After emotions have settled (for the majority of us) in Big Blue Nation and with some periphery of Saturday night’s debacle at Commonwealth Stadium, I think we should have a realistic talk; not a venom filled, emotionally charged talk, but a real one that includes some… dare I say positivity. No matter how brutal that second half of football was, the first half was just as exhilarating. Just imagine if the halves were switched; if the first half was devastating, but in the second half we closed the gap and defense and offense alike played lights out. It would still be a loss, but the mood would be so different. Sure, if “if’s” and “but’s” were candy and nuts, we’d all have a bowl eligible season, but I just want to remind you that the Cats are very capable of a successful season. I know the sky is falling because we didn’t fire on all cylinders the very first game of the year (sarcasm font), but please hear me when I say that loss is not the end of the season, the program, or the world.
Let’s note some positives:
- Drew Barker is rated as the No. 5 quarterback in the nation- The kid had four touchdowns in one half! Sure, he had a fumble and an interception, but although very talented, he’s very young. He was in a spot where he was trying so hard to extend plays and lengthen drives any way possible to flip momentum. He forced some stuff that led to mistakes. He’ll grow from all that and be better. I was also very impressed with him dodging tackles and remaining poised enough to make some big throws. He’s young and talented… just what this program needs to build upon. I was one of his number one critics and now I’m becoming one of his biggest fans.
- Our receivers looked solid- The reoccurring nightmare I had leading up to this season is that UK’s receivers would face the issues of yesteryear with dropped passes. Praise the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, we didn’t see that vs. Southern Miss! They ran beautiful routes with precision and actually caught the ball. Of course, the offense stalled in the second half and the Cats failed to find any sort of offensive rhythm, but it cannot be overstated just how deadly these receivers can be when they hit their stride.
- Matt Elam was good- He will always be talked about (for better and for worse) because he was a five-star Kentucky kid, but Matt Elam did not hurt Kentucky on Saturday. The possibility for lethargic play was a palpable concern among the BBN, and although he didn’t play fantastic, he was not a liability for the Cats. Elam, who had been accustomed to playing 30-35 snaps last season, weathered roughly 75% of So. Miss’ astounding 90+ offensive snaps. That’s a huge leap! Elam’s only major issues were: 1) Physical fatigue caused him to fall back into to old vertical habits late in the game. 2) So. Miss began to double team him in the second half, which magnified the fatigue and reemerging bad habits. Overall, he was effective clogging up the middle of the line, which is his foremost job. If placed in the same relentless defensive predicament again, my hope is that Pringle or Hyde could offer Elam some relief. Otherwise, in a more balanced offensive/defensive game for the Cats and based on his performance vs. So. Miss, I have confidence in Matt Elam.
- Jordan Jones was a superstar- During camp, Jones saw the backseat to Eli Brown at weakside linebacker, but vs. So. Miss, it was Jones who shined. With 19 tackles- two for a loss, one sack, and one quarterback hurry, Jones surely has earned his keep on the first-team and a place in our hearts after that performance. Coach Stoops remarked of Jones, “He only had two missed assignments, and he played in the neighborhood of 80 snaps.” I’d say that’s definitely star-worthy.
- JD Harmon’s interceptions were everything- Cornerback JD Harmon sent shock waves through the Bluegrass with his electrifying one-handed interception. That would be the first of two he had on the night, both in UK territory and would help fuel the momentum the Cats enjoyed throughout the first half. Harmon’s big plays came of somewhat as a surprise as Baity and Westry were dubbed to be the game changers in the secondary, but since Shannon Dawson was intent on targeting Harmon as a weaker link, JD was more than happy to make him regret that decision.
And it should go without saying that:
- The entire first half was a positive- I am not the most brilliant football mind, so I won’t attempt to break down the game (we have Clark Brooks here at CMR for that), but it doesn’t take a pigskin guru to see that when Kentucky gets into a rhythm on both sides of the ball, they are going to be very tough to handle within the SEC East. Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and (one of our SEC-W opponents) Mississippi St., all had far less than stellar first game showings and none of which showed flashes of dominance that UK displayed in the first half vs. So. Miss. Sure, UK Football has some difficult issues to work through, and none of which being more important than practicing a winning mentality and attitude. However, there is little that the five opponents above mentioned showed to make me believe that Kentucky Football is doomed for the season. Let’s say we win four of those five, Austin Peay, and New Mexico State. There’s six. Now, let’s say we win those and pull just one major upset between Georgia and Louisville. That’s seven. Sure, that looks like a tough row to hoe, and it most certainly will be, but I don’t see how anyone could watch the first half of Saturday night’s game and not be at least a smidgen hopeful.
When Kentucky gets into a rhythm on both sides of the ball, they are going to be very tough to handle within the SEC East…
I don’t mean to be all Mary Poppins on ya’ll. I do see why people are threatening to throw in the towel. Stoops and Co. desperately have to figure out how to make halftime and in-game adjustments. When their backs are against a wall, the players need to find a way to come out fighting like hell instead of succumbing to the chaos, or worse, wallowing in self-pity. The Cats have come way up personnel wise, bit will face bigger, stronger, faster opponents this season. But, let us also remember that upsets happen every game day, and they happen by sheer will and fight of the squad.
I started this article by saying we needed to have a realistic chat. I refuse to write about the negative because we have talked that to death since Saturday night. We’ve written it, you’ve read it, and we’ve all talked about it ad nauseam. Let’s flip the script and balance it out. Our coaches are capable. Our team is good. They are not out of the bowl race. They have eleven games left to play and it isn’t going to help a thing to give up now. Yes, the second half vs. So. Miss was murderous, but the first half was glorious. We can define this team by the way they finished the game -or- perhaps we can define them by the game as a whole; a talented team with tons on potential that must work out some very important kinks.
It’s for better or worse, right? I understand the cynicism that UK Football has bred in us over the decades. I’ve felt it, beheld it, and I get it. If you got to take them for worse alone, by all means, you have that right. Also, understand by doing that, you’re choosing to only buy half their story.
I’m choosing to take them for better and for worse; the good with the bad; the big picture with a realistic view.