Due to the length of this year's version of Irrational Exuberance, it will be split into two parts so as not to bore you all at once. Today we cover the first half of the season; from opening with Western Kentucky through the end of that brutal four game stretch with currently rated top 10 teams. Maybe some won't be when we get done? Anyway, read and enjoy (or read a bit and quit) then join me again next week when we finish off the season.
Remember last year? Yeah, me neither. At least, I keep trying to forget it, except I still wake up some nights yelling "Do we have any idea what we’re doing?!!", "Bubble Screen? AGAIN!!" and "#?*#\^(!**#!#!!!". I then remember there has been a change, a new energy, a new direction (hell, any direction) and, yes, a new captain at the helm of UK Football.
Things were so bad last year that the fan attendance was down to a paltry level. I think people at Commonwealth fell into some distinct categories:
Those that were related to the team, cheerleaders and band members
The team, cheerleaders and band members
Vendors, ticket taker (singular) and security personnel (also singular)
People mistakenly thinking they were in the waiting area for basketball tickets.
Seriously, by the end of the season no one that appreciates football could enjoy what was, or wasn’t, happening on the field.
Mitch pulled the trigger on Joker and rumor became the main form of nutrition until, suddenly, the football gods inspired a man of unquestioned integrity, talent, experience and purpose to decide he wanted to wade into the minefield known as Kentucky football. To repeat, he "wanted" the job. The rest - is history.
The 2012 edition of Irrational Exuberance was, by far, the most difficult to pen. This year... not so much as we see a Team of Promise. So now we wade into that perfect time when we sit tied for first atop the SEC and hope springs eternal. As in past years, this foray imagines the stars aligning for UK football to create the magic we so deeply desire. Again, we assume perfect conditions - great refs, no injuries, incredible breaks (good for us/bad for "them") and players/coaches performing flawlessly. So take a step out of reality and join me on this historical season:
August 31 - Western Kentucky (Hilltoppers) in Nashville
Oops, there she goes again! (via brianDhawkins)
WOW! What a way to start a season! Stoops has an inspiring debut against a confused WKU offense the UK defense showing glimmers of awesomness. After losing last year’s signal caller, WKU starts fresh with a new quarterback and a new bone
rhead ... er ... coach. They do return a legit runner in Antonio Andrews but the problem for the Hilltoppers is that the best thing they have is head butting with perhaps the best thing on our team - UK's defensive line. Add that to the fact of having difficulties finding any QB that could grasp astrophysics Petrino’s complex offense. Within two weeks of the game the first two choices WKU had at QB were watching the next two choices give it a shot. OTOH UK settled into two good choices to run Air Raid; each with a different skill set to burden Western's defensive preparation.
All that, and more, contributed to a headline making start to the Stoops era. UK’s front line was relentlessly pursuing the ball, even when running backs were heading into the stands to escape. Ever seen Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph run stairs? Pretty humorous - but I dare you to laugh in their presence. The pressure was so suffocating that WKU could only get 15 passes thrown (2 completed for 19 yards, 3 intercepted). In the end the reconditioned, revamped, rededicated Wildcats owned the field, running through tacklers and passing at will on offense while stopping the Hilltopper offense like Lady Godiva stopped traffic. To summarize the offense, let me just say this - I see stars, lots of 'em. And you ask "..but who started the game?". Well, you don't want me to spoil the surprise, do you?. Anyway, after the game guys in the red jerseys were heard to say "Yeh - Dey SEC, fo shur". Related notes - Hilltoppers fans bought Petrino a new Harley and a subscription to Chopper Girls plus neighbors of Commonwealth Stadium filed noise complaints due to Stoops new edict that the sirens would wail even for touchdowns at away games. Good for him.
Final score: UK 38, WKU 6
Sept 7 - Miami, OH (RedHawks) at home
Just who are these folks? Miami is from the MAC which has brought us previous
wins teams like Kent State, Akron and Central Michigan the past three years. The last time we played Miami was 2009 and UK eked out a 42 - 0 victory. The RedHawk’s represent the MAC in Commonwealth just as well as the previous MAC check cashers teams - Show up for game, avoid major injury, thank host for not scoring more than 60 points, take check, go home. Actually though, it's a good investment. Send money to Ohio, they spend money developing football players then Stoops gets football players. (Economics is your friend.)
The Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium to find not a spring game crowd of a mere 50,000 but a packed house. It’s like Mardi Gras and Times Square New Year’s Eve combined in the stadium - it’s rockin’. The party continues on the field as the game takes on the look of a UK practice, plays never stop and players rotate in like a massive WWF tag team match. Air Raid runs 105 offensive plays. By the end of the game Miami’s defense can only crawl to the sideline after each UK score for more oxygen.
The first look at the Smith/Whitlow dynamic duo passes with flying colors, Blue and White of course. Frankly, it’s a slaughter and Miami limps away vowing they wouldn’t return (unless they get a bigger check!). On defense, the Cats take away the manhood of the RedHawks offense, simply merciless. Note to local medical suppliers: Have more oxygen tanks an Icy/Hot available for visiting teams.
Final Score: UK 59, Miami 10
Sept 14 - University of Louisville (kardinels) at home
Little red is dead (via eschipul)
First, I've got to tell you an absolutely true story (ask my wife!). Today, yes today, I was looking out on my back porch and saw a momma cardinal getting some food out of my dog's dish, breaking it up and feeding it to its son. The son had bright tail feathers and some others but for the most part the feathers hadn't fully developed although it was much, much bigger than its momma. Less than an hour later I came around the front of the house and that same big young cardinal was lying dead on the front porch - it had killed itself trying to fly through our living room plate glass window. I'm telling you, it's a sign.
You, me and the whole state of Kentucky has been waiting for this one. You’d think it was a basketball game. The fur and feathers have been flying amongst the fans for weeks but now it’s on to the game. Kentucky wins the toss and elects to take the ball to start the second half. On the first play of the game, Za’Darius Smith deflects a pass by Teddy Bridgewater that is picked off by Avery Williamson and returned for a TD. Seismic sensors think the New Madrid Fault has been triggered. Louisville scores later in the 1st quarter but the extra point is blocked by Motor Man Jason Hatcher.
The second quarter shows a lot of offense by both teams, in fact the stats are about even except Louisville ended up with two touchdowns while the Cats only manage a field goal so the Cards lead at half by 20 - 10 and Commonwealth is anxious. Kentucky fans pass time at the half cheering themselves up by watching the Louisville contingent searching ever more frantically for a beer stand, any beer stand. Must. Have. Beer!
The lack of beer for the red fans is great. They must endure the second half and all its glory in a clear headed, sober state of mind. Kentucky receives the second half kick-off then lines up in a spread single wing with Whitlow and Ryan Timmons (Randall Cobb vers. 2.0) in the backfield. This new look puts UL on their heels and they have no answer for the two pair of fast feet and unlimited flexibility out of the backfield. Combine that with what appears to be scores of receivers so Louisville uses all their timeouts to ask the refs to double check that Kentucky is only using eleven players.
The combined running/passing combinations are endless and relentless. Kentucky rips off scoring drives quicker than Charlie Strong can say "Wonder what 12 - 0 looks like?". The Wildcats can’t shut down the Cards but the front seven provide more pressure on Bridgewater than a drunk freshman on a coed. In the end, the good guys take home the Governor’s Cup until next year when it will be used to serve Thanksgiving wine at the Stoops dinner table after raising the streak to two.
Final score: UK - 41, UL - 30
Sept 21 - Bye
Stoops renames it Catch Your Breath Week as the team prepares for three weeks of football hell. Nobody wants to face three top ten teams in a row; especially a team coming off of a 2 - 10 season and has all new coaches, a new offense, a new defense. Who says Slive hasn’t got a sense of humor?
Sept 28 - Florida (Gators) at home
Here be Gators (via Easternblot)
Are you kidding me? Florida with 8,532 consecutive wins against Kentucky dares to enter Commonwealth assuming a win? Yeah, I would too if I were them but Kentucky’s first three impressive wins followed by a bye week have given the Gators pause. And for good reason. Florida has established itself offensively with some great play by Driskel and a slew of new receivers; but, is still is trying to find its running game with running back roster decimated by injuries and illnesses.
Matt Jones returned to the lineup the previous week and ran all over the Volunteers but has a tougher time with the Wildcats. The game opens with a kick-off return by Demarco Robinson and the crowd goes wild. From there it’s back and forth as neither team can stop the other’s passing attack.
