The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: S.C. Edition

In this edition of "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," we break down the Cats' thrilling 45-38 victory over South Carolina on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium, including a career-high tackles game for Josh Forrest (above).

THE GOOD

Finding A Way: This was the type of game Kentucky fans have witnessed countless times in the past… with the exception of the end result. That made it even more rewarding. One can make a strong case that it was a game the Cats should not have won, given that they fell behind 14-0 early and 38-24 late, but this particular team has shown surprising resiliency, especially when you consider how many young players are in the mix on both sides of the ball. Things could have gone very bad on a number of occasions, and the old familiar “It’s almost Big Blue Madness” may have started to creep back into the collective fan psyche, but the Cats did not allow that to happen. Afterward, UK head coach Mark Stoops credited the team’s character for finding a way to win.

The WildKemp: Most Kentucky fans love to see Patrick Towles chuck the ball around and spearhead the “Air Raid” attack, but the Cats may be onto something with his ‘Wildcat’ formation featuring JoJo Kemp taking the direct snap. It produced all five UK touchdowns – three by Kemp, one by Braylon Heard and one on a special throw-back pass from Towles to Ryan Timmons that completely caught the Gamecocks off-guard. The formation is unique because it keeps Towles on the field as the quarterback, something most teams don’t do. That helps keep the defense honest because Towles stays behind center until it’s time to run the play, then shifts to wide receiver. It’s also difficult to defend due to Kemp’s patience in letting holes develop and the fact that UK has two of its better athletes, Timmons and Javess Blue, serving as the “jet sweep” option. They haven’t needed that facet too much yet, but it could be a dangerous threat moving forward. Give UK’s flexible offensive coordinator, Neal Brown, credit for not being handcuffed to one particular style. He’s smart enough and humble enough to realize that winning is the best style.

Chrome Helmets: I wasn’t too sure what I’d think of the highly-reflective silver-chrome helmets UK wore Saturday, but they looked great up close on the field and on TV. Traditionalists may grumble a bit, but these new looks are helping the program earn bonus points with recruits. As long as they don’t jump the shark, Oregon-style, and come out looking like blue highlighters someday, it’s all good.

Atmosphere: Longtime fans can attest Saturday night was one of the best crowds in the history of Commonwealth Stadium. Stoops, who is no stranger to being around big games in hyped venues, said the energy was as good as he’s ever seen. High praise from a coach who has spent time at Miami and Florida State. The Big Blue Nation bought in to the “Blackout” theme and came ready to be loud following an afternoon of tailgating and the Keeneland “daily double.” The best moment, with the possible exception of the reaction to Bud Dupree’s game-winning interception, was the reaction to the Cats’ kickoff coverage squad’s dancing to the PA music following Timmons’ go-ahead score in the third quarter. I’ve been watching games at CWS since 1988, and I’ve never seen the UK team interact with the fans in that manner.

By The Numbers:
1 – The Cats recorded their first TD drive to open a second half this season, something the staff had been wanting to see via better focus and execution.

3:1 – UK’s positive turnover margin. Can never be understated. The Cats are now a +6 on the season, one of the top figures in the SEC.

6.6 – Yards per UK rushing attempt, gaining 239 net yards on 36 carries.

9 – Interceptions on the season, tripling last year’s team total through only five games. Safeties A.J. Stamps (3) and Ashely Lowery (2) have been huge playmakers this season.

11 –Times UK has begun a season 4-1 since 1950.

12:56 – UK found a way to win a game in which the opponent controlled the ball for all but 2:04 in the first quarter.


15 – Career-high tackles for junior linebacker Josh Forrest.

THE BAD

Exposed vs. Power Run Game? The Cats had been decent in defending the run this season (7th in the SEC, 3.7 yards per attempt), so it may be too early to suggest that, but the defense was gashed early and often by South Carolina’s power scheme. A lot of credit has to go to the Gamecocks’ staff for a terrific gameplan which utilized many two-tight sets and, as former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard aptly described it, forced UK to play “in a phonebooth.” South Carolina finished with 282 net rushing yards and averaged 5.9 yards per attempt, staggering numbers for which every offensive coordinator moving forward will take note. The UK staff now must prepare to counter because South Carolina entered that game 12th in the SEC in rushing offensive. Still remaining on the schedule: LSU (6th), Mississippi State (3rd) and Georgia (2nd) with all-world running back Todd Gurley.


THE UGLY

SEC Officiating: Here we are once again. The latest inexplicable call to go against the Cats was South Carolina’s botched snap in the first quarter that went over Dylan Thompson’s head and eluded the quarterback around his own 10-yard line. UK’s Bud Dupree dove into the fray and came away with the ball as it was laying free against Thompson’s leg, but the SEC replay official ruled that the Gamecocks had retained possession. The footage on the SEC Network broadcast (as well as video from other media outlets at field level) clearly showed that Thompson never possessed the ball. Instead of the Cats having the ball in the red zone with a chance to tie the game at 7, they fell behind 14-0 a few plays later.


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