By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
UK football: Don’t stop believing now
“Here is the good news,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We can play a lot better.”
That should be music to the ears of most UK fans. After watching UK physically dominate Will Muschamp’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half at Kroger Field on Saturday night most fans and analysts seem to agree that the Kentucky offense left a lot of scoring opportunities on the table in the second half. Mark Stoops seems to agree.
After running up a 24-3 score in the second quarter the Wildcat offense seemed to go into sleep mode with continued runs by Benny Snell Jr into a stacked box of seven or eight defenders. It appeared that Gamecock Defensive Coordinator Travarias Robinson made the decision at halftime that if Kentucky was going to score any more points in the second half they would have to do it on the arm of Terry Wilson and not the legs of Benny Snell. Unfortunately for long suffering UK fans they had seen this second half scenario of building a big lead and then sitting on the ball before. Or at least thought they had.
But this UK team is not your fathers’ Wildcats. In fact, this UK team is unlike anything UK fans have seen since 1977 when Fran Curci’s Cats had a dominate running team led by a battering ram of a runner in Derrick Ramsey at quarterback and a defense led by an unblockable defensive end named Art Still. That team went 10-1 and won the SEC. This UK team — with a battering ram of it’s own in Benny Snell Jr at running back and an unblockable outside linebacker/defensive end in Josh Allen — could be headed in the same direction. But only if they learn to get teams down and finish them off when they have the opportunity.
Stoops also agreed that his team seemed to suffer a little bit of a letdown in the second half. He said, “We got off the track a little bit in the second half. We started with a great drive in the second half that we didn’t finish. We had three great drives in the first half. We just didn’t finish it that way. We had some opportunities and we have to hit some (big plays).”
With that being said it’s easy to nitpick at a 24-10 victory over SEC East rival South Carolina when you are sitting at 5-0 and 3-0 in the conference. Those are lofty numbers for a UK team that historically hasn’t won nine games in a season since 1984.
But as I said before this team is a different breed of cat. They seem to know that they have talent and when they prepare well and play with energy they can beat any team left on their schedule — including the Georgia Bulldogs. But if the offense plays like it did in the second half of the South Carolina game they could also lose to almost any team left on their schedule.
Next week the Cats have a huge game on the road at College Station against Texas A&M. If they can pull off a victory in that hostile environment they would be 6-0, have bowl eligibility in their pockets and still be sitting atop the SEC leaderboard at 4-0. But this team is capable of a win at Texas A&M. They have looked like a top level SEC team in all three of their SEC games this season. And they look like they expect to win. Mark Stoops said after the win against South Carolina, “We didn’t dance or celebrate,” Stoops said.” They expect to win big games and they are.”
So with a 24-10 victory against South Carolina in the rear view mirror it’s time to move on to the the next opponent. That’s what big time college football programs in the SEC do. Enjoy the moment but start preparing for the next opponent.
While they’re preparing this week for the A&M Aggies they have the opportunity to create something special. A Kentucky team that goes out and wins on the road. They did it at Florida and they have a chance to do it at Texas A&M. Since they have games left on their schedule with Missouri, Tennessee, Louisville and the aforementioned Texas A&M on the road this season they need to learn how to win road games. All of them if they want to create the special season they have been talking about and that UK fans have only dreamed about.
So this week will be a special week of preparation. Student against teacher. Storied football program against downtrodden program that is on the rise. SEC East contender versus SEC West contender. There are a lot of storylines coming up with the game this week.
But the biggest storyline should be can the Cats handle prosperity on the football field the same way they have handled Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina. With great preparation, focus and execution, here’s hoping that the football players look inside the program instead of outside the program and say, “We have a football game next Saturday. Let’s get ready.”