Mark Stoops could not have put it better in the aftermath of the Kentucky blowout: "We needed this." The Wildcats may not have knocked off a high-profile opponent, but on this night it really didn't matter. UK just needed to stop the bleeding from a five-game losing skid that nearly wiped out its season. And it wasn't just the fact that the Cats won; it's the way they went about it. Granted, Charlotte made UK look like the '85 Bears, but that's the kind of result Big Blue Nation may have expected for this game when morale was still high. Had the Cats plodded their way to a 28-10 type victory, it would have been a huge red flag going into next week's Governor's Cup matchup with Louisville. As it stands now, UK has a reasonable expectation to compete against the arch-rival Cardinals, who were whipped 45-34 on Saturday at Pittsburgh.
Also in the "Good" category:
- The fourth-highest rushing game (415 yards) in school history as Jojo Kemp, Boom Williams and Sihiem King each tallied more than 90 yards;
- A mistake-free night for redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Barker in his first career start;
- Backup kicker Miles Butler coming through with a 3-for-3 field goal night, including a 46-yarder, in relief of the injured Austin MacGinnis;
- An amazing acrobatic interception by defensive lineman Cory Johnson, who has made some of the season's most memorable plays;
- And yet another big defensive play by the unheralded Khalid Henderson, whose big hit led to Mike Edwards' interception for a touchdown return.
As Kentucky prepares to face the No. 17 rushing defense in the country next week in the form of the Louisville Cardinals, the Cats know they're going to have to throw the ball well in order to win the game. Last night's performance will not get the job done. The staff has to be concerned about the ongoing pass protection issues plaguing the Cats. While Drew Barker had a decent game (16 of 29, 129 yards) he was frequently under pressure from the 49ers and had to improvise on many of his completed passes. Receiver Dorian Baker was a non-factor. Tight end C.J. Conrad was once again an afterthought in the gameplan. If the offensive line cannot protect better against the Cards and UK doesn't find ways to get the ball to its playmakers, it's going to be a long day at Commonwealth Stadium and a sixth win for bowl eligibility will slip through the cracks.
The positioning of Charlotte on the schedule was largely out of Kentucky's control due to SEC scheduling and TV considerations, but it was a shame that this game came on the heels of a long losing streak and perhaps the coldest night in Commonwealth Stadium history. There have been colder games, temperature-wise, but the combination of a rare November night game with a harsh wind chill and snow flurries made it brutal on the estimated 30,000 fans who braved the elements to cheer on the Cats. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, there may have been only 3,000 people in the house. Fortunately, that won't be the case next weekend for the Governor's Cup showdown.