Still basking in the afterglow of unexpected victory after Kentucky's 34-27 triumph over the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, I suddenly find myself in a thankful mood. Thankful for not only the UK win, but upon reflection, thankful for those who have propelled the football program forward in 2009, instead of settling for a "rebuilding" year. It would have been easy for the team to call it a year after starting quarterback Mike Hartline was injured six games ago, but this squad has persevered.
We've settled for less than acceptable results in the football program for far too long around these parts, but now, with four straight bowl games imminent, and a possible 4-4 SEC mark (and gasp, second place in the SEC East) looking UK squarely in the face mask, it's time to give up the kudos for those who go to battle every Saturday ... to those who fight through pain and injury ... and to those who sacrifice. A little recognition for achievements not enjoyed at Kentucky in a very long time is also in order, so after the jump, join me in giving some props to the warriors who are right for the fight ...
- I'm thankful that Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart didn't fire Rich Brooks after year three, even though nearly the entire fan base, along with the bulk of media members, were calling for his termination -- Love Barnhart, or hate him, that decision alone will forever keep him in my good graces. Take a bow, Mitch.
- I'm thankful UK has learned the art of the comeback victory -- Since mid-season of 2006, a total of 42 games, Kentucky has orchestrated 12 fourth quarter comeback victories. This season alone the 'Cats have comeback three times to win games: Louisville, Auburn, and Georgia. Prior to mid-season of '06, one has to go back to 1991 to find 12 more UK fourth quarter comeback victories ... a span of 170 games -- How many times over the last couple of decades have I uttered, "Only at Kentucky," after the 'Cats let another sure victory slip away? Suffice it so say, a lot, but recently that phrase has been replaced by, "How 'bout them 'Cats"? Thanks to the UK web-site, "Cat Scratches," for the great info!!
- I'm thankful Derrick Locke wears the blue and white -- Coming off what can be a career-ending ACL injury, Locke has been nothing short of phenomenal for the 'Cats this year. The Hugo, Oklahoma native is racking up yardage in nearly every offensive category: 821 yards and five touchdowns rushing the ball; 221 yards and two touchdowns catching the ball; 518 kick-off returns yards, and oh yeah, one touchdown. That's 1,560 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns. Take a bow, Derrick.
- I'm thankful Philip Fulmer didn't decide to recruit Randall Cobb until it was too late -- Cobb has been equally fabulous for the Wildcats this season. Also accustomed to remaining in motion during football games, Cobb has racked up 436 yards and nine touchdowns rushing the ball; 403 yards and four touchdowns catching the ball; 292 punt return yards, and one touchdown; 302 kick-off return yards; and finally, 46 passing yards -- Cobb's totals come to 1,479 yards and 14 touchdowns. Does anyone really believe if Cobb had not played on this year's team, that the 'Cats would be sitting on seven wins? Take a bow, Randall.
- I'm thankful linebacker Sam Maxwell patiently waited his turn -- Maxwell, a senior stuck behind a litany of superlative linebackers over the last three years, has taken the UK defensive stalwart mantle as his own. All Maxwell does is lead the team in interceptions with five; lead the team in solo tackles with 41; he's second on the team with 73 tackles; he has 5.5 tackles for loss; seven pass breakups; and two forced fumbles. He is ubiquitous, he is omnipotent, he is First Team All-SEC in '09, or I want somebody's head on a big blue platter. Take a bow, Sam.
- I'm thankful for the Kentucky offensive line -- Zipp Duncan, Brad Durham, Justin Jefferies, Christian Johnson, Stuart Hines and Jorge Gonzalez have been nothing short of season-saving. This group of fighters have paved the way for Kentucky's 2,158 total yards on the ground this season. The six primary ball-carriers for the 'Cats - Locke, Cobb, Alfonso Smith, Moncell Allen, Donald Russell, and John Conner have rushed for a combined 1,975 yards on 376 carries, good for a 5.2 yards per carry average. And make no mistake, a considerable amount of the credit goes to UK's veteran trench warfare practitioners. They have also done a remarkable job of protecting the UK quarterbacks, allowing only 14 sacks through 11 games. Outstanding considering the youth and inexperience of the Kentucky signal-callers. Gentlemen, take a well-deserved bow!
