JOE COX: Show Up for the Seniors!
On Saturday, Kentucky (7-3) will take the turf at Kroger Field as a 16-point favorite over Middle Tennessee State on UK’s Senior Day as the Wildcats look to win their eight regular season game for the first time since 1984.
Yes, Kentucky’s 24-7 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville let some of the air out of the balloon of the Wildcats’ excellent season. Yes, the previous week’s 34-17 loss to Georgia knocked UK out of winning the SEC East title.
But the group of players who have carried Kentucky from SEC cellar dweller to SEC contender will celebrate an outstanding senior class Saturday. It will be the final UK home game for Mike Edwards, Jordan Jones, Josh Allen, and probably Benny Snell, among others.
Given how much Kentucky has improved, how this group has been integral in three consecutive seasons that will end in a bowl game, in a top 25 squad, and in a team that has already done a fair amount of “first UK team since such and such” type events, Kroger Field should be filled by a capacity crowd full of appreciation and excitement for the Wildcats.
It won’t be. Yes, ticket prices are high. Yes, the weather will likely not be ideal. But UK football is part of today’s “What have you done by lately” culture. And “lately” can loosely be defined as five minutes ago.
Kentucky lost two games in the last two weeks—one of which, it was highly unlikely to ever win. It shouldn’t cast a pall over a celebration of a remarkable group of players. But it probably will.
The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State have a 7-3 record themselves and are a relatively formidable foe from Conference USA. MTSU relies mostly on a high-powered passing attack led by QB Brent Stockstill, the son of head coach Rick Stockstill. The younger Stockstill has completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,298 yards and 21 touchdowns against only five interceptions.
Receiver Ty Lee leads the squad with 51 catches for 621 yards and five touchdowns. That said, MTSU distributes the ball well—with five receivers having 22 or more catches on the season. On the ground, the Blue Raiders average just 3.8 yards per carry.
MTSU has played two SEC teams this year, losing 35-7 to Vandy and 49-7 to Georgia.
Checking in with UK
Kentucky struggled through its worst game of the season in a 24-7 loss in Knoxville. The Wildcats were shutout until late in the third quarter, with the offense consistently bogging down on UT’s side of midfield. The defense was hit and miss, with the biggest miss coming on a 38-yard scoring pass on the final play of the first half.
Kentucky’s offensive mojo has been long gone. Not since September have the Wildcats topped seven points in the first half. Benny Snell’s big ground gains have been missing in action over the past month.
But it’s Senior Day, and the Wildcats’ competition got much easier.
Last time MTSU played at what is now Kroger Field (2008), UK held on to win by a yard when a desperation pass was complete for the Blue Raiders, but UK’s last line of defense, safety Robbie McAtee, made a tackle just ahead of the goal line. It shouldn’t be that close on Saturday. The bigger x-factor may be how sparse the crowd is and what effect, if any, it has on Kentucky’s team spirit… or the willingness of coach Mark Stoops to shut out interest in the job offers which will likely come his way between this home game and Kentucky’s first home game of 2019.
But we get ahead of ourselves.
UK 24, MTSU 10
Other SEC predictions:
Alabama 52, Citadel 0
Florida 49, Idaho 7
Mississippi State 38, Arkansas 10
Missouri 41, Tennessee 27
Auburn 41, Liberty 20
Georgia 49, UMass 3
Texas A&M 31, UAB 14
LSU 55, Rice 6
South Carolina 45, Chattanooga 7
Ole Miss 34, Vanderbilt 31
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written seven books, with the eighth to come in 2019. His most recent, "The Immaculate Inning," was released in February 2018 and can be ordered 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 email@example.com.