Matt Smith and Larry Warford carry Joker Phillips off the Commonwealth Stadium field for the last time. - Andy Lyons
In the final home game of the season, the Kentucky Wildcats (2-9, 0-7) sent its 19 seniors and head coach Joker Phillips out in style, as UK dismantled the Samford Bulldogs 34-3. Racking up 455 total yards, Kentucky's offense was effective both on the ground and through the air, as the 'Cats emphatically put this one away with four first half touchdowns.
Playing with enthusiasm and passion in front of a sparse Commonwealth Stadium crowd, the Wildcat running backs, led by Raymond Sanders and his career-high 123 rushing yards (on 15 carries), ran through, around and over the Bulldogs on their way to 342 rushing yards. Even senior offensive lineman Larry Warford played a little fullback during a fourth quarter Kentucky drive.
On UK's opening drive, Jalen Whitlow, who played very well all night as he displayed his dual-threat capabilities, directed a 69-yard scoring drive (in 14-plays), culminating with Whitlow hitting senior Gene McCaskill with a 14 yard scoring strike. Whitlow kept the UK drive alive with a nifty 14-yard scramble on fourth and two from the Samford 33.
McCaskill finished the game with three catches for 35 yards, and of course, the game's initial touchdown.
On their second possession, the Wildcats put together another long drive after the UK defense gave up only eight yards on five Bulldog plays. Covering 78-yards in 11-plays (nine runs, two passes), Kentucky drove from its own 22 yard line on the backs of Sanders and Jonathan George. Whitlow capped off UK's drive with a 20-yard scamper to pay dirt, giving Kentucky a 14-0 lead.
From that point forward, the game was Kentucky's, although the 'Cats did exhibit moments during the contest which reminded everyone that sometimes this squad cannot, or will not, "get out of its own way" -- A George fumble inside the Samford five yard line took points off the board, and an illegal block in the back cost DeMarco Robinson a pretty punt return for a touchdown.
But it was mostly good stuff for the 'Cats on this night, even in the second half when UK (unsuccessfully) went for it on fourth down a few times inside Samford's 10 yard line, instead of kicking field goals.
The Kentucky defense, maligned for the entire season, performed quite admirably as the unit gave up only nine first downs and 102 total yards to Samford (7-4, 5-3), while holding the Bulldogs to only 2-of-12 third down conversions. Even though this was accomplished against an FCS opponent, the UK defense deserves kudos for continuing to play hard through tremendous adversity. Plus, the UK D put points on the board as senior defensive end Collins Ukwu forced a fumble that Tristian Johnson picked up and ran 25 yards into the end zone, putting UK up 31-3 just before halftime.
Whitlow's stat line looked like this: 10-13 through the air for 66 yards and touchdown, as well as seven carries for 59 yards and a touchdown. In relief, Patrick Towles connected on 4-of-6 passes for 47 yards and an interception.
If one is looking for hope for the future, rookie running back Dyshawn Mobley had his most productive game as a 'Cat with 82 yards rushing on 16 carries (5.1 yards per carry). Mobley figures to be a major player in UK's backfield over the next three years, and tonight he showed he is quite capable of being a difference-maker when the ball is in his hands (even taking into consideration the non-SEC competition).
Aaron Boyd ended his Commonwealth career with two catches for 33 yards.
All-in-all, the 'Cats sent out their seniors and head coach with a great effort, even considering the level of competition. The night ended, quite appropriately, with seniors Matt Smith and Larry Warford carrying Joker Phillips off the field on their mighty shoulders.
Next week, it's down to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers, who were throttled tonight by Vanderbilt, 41-18 in Nashville. How sweet would the irony be if the 'Cats were to pick up their first SEC win of the season by beating the beleaguered Vols for the second straight season?
We have one week to dream, dream weavers.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!