Program-Defining Moment... Kentucky has long been seeking its "signature win" under fourth-year head coach Mark Stoops, and while the Cats have had a few nice victories along the way, most of them have come against programs that either the fans or media have deemed to be in the midst a "down year." That cannot be said this time. Two weeks ago, it appeared that Louisville was knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff. At the very least, the Cards were almost unanimously viewed as one of the top five teams. Their rep took a bit of a tumble after the 36-10 loss at Houston, but they were still No. 11 heading into Saturday's game and still featured the likely Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Lamar Jackson. A UK win on the road against that team and a transcendent player like Jackson -- on the road, no less -- could be the breakthrough moment for Stoops' program. The Governor's Cup returns to Lexington for the first time since 2010, the Cats are rolling into a better bowl game than originally anticipated, and recruiting stands to get a big boost from the wave of momentum.
The Stephen Johnson Story... Usually, the quarterback gets more than his fair share of attention for a team's success or failure, but it's been fascinating to watch Johnson's story unfold with limited fanfare in his first year at Kentucky. The junior college transfer took over an 0-2 team after Drew Barker injured his back on the opening series of Game 3 with very little fanfare. At that point, most observers had written the entire season off. All Johnson did was win seven of the last 10 games, playing the hero's role in the biggest game of the season. On a day when Louisville's Jackson was dominating all of the pregame storylines, Johnson matched his talented counterpart play after play. Jackson finished with 452 total yards and four combined touchdowns but was also picked off three times and fumbled once. Johnson had 421 total yards, threw three touchdown passes and had only one turnover to claim the Howard Schnellenberger Award for Governor's Cup MVP.
Clutch Field Goal Unit... One can only wonder where the UK season would be without junior kicker Austin MacGinnis. He hit game-winners from 51 yards against Mississippi State and 47 yards against Louisville to put the Cats where they are now. On a weekend which saw a lot of kickers miss in high-pressure rivalry games, UK may have had the coolest customer in all of college football. And because these guys never get mentioned for a thankless job, we should probably take an opportunity to recognize the Cats' long-snapper, Blake Best, and holder, Tristan Yeomans, for their contributions to those game-winning kicks.
Eddie Gran ... It says here that the first-year UK offensive coordinator called his best game of the season. The Cats had 581 total yards (352 passing and 229 rushing) while keeping the Cardinals off-balance all day long with a combination of deep throws and Wildcat running packages. When Stoops hired Gran, he said the main thing he was looking for was balance. The Cats had 10 first downs via the rush and 11 via the pass on Saturday. Mission accomplished.
By The Numbers...
0 - Sacks surrendered by the UK offensive line.
+3 - Turnover margin for the Cats, who had only one miscue on the day.
5.3 - Yards per carry for UK, almost doubling the UofL defense's season average (2.73).
11 - Negative yardage for UK, another sign of the O-Line's domination.
20.7 - Average yards per completion by the Cats.
13:07 - Time of possession for UK in the third quarter.
What If ... Looking back is generally a waste of time when it comes to sports, but one can't help but ponder what Kentucky's season may have looked like without the flukish loss to Southern Miss in the season opener -- a game that the Cats led 35-10 in the first half -- and if a couple of plays had gone the Cats' way in the last-second loss to Georgia. The Big Blue was really close to winning nine games this season. Of course, a contrarian might note the Cats won three games -- Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Louisville -- that came down to the final play. A lot of what if's there. Ultimately, as legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells liked to say, you are what your record says you are.
Not To Beat A Dead Horse, But ... The Cats still need to get their punting game addressed before the bowl game. Perhaps the extra preparation time will give UK a chance to do that. Freshman Grant McKinniss averaged only 35.8 yards per punt in Saturday's game. A 29-yard effort early in the fourth quarter when UK desperately needed the field flipped helped set up the Cards for an easy scoring drive that tied the game at 38. The situation is putting extra stress on a defense that doesn't have a great margin for error. A special request to bring in Rich Brooks, aka "The Punter Whisperer," during December practice sessions would be timely.
The Waiting ... Is the hardest part, Tom Petty once sang. It's a truism. Big Blue Nation will have to wait until Sunday, Dec. 4, to learn where the Cats will be going for their bowl trip.
Louisville Cough-Drop Helmets ... That's one bad look, birdies. They were reminiscent of the old glossy UK helmets than never matched the blue on the jerseys. Unless you're looking for sponsorship opportunities with Halls Menthol Lozenges, ditch 'em.