFENSE (A): First things first. Quarterback Terry Wilson is the guy to lead this offensive unit. If you were one who was using another term beside “Terry Touchdown,” stop. This kid engineered this win. With Wilson at the helm, the Cats rolled up 454 yards of total offense with a whopping 303 yards rushing. Without question there’s a lot of credit to go around for the onslaught. Once again, Benny Snell Jr. proved why he absolutely should be in the conversation as the best running back in the SEC with 175 yards rushing on 27 carries. Further, Wilson used his speed and reads to earn 105 yards on the ground on 10 attempts, scoring a touchdown in the process. Nice.
But any running game worth its salt starts with the offensive line. Hats off to these young men. They blew holes open in the Gators defense all night, none more prevalent than guard Bunchy Stallings' pancake block with the game hanging in the balance to free Snell on a big run that helped set the Cats up to close the deal. Awesome.
The Cats' passing game improved Saturday night as well. For the game, Wilson went 11/16 for 151 yards, 2 TDs and an interception. The sophomore looked more settled in the pocket in his decision making and his throws, especially the two touchdown strikes he delivered to David Bouvier and Lynn Bowden Jr (pictured). Folks, Wilson could be the QB that takes the program to another level. Yes, the possibility of a turnover is possible.
But with any exciting player it is a possibility. I saw a quote on Twitter that went “scared money don’t make money.” Wilson is definitely not scared money when it comes to making a play for his team. And if he’s that good in start No. 2, we in Big Blue Nation are in for a heck of a ride.
DEFENSE (B): The Cats held the Gator offense that scored 53 points against Charleston Southern a week earlier to 16 points. Accomplishment No. 1. UK also held Florida to 128 yards rushing. Accomplishment No. 2. Accomplishment No. 3 and most important is UK did not beat themselves on miscues and crazy plays. Defensive Coordinator Matt House deserves a ton of credit in building up a defense that in recent years has been riddled with blown plays, lost coverages, costly penalties, and any other type of chaos a Wildcat fan can imagine.
Individually, middle linebacker Kash Daniel led the unit with 11 tackles. All-American candidate LB Josh Allen continued his outstanding play with five tackles, a sack, a 1/2 tackle for loss, a pass breakup, and a QB hurry. His sack forced the fumble by Florida’s Feleipe Franks that led to safety Davonte Robinson’s scoop and score on the final play. Great work.
SPECIAL TEAMS (A): Once again, the Cats' special teams came up aces. Kicker Miles Butler was a perfect 3-3 on extra point kicks. Punter Max Duffy did a tremendous job once again flipping the field for the Wildcat defense, averaging nearly 40 yards per boot on four kicks. Most importantly, there were no penalties, no turnovers, and solid coverage all night long. The Cats' special teams were in a word, special.
Alright BBN, exhale. The dreaded streak is over finally. The Cats are 2-0 heading into a matchup next Saturday against in-state foe Murray State. The Racers are a FCS (1-AA for us old folks) program, so Kentucky should have a positive feeling going into the matchup. But be warned. The Racers will come in ready to go and try to knock off a high-riding Wildcat team (think EKU not too long ago...you get the picture.).
But I feel like the Cats will be ready to go and show the nation the team is turning the corner. I believe in what this team is doing: running the football well, defending the run well, and playing great special teams. If UK continues to develop a passing game and Wilson continues his development, the future appears bright in Lexington.
To close, I bet you’re wondering what are the longest consecutive losing streaks in college football history. Well, since you asked…
1. Notre Dame over Navy: 43 games (1964-2006). 2. Nebraska over Kansas: 36 games (1969-2004). 3. Oklahoma over Kansas State: 32 games (1937-68). 4. Florida over Kentucky: 31 games (1986-2017). ...and you can say goodbye to that BBN!
Shane Shackleford is a regional sportswriter residing in Speedwell, Tenn. You can reach him via email @ firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.
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