Breaking down "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" from Kentucky's win over Missouri

From Patrick Towles silencing the critics to Kentucky's first win over a ranked opponent in five years and the Wildcats overcoming the first dose of questionable officiating this season, we present "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" from UK's 21-13 win over Missouri on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.


Patty Ice: Patrick Towles scrapped his social media accounts, tuned out criticism from fans and media alike, and followed his worst week as a Wildcat with arguably his best. He's had more yards and touchdowns before, but the combination of 249 yards through the air, two touchdown passes and a TD run in a winning effort against a ranked team makes it his signature moment to date in my eyes. Those concerns about accuracy seemed a distant memory by the time Towles was done with a 22-for-27 night against one of the better defensive units in the SEC. It certainly helped that his receivers were dialed in, too. Like Towles, Dorian Baker bounced back from a week of criticism with a nice five-catch, 55-yard line that included a remarkable one-handed grab on a 25-yard completion and a pretty TD on a short fade pass into the end zone.

Jojo The Closer: UK head coach Mark Stoops did not address why starting running back Stanley "Boom" Williams saw limited action in the second half (it appeared to be related to a breakdown in pass protection that led to a Towles sack) but the Cats didn't miss a beat with Jojo Kemp. The junior back, previously known best for his work in the "Wildcat" formation, finished with 66 yards on 13 carries. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry against a defense that was allowing only 2.6 per attempt this season. Kemp's workload included some nice chunks late in the fourth quarter to help UK put the game on ice. He's become a very reliable, sure-handed runner between the tackles in those situations. It's clear that the staff has a great deal of trust in him.

A New Force on Defense: What a turn of events it has been for Cory "C.J." Johnson, the senior defensive lineman who began the season facing a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules and appeared to be fighting to hold a spot on the two-deep depth chart. Four weeks later, he's one of the biggest playmakers on a vasty-improved Kentucky defense. Johnson was in on the 2-point conversion stuff and fumble at South Carolina that may have saved the game for the Cats. Last week, he was almost unblockable against Florida, finishing with six tackles, a sack and a blocked field goal. So what did he do for an encore? Only lead the Cats with 11 tackles (almost unheard of for a player at his position) and another sack. He's a huge part of the reason why UK is allowing only 16.3 points per game in SEC play. You have to go WAY back to find the last time the Cats allowed under 49 points in their first three league games. The 1993 UK defense allowed only 41 points against Florida, South Carolina and Ole Miss to open SEC play. Prior to that, it was 46 in 1979.

A New Weapon on Offense: Stop the presses. Hallelujah. Sing praises. The Cats finally found C.J. Conrad for their first completion to a tight end all season. Once they got that long-awaited formality out of the way, they started building upon it. His 24-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter gave UK a 14-10 lead and showed us a glimpse of what a major weapon the freshman from Ohio could become moving forward. An athletic 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he's a potential matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. Conrad may develop into UK's first real playmaker at the position since fan favorite Jacob Tamme departed for the NFL after the 2007 season.

Another Freshman Flashing: Sihiem King returned two kickoffs for 77 yards, almost breaking the second one before being tripped up near midfield. The staff has raved about his explosiveness since he arrived on campus, and you get the feeling it won't be too much longer before he takes one to the house.  

The Blue Zone: Kentucky opponents' 13 trips into the "red zone" this season have produced just five touchdowns.

Tip of The Hat To... We occasionally reserve a spot in the "The Good" for an opponent when it's merited. Had Missouri found a way to win this game, the Tigers' MVP may have been punter Aarion Penton, who averaged 40.7 yards and placed five of his six punts inside the Cats' 20-yard line. UK began drives at its own 4, 2 and 7 during the course of the game. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better punting performance all season.


Nitpicking Edition: When the postgame notes from a winning night include a bunch of "first since..." and numerous career highs, it doesn't really feel right trying to fill out "The Bad" section. I'd probably single out penalties as the biggest negative from the night. The Cats aided Mizzou's only TD drive of the night with a late hit on quarterback Maty Mauk as he ran out of bounds and a pass interference call. UK was flagged eight times for 91 yards on the night, which is typically too many to win a close SEC game.

Shaky Punt Return Game: While the kickoff return unit appears to be poised for some excitement later this season, the same can't be said for the punt return gang. Junior Ryan Timmons has the explosiveness to be a difference-maker on special teams, but may be experiencing some confidence issues. He made a fair catch at his own 2-yard line, and later, with the game on the line, muffed a punt at his own 19 with under 3:00 to play. Had Mizzou recovered, the Tigers could have sent the game into overtime.


Worst Officiated UK Game To Date: It wasn't a banner night for the SEC crew that worked Saturday's game. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the league office when that film is graded. They missed a world-class, point-of-attack hold of UK's blitzing Ryan Flannigan on the play in which Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk scrambled for a long gain and picked up an additional 15 yards via the personal foul against the Cats. Also missed on the same play was a shot that one of the Tigers gave to UK's Denzil Ware after the initial infraction. There were three clear violations committed on the play; only one was called. Pass interference was a mess all night long, be it called or not called. Missouri lost a potential TD opportunity on one throw into the end zone, and Kentucky lost an interception returned for a TD by A.J. Stamps on another. On UK's drive for the go-ahead score, the Cats seemed to take advantage of a PI call that came at least 7-8 seconds after the play had ended. Stoops also vehemently protested that a Mizzou player had illegally jumped over the punt protection on a play that should have been flagged late in the game. WAY too many controversial calls, but I suppose UK was due for one of those. It's been smooth sailing, for the most part, until this week. 

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