UK vs. the Wildcats. Who Won?

By Steve Kaufman

Safety Mike Edwards shares a laugh with freshman Yusuf Corker, Tobias Gilliam and Zy’Aire Hughes.

It’s always difficult to get a handle on UK football this time of year.

Many of the practices and most of the scrimmages are closed to the media. The coaches say next to nothing about what went on. And the two sides of the team, offense and defense, are playing against one another – so if one side shines, it can be a logical conclusion that the other side was playing poorly.

Someone fumbled close to the goal line in last weekend’s full-pad scrimmage. You probably thought what I thought. Stephen Johnson, last year’s turnover-prone quarterback.

But Mark Stoops, mostly non-committal as ever, said the quarterbacks protected the ball well.

So was it Benny Snell? This year’s now-primary ballcarrier held onto the ball last year – two fumbles in 186 carries – remarkable given how many of his carries were bull-rushes, with four or five defenders hanging on him, grabbing ahold of him, swiping to loosen it from his grasp.

Or was it Sihiem King or A.J. Rose, the two backs slated to replace Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp? Frustrating not to know.

On the other hand, the fumble was near the goal line, which means the offense was moving the ball well until the turnover. Which is good news. Except that it came against UK’s defense. Which is bad news.

According to Jon Hale in Sunday’s Courier-Journal, who was only reporting what scraps he could pull from the coaches’ terse comments, “. . . the defense managed to recover in time to prevent the offense from scoring.”

Well, good for the defense. (And bad for the offense.)

But Jen Smith wrote, in Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader, “It sounded like UK was able to convert on three of its final four possessions of the scrimmage.”

So good for the offense. (And bad for the defense.)

It’s kind of a zero sum game, in which whatever good comes from Kentucky’s performance is bad for Kentucky’s performance.

The coaches were dour after the scrimmage. None of that “this was a pretty good afternoon.” Not even much “we saw some good things.”

Stoops said, “In my eyes, it was just an OK scrimmage.” Eddie Gran said, about his offense, “at times we were really good and at times we were really bad.”

Oh.

Matt House said, about his defense, “it showed improvement for the most part,” but at one point (again quoting from Hale’s article) “was gashed on at least one long run due to a technique issue from an unnamed lineman.”

You probably thought what I thought. Matt Elam. But that’s not fair at all. The entire defensive line had problems last year, and has been singled out yet again as a question mark. It can’t all rest on Elam’s large shoulders. So let’s give the senior a break, for now.

Another Wildcat under the microscope, for entirely different reasons, is freshman Lynn Bowden. So when the stingy commentary singled him out, individually, as “one of the guys that showed up and made some plays,” that had to be encouraging. If you’re looking for the best possible outcome for Kentucky’s offense, that’s something to hang your hat on.

Discouraging, in a personal sense, is the battle being waged by offensive lineman Nick Haynes, who revealed this summer his diabetes diagnosis. His weight has fallen to under 270 pounds, which is rarely good for an OL. And he can’t bulk up with milkshakes and other high-fat, high-carb confectionaries because he has to manage his sugar intake.

He says he feels good. And one of the Wildcats’ strengths is their depth at offensive line. So maybe they can work around his condition. But this is more than a football story. It’s a personal story for a young man in his early twenties who has to live with this disease for the rest of his life. It has become manageable, and some athletes have even had full careers while keeping the effects of the disease at bay. Diabetes sufferer Jay Cutler retired from the Chicago Bears at the end of last year after an 11-year career, and is now back in pads for the Miami Dolphins at the age of 34.

Every diabetes situation is different, of course. But stories like Cutler’s and others’ must be hopeful news for Haynes. And I’m talking about the news of life, not necessarily the news of football. But right now, football is life to him. So one hopes he plays, and thrives, this season.

That is primarily a hope for Nick Haynes, only secondarily a hope for Kentucky.