There’s a confidence about this UK football team.
Not a swagger. Not a preening look-at-me. This bunch has been through too much to swagger or preen.
It’s more a go-about-your-business attitude. There was the feeling, down the stretch in the second half against Missouri, even when the Tigers scored twice in the fourth quarter, that things were well in hand.
There were fewer missed tackles, blown assignments, foolish penalties. Even the one flag, a potentially costly personal foul, seemed like a bad call to me. It came on a late hit along the Missouri sideline. If it was against Jordan Jones, who made the sideline tackle, it was really marginal. But if it was against Courtney Love, whose number was announced by the official, it was really egregious. Love stumbled into a crowd of Missouri players aggregated along the line, far from where the ballcarrier was hit.
As the announcers said, the flag was thrown not by the officials on the play but by a back judge 25 yards from the action. The wrong number suggested to me that the back judge didn’t know what he was seeing.
The only reason I dwell on it is that it’s the kind of call that has killed Kentucky in past games, past seasons. This time, it was a foul-no-harm.
The most telling improvement has been on the offensive line. There are three ways most of us evaluate the OL: rushing yardage, QB sacks and oh, those holding calls and false starts.
There was clearly a potent running game and no infractions that I can recall. The coaches have the offensive line rotating in and out in platoons, all save center Jon Toth. And whichever group is in is doing the job.
The Boom-and-Benny show is more than exciting – it’s the life’s blood of this offense right now. It gets the nice first-down gains and the essential third-down pickups. And it masks the lack of a real passing game. Boom gets through holes as quickly as any running back; young Junior Snell blasts his own holes. But in the scrum, the guards and tackles are moving the pile and executing their blocking schemes.
As for that passing game, is it too late for Darin Hinshaw to work on Stephen Johnson’s fundamentals? On nearly every miscue – every errant or floated or deflected pass – he was throwing off balance, off of his back leg or with some kind of a basketball jump-shot motion. Some quarterbacks make a living off that; Johnson is not one of those quarterbacks.
Even on that nice 65-yarder to Jeff Badet on the second quarter – one in which Johnson was able to step into his throw – there was a kind of whipsaw motion to it.
Kentucky may well need more consistency from Johnson as it finishes the season and heads into its bowl game. (There! I said it.)
UK will also need better punting from Grant McKinniss. The punt coverage, for the most part, kept that from being disastrous. But not always. And it’s not something you should have to count on, especially in close games where field position and a last-minute field goal might kill you.
Georgia is next. The Bulldogs lost to Florida, Tennessee lost to South Carolina, and the Cats are in second place in the SEC East, just a half-game back of Florida. Not expecting miracles, and the Gators will always have the head-to-head advantage. But it’s a cool conversation to be having. And it’s incentive that every week is a crucial one.
Still, this bunch doesn’t seem to need any forced incentives. It’s taking care of business on its own.
And all respect, for that, to Mark Stoops. On Sunday morning, John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kyle Tucker of SEC Country (late of The Courier-Journal) admitted they’d been wrong about him. Add me to that list.
A Ball at Rupp
John Calipari opened with a surprise lineup Sunday night against Clarion: Fox and Briscoe on the ball, Monk on the bench and Bam up front with Willis and Gabriel, Killeya-Jones and Humphries on the bench.
But Cal rotated through all the possible combinations for the next 40 minutes and there’s little to say but, “Wow!”
Fox and Monk will be astounding to watch. Bam will be that muscle UK yearned for all last season. Derek Willis showed athleticism and even a bit of fire. Briscoe’s steady and experienced and still nobody finishes better.
It was Clarion, not Michigan State or Kansas, but it looks like the only thing that could stop this bunch is themselves. VT