- I'm thankful for junior college transfers --- Defensive end DeQuin Evans is second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss, and he leads the team with five sacks. Replacing suspended All-SEC performer Jeremy Jarmon, Evans was placed firmly on the hot seat with expectations of greatness following him onto the field. Evans, while not "great," has been a very solid addition to the UK defensive line ... and I'm satisfied that we haven't seen the best he has to offer. Also, coming to Lexington via the JC route was wide receiver Chris Matthews. The highly rated Matthews was thought to be the potential savior of the receiving corp, and after a rough start, including a demotion, Matthews has played very well, along with earning praise for his blocking ability. He's second on the team with 29 catches for 299 yards, and two touchdowns. JUCO guys, take a bow!
- I'm thankful linebacker Micah Johnson didn't heed the beckoning call of the NFL -- Johnson, while playing with plantar fasciitis for most of the year, leads UK in tackles with 84 (36 solo). He's also contributed 4.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and one sack. Take a bow, Micah.
- I'm thankful linebacker Danny Trevathan has two more years of eligibility remaining -- Trevathan, billed as the next great UK linebacker, has not disappointed. The youngster is third on the team with 69 tackles (36 solo), and four tackles for loss. Take a bow, Danny.
- I'm thankful defensive lineman Corey Peters has taken his turn to shine -- All Peters has done is lead the 'Cats with 11 tackles for loss, and six quarterback hurries. He's also contributed four sacks. UK fans were expecting Peters to be good, and after a "middling" start to the year, Peters has come on strong of late. Take a bow, Corey.
- I'm thankful freshman receiver La'Rod King has such soft, supple hands -- The North Hardin product has leap-frogged over several more experienced receivers to earn starting time, mostly due to his ability to catch the ball, and run the right routes. He's made only 10 catches on the year, for 142 yards and one touchdown, but he's made those receptions recently, and he's snagged a few off-target throws which changed the complexion of the game. Most recently, his one-handed (and left-handed) 21-yard touchdown reception against Georgia on Saturday. "Stickum", he don't need no stinkin' "stickum". Take a bow, La'Rod.
- I'm thankful freshman quarterback Morgan Newton opted for the 'Cats, instead of the Cards -- After the injury to Hartline, UK fans were frothing at the mouth to see the high school All-America lead the 'Cats, and while expectations were waaaaay overblown for what the young man could accomplish, Newton has played solidly. The Carmel, Indiana native has thrown for 539 yards on 52-90 passing (57.8%). He's limited mistakes, i.e. turnovers (only three interceptions), and led the 'Cats to three tough SEC road wins (Auburn, Vandy, and Georgia) for the first time since Jesus was preachin' in Omaha. Take a bow, Morgan.
- I'm thankful running back Moncell Allen got his academic house in order -- Allen's skull-rattling hit on Georgia kick returner Branden Smith to begin the third quarter, and the resulting Matt Roark fumble recovery, turned the tide in UK's favor Saturday. Allen has been excellent for UK all year, but his finest moment came on that play. Take a bow, Moncell.
- I'm thankful Georgia coach Mark Richt turned a blind eye to UK players, and Georgia natives, defensive backs Trevard Lindley and Randall Burden; linebackers Sam Maxwell and Shane McCord (he of the game-clinching INT); and wide receiver/special teams performer Matt Roark -- Not good enough for the 'Dogs ... read the scoreboard, coach.
- And finally, I'm thankful head coach Rich Brooks has stuck around Lexington long enough to record a 30-20 won-loss mark over the last four years, the best four year record for any UK football coach since 1950-'53 (Paul Bryant). Brooks has also deftly directed the 'Cats to four straight seasons of at least seven wins for the first time since the 1909-'12 seasons. A win over UT on Saturday and he's SEC Coach of the Year, at least in my book. Take a bow, Papa Brooks.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Vols!