With less than a three minutes to go and trailing by 5 UK gets the ball on the Wildcat 7 yard line. Whitlow goes to work with quick sideline patterns, run plays by Dyshawn Mobley and some gifted scrambling to advance into Florida territory. Finally, on 4th and seven at the 8 yard line the Cats are forced to go for the TD and a perfect pass to A.J. Legree gets knocked away by the Florida defender after an obvious, but uncalled, pass interference call as time expires. Dammit! Where are those great refs we assumed for this dream sequence!!
Final score: UK 43, UF 48
Oct 5 - South Carolina (Gamecocks) at Columbia
Gamecocks? Seriously? The jokes write themselves. (via bixentro)
After a heartbreaking loss to the Gators at home, Stoops’ team pulls itself together to invade Williams-Brice Stadium. The early smackdown of the Gamecocks by Georgia (43-2) has Spurrier torn between coaching, playing golf or becoming the cover model for Coaching Hunks magazine; although, he has managed to keep his shirt and shoes on through the early part of the season. As expected, the visor remains superglued to his head regardless of events.
From South Carolina you either get offense or defense, not both. This year it’s defense but primarily up front. Neither offense can gain much traction as both defensive units determine the pace of the game. Kentucky’s secondary comes up strong with outstanding secondary work as they get 4 picks, 3 by Ashely Lowery. It’s a slug fest and UK’s Air Raid with Whitlow and then Smith running the team (or was it Smith and then Whitlow?) manages to get and maintain the lead for the whole game.
The difference in the game are a couple of long passes, one to Jordan Aumiller with 35 yards after the catch and a beautiful 65 yarder to Daryl Collins to get the ball deep into Gamecock territory. Smith enters the game because Whitlow gets injured (or was it Smith for Whitlow?) ; after all, this is South Carolina - a UK QB’s hell on earth.
With the defense all set for the passing wizardry of Air Raid the fans are wowed with two dynamic scoring runs: One by Jojo Kemp on a 23 yard score where he zigs and zags about 150 yards to finally reach paydirt and the other by Raymond Sanders, features full gainer, 720 spin with a stiff arm and tap dance that leaves Jadeveon Clowney tackling two teammates and dashing his Heisman hopes. Overall, it’s not an exciting, high scoring game but it shows that the defense is for real - and we have a secondary that knows to turn their head to look for the ball. The simple things in life are so rewarding.
Final Score: UK 17, USC 9
Oct 12 - Alabama (Crimson Tide, Elephants, whatever) at home
Bear? That you? (via thepipe26)
Dateline: Lexington, Ky - The
NFL SEC Alabama football team invaded Commonwealth Stadium with a troop of mutants led by the diabolical Magneto. Kentucky stood its ground and fought toe to toe in a valiant effort but ultimately succumbed to the overwhelming onslaught. Initially the war was even as Kentucky repeatedly rose to prevent the Tide from invading the endzone with blitzes, tight man-on-mutant coverage and ferocious hits. Bama came by ground and by air but the defenses of UK eventually ran out of soldiers as the fight continued into the fourth quarter.
Offensively, the Cats weren’t powerless. The laser QB throws, slashing running and uncanny ability to know the enemies weakness led to a great deal of success in taking the battle to the invaders. Magneto had let it be known he didn’t like the tactics his enemies had installed to wear out his minions with rapid strike methods; but did find just enough respites in the action to inject fresh bodies to bolster the defense. As the war time was coming to an end and the foes had battled to a virtual standstill, the Mutant Tide made a final march to secure an empty victory. After the battle, Magneto credited Mystique’s sudden field goal prowess. UK’s Professor X pledged to be Professor X & Os for the next time these mighty faced one another and expressed gratitude for the both the participants and the encouraged bystanders.
Final UK 35, UA 38
So now the Wildcats have made it through the first half of Stoops first season and the record stands at 4 - 2, even after enduring the toughest four game stretch in college football. Playing four top ten teams in a row has taken a toll on the players and they look forward to the bye week like an oasis in the desert. The first week’s schedule is ice packs, hot tub, rub down, rest (repeat as necessary) then the next week is ice packs, hot tub, rub down, practice, ice packs, hot tub and rest as they recharge their batteries for the second half of the season and enjoy a well earned top 15 ranking.
How will the season turn out? Stay tuned and find out in Part 2. See you next week.