Longtime Kentucky fans have seen this game unfold on so many occasions over the years that we're not going to touch anything resembling a "moral victory" in this space. This game was no such thing. It was a game the Wildcats should have won, with a great atmosphere at home, against a struggling Auburn team that allowed them to gain nearly 500 yards of total offense.That said, at the end of the day, the Cats are 4-2 at the midpoint of the season. Every UK fan on the planet would have taken that record in a heartbeat if it was suggested in the preseason. The Cats are still in good position to reach a bowl game for the first time in five years. A really attractive bid is not a stretch, although Thursday's outcome should end the SEC East contender talk. UK is not quite ready for that, but is clearly closing the gap. Bottom line: it's a vastly improved football team with lots of room left to get even better.
For all the good things that Mark Stoops & Co. have accomplished since arriving in Lexington three years ago, they still haven't been able to vanquish one nagging UK football tradition: finding ways to lose games that probably should have fallen into the win column. On this night, that came in the form of the puzzling utilization of the Cats' best player, sophomore running back Stanley "Boom" Williams. The dynamic athlete had his hands on the ball four times on UK's first six snaps of the game. The result: 68 yards and a touchdown. That strategy made all the sense in the world. Auburn brought the SEC's worst rushing defense to town and ranked No. 101 nationally in that category at nearly 200 yards per game. But after the first series, Williams was an afterthought for the remainder of the half. He had one carry on UK's next 26 offensive snaps as the Cats fell behind 23-10 at the half. His workload picked up in the second half (including, ironically, a hotly debated run call in the hurry-up offense with no timeouts on the final possession of the game) but one can only wonder how the game would have turned out had Boom had more chances to explode. It was reminiscent of UK finding ways to go away from Randall Cobb at times in his career.
By The Numbers...
1 - Potential huge loss to the UK defense as senior nose tackle Melvin Lewis suffered a fractured fibula in the second half. The Cats need former U.S. Army All-American Matt Elam to step up in a big way now.
13 - Quarters without an interception for the UK defense. The Cats haven't picked off a pass since the third quarter of the Florida game and are struggling to turn opponents over like they did last season. UK now has a minus ratio for the first time in 2015.
14.4 - Average touches per game for Stanley "Boom" Williams this season, a number that needs to grow substantially in the second half of the schedule. He's too talented a player to have his hands on the ball 3-4 times a quarter.
30.5 - Net punting average for the Cats, an exchange of field position that's way too low to compete against most SEC teams. UK needs to get slumping punter Landon Foster back on track during the second half of the season.
297 - Yards surrendered by the UK defense in the first half before bouncing back to allow only 110 in the second half.
1966 - Lyndon B. Johnson was President the last time the Cats beat Auburn in Lexington.