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UK football: Prepared to Win

Linebacker Boogie Watson puts a hit on Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. (Wade Upchurch Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

On July 20th, 1969 two NASA astronauts — Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong — piloted a lunar module known as the “Eagle” from their main space ship, the “Columbia,” onto the surface of the moon. At precisely 4:17 pm Commander Neil Armstrong announced to the the Command Center in Houston, Texas and to the waiting world that the first manned spaceship had landed on the moon with the historic words – “the Eagle has landed.” 

 

The Apollo 11 mission is considered one of man’s most important accomplishments. Most people know the name of the commander, Neil Armstrong, and the probably know the name of his partner astronaut, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. They may even know the name of the third member of the crew that piloted the command spaceship, the “Columbia.”That pilot’s name was Michael Collins.

 

But here’s what most people don’t know. In 1969 NASA had 218,000 civil service workers and contractors working for them. It took the complete dedication of over 200,000 people working tirelessly to accomplish that lunar landing back in 1969. Those people involved in the Apollo 11 project will never be recognized like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have over the years. But they were every bit as critical to the success of the project as any of the three astronauts involved.

It’s the same with winning football teams. Most football fans know the star players. Take UK Football. Most fans know that the team is 4-0 this season — the first time that has happened since 2008. They are also 2-0 in the SEC — the first time that has happened since 1977. They also know that the Wildcats pummeled No. 14 Mississippi State Saturday night 28-7 to reach those historic milestones.

They also probably know that Benny Snell, Jr. ran for 165 yards and four touchdowns against a team that was recognized by most of the SEC football experts as the second best defensive line in the Southeastern Conference. Anyone that watched the game also knows that Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen terrorized the MSU offensive lineman all night long on his way to six tackles, two tackles for loss, one quarterback sack, a quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. And that doesn’t include the numerous false start penalties called on the MSU offensive line as they tried to get a jump on Allen before he could turn the corner on a direct path to Nick Fitzgerald, the Bulldog quarterback.

But here’s what a lot of fans don’t know or maybe haven’t thought about. Just like the 218,000 employees at NASA that it took to successfully land an astronaut on the moon it takes a myriad of players to win a game like the one UK won Saturday night.

It takes players like Zach Johnson – backup running back – making big hits on special teams. It takes a guy like 6′ 9″ defensive end Calvin Taylor making a critical sack on Nick Fitzgerald. And let’s not forget about the entire offensive line — Stenberg, Jackson, Stallings, Watkins and Asafo-Adjei — and the holes they opened up in the second half when the entire Mississippi State team knew that Kentucky was going to run the ball. And what about Tyrell Ajian’s critical interception in the second half that helped to halt an MSU potential comeback.

But it also includes contributions you don’t hear about very often — if at all. Like UK backup quarterback Danny Clark running the scout team all week so that the Kentucky defense could prepare for a big, physical running quarterback that could also throw the ball. By the way the UK defense held MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to only twenty yards on sixteen carries. It appears that the scout team preparation was very successful considering Fitzgerald ran for 115 yards on twelve carries last season against the Cats.

But those are just a few of the many names that don’t show up in the boxscore of the game. Coaches’ names like Outside Linebackers Coach Brad White who has helped Josh Allen improve his game this year or Special Teams Coordinator turned Defensive Backs Coach Dean Hood who has helped the defensive secondary become a lockdown coverage unit.  There are so many other players and coaches that could be mentioned.

They are all part of that cast of individuals that are working hard behind the scenes to ensure that guys like Benny Snell, Jr and Josh Allen can get the credit they deserve and more importantly that the Kentucky Wildcats can continue to win football games.

It’s not easy to go 2-0 in the SEC for any Kentucky football team. That’s why it hasn’t been done in more than 40 years. And just like the cast of thousands working behind the scenes to ensure the successful lunar landing by the Apollo 11 team back in 1969 Kentucky also has so many players and coaches that are doing the same thing. Doing their job, doing it every day and doing it well.

 

Whether they are getting recognition or not they know they are getting something more valuable. Dominating wins over ranked opponents in the most difficult football conference in the country. And at the end of the season that’s what it’s all about. Winning football games.

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