SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Cats Survive at Mizzou to Set Up SEC Showdown Against Dawgs
Confessional time from my computer to your device of choice: I hate Halloween.
All of my life, my least favorite holiday on the calendar is Halloween. There are many reasons for this. Costumes? Never liked them. Being scared? Nope, not even today. Candy? Well, I do like candy, but being a diabetic now, candy isn’t my strong suit. But I digress.
With that being vented from my soul, maybe it was appropriate that the Kentucky Wildcats, my beloved Wildcats, would have their worst offensive performance of the season just days from All Hallows Eve.
For nearly all of the contest, the Cats were in their own haunted forest in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday afternoon, haunted by a stout Mizzou run defense, penalties, and questionable decision-making that nearly made the Tigers the proverbial Jason to the Wildcats Camp Crystal Lake teenagers in a Friday the 13th type loss, dashing the Wildcats' hope of forcing a SEC East title game in Lexington next Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs.
But, just as it seemed all hope was lost and the Tigers would vanquish the Cats, Kentucky would make the necessary plays at the most critical times and defeat Mizzou 15-14.
Trick or treat, indeed.
There’s a lot to digest, like a bag of candy, so let’s assess the Cat performance, shall we?
OFFENSE (D): The Cat offense was like watching a horror flick for most of the game. Bad decision after bad decision, like opening the door to the monster again and again. First, give Mizzou credit. Kentucky came into the game the top rushing offense in the SEC led by Benny Snell Jr. and the Tigers loaded the box and line of scrimmage and basically took the run away, allowing the Cats only 91 yards on 35 carries. Snell was held to 67 yards on 19 attempts.
Next, the Tigers forced UK to throw the ball. This was a good thing for QB Terry Wilson, who definitely needed a good game with his arm as well as his legs. Other than being pulled for three series in the second half and a play in the first half (more on that later), Wilson had a pretty good game passing, going 22-31 for 267 yards. Most importantly, Wilson led the Cats on a eight-play, 91-yard march to win the game.
Now, here is my opinion about the Wildcat offense. First, Terry Wilson is absolutely, positively, the best QB on the Kentucky roster. Nothing against the other signal callers Gunnar Hoak and Danny Clark, but Wilson gives the Cats the best chance to win. It’s hard to explain offensive coordinator Eddie Gran’s logic of pulling Wilson. At the time he left the game, Wilson wasn’t the issue with Kentucky. Dropped passes and penalties were killing the offense. While we are discussing Gran, some of the play calling left a lot to be desired. The Cats were 0-3 on fourth down and ran the same play on all three attempts. Just didn’t make sense.
But with that being said, with the game on the line, Gran and the offense put it together to score the game winning touchdown with time running out, so what do I know?
Individually, there were a couple of bright spots on offense. Receiver Lynn Bowden had his breakout game, hauling in 13 passes for 166 yards as well as a 67-yard punt return for a TD that seemed to knock the cobwebs off of the Cat offense. It was also good to see CJ Conrad (pictured) catch the game winner. The senior TE is everything college football should be. The kid has always done things the right way and to see him make that play was awesome.
DEFENSE (A): This Wildcat defense is the best I’ve seen in my lifetime (my cousin John Henson would argue 1977, but I was just four.) While the offense was trying to find any semblance of order or success, the defense held the fort. All the talk leading up to the game was what would the Cats do to slow down the Missouri offense led by star QB Drew Lock. The Cats answered the bell, holding Lock to 15 of 27 passing for 165 yards and no TD’s. Other than a couple of rushing scores, the Cats defense held Missouri to 249 yards of offense for the day.
Individually, what more can be said about LB Josh Allen? Folks, we are witnessing greatness out of him. Once again, Allen put together an outstanding line, producing 11 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for losses, and two forced fumbles on Lock. Wow.
But there was also some great performances from Allen’s teammates on defense. LB Jordan Jones had 10 tackles and DB Darius West had eight stops. And kudos to LB Kash Daniel. With his hand completely immobilized, he played every defensive snap. That’s toughness, my friend.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B): Even though the Cats had a couple of miscues in the punting/punt return game, it’s hard to give low marks to this unit. When the team needed a play, Bowden took a punt back for a score. When the field needed to be flipped, punter Max Duffy did it. That’s performance when it counts.
I was also glad to see kicker Chance Poore finally play. I realize what coach Mark Stoops was trying to do to save Poore’s redshirt. But Stoops knows UK is playing for something once in a generation special, so he has to be all in. The Cats will need their kicking game to be sound, so it makes total sense to play the freshman kicker now.
Alright BBN, here it is. Winner take-all for the SEC East next Saturday against UGA in the Big Supermarket. I’ll be honest, I’ve been waiting since I could understand football for this game. I know you are, too. So I’ll save my spill and simply sign off with GO BIG BLUE!
Shane Shackleford is a regional sportswriter in Speedwell, Tenn. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, his website Coach Shack’s Corner at www.coachshack50/wixsite.com/coachshackscorner, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1
UK Athletics Photo of Conrad by Elliott Hess.