First of all, apologies for my not showing up in the open basketball thread. Two games in one day simply required more blogging than I could stand, and after the Tennessee game, Jack Daniels and I took the rest of the night off.
Anyway, what a great football game that was. As badly as the Wildcats played in the first half, they more than made up for it in the second half. Overall, I don't think we can say that Kentucky lost this game by lack of effort or poor play. Taken as a whole, both teams gave great effort and made some very big plays. It was an impressive display of SEC football, and I want to congratulate Tennessee on their well-earned victory.
Obviously, Kentucky fizzled in the first half, and Tennessee was awesome. That first play from scrimmage was just a thing of beauty, and by the time the first half was over, I must admit that I took Steve Brown's name in vain quite a few times. Tennessee dominated the Cats on offense in the first half, and even though the defense got scored on, they gave Kentucky's offense opportunities -- the offense just refused to take advantage of them. A good part of that was Tennessee's stout run defense which, while stout in the first half, was less so in the second.
What amazed me about the second half was the change in Woodson. Suddenly, he was throwing the ball instinctively again, and much more successfully. Keenan Burton finally made himself a factor, and four Kentucky receivers had 80+ yards catching the ball. This game had everything. Great offense, great defense, special teams miscues and successes. It was just a great overall football game, and you have to think that UK coming back from a 24-7 hole against the Volunteers was one of the great comebacks in Wildcat football history. It just fell about two yards short.
The play that really angered me, although it probably shouldn't have given how tired the team was at that point, was the touchdown UT scored on the first play from scrimmage in the fourth overtime when UK had them all the way back to the 40. That breakdown was a really bad one, and ultimately cost Kentucky the football game. But the Cats had chances -- Woodson missed a wide-open Keenan Burton in the back of the end zone at the end of regulation which would have won the game outright. Seiber had a 38 yard field goal blocked in the third overtime which would have won the game. In the SEC, you either take advantage of opportunities, or you lose. I'm afraid Kentucky's failure to capitalize was ultimately what did the Cats in.
I have to hand it to the officials -- they called a good game. Every penalty they called was obvious to everyone, and they seemed to get every call right, except for that last one against Foster. Clearly, Foster did react strongly, and what we don't know was what he said, because it all happened right beside an official -- not the best place to throw a temper tantrum. Still, that one could have been overlooked, I think. But if that was the worst call they made, it ultimately didn't affect the outcome. The turnovers worked out to be even.
I have to say that this season turned out to be a bit disappointing, especially going 1-5 in the last half of it. The Cats had a chance to beat Georgia and Tennessee, but failed to get the job done. Losing to MSU at home, as good a team as they turned out to be, was also a big disappointment, although in retrospect, not as big as it was at the time given our injuries and how good they turned out to be. Still, it's hard to have too many regrets -- how many back -to-back 7-5 years has Kentucky had in the last 30 or so? So I think a bit of perspective is in order, even if it is bitter.
For this game, it's hard to point to any one reason Kentucky lost, which is probably a good thing -- a sign that the Cats played pretty well over all and just got beaten by a deeper, more talented team. Tennessee just kept coming, and the Cats eventually blinked. The LSU game could well have gone exactly the same way, and it's amazing to have been involved in two such thrillers in a single year. The Cats came out 1-1 in overtime games, which is not too bad. For those interested in what it looked like graphically, Joel has an animated drive chart and some commentary over at Rocky Top Talk.
In summary, congrats to the Vols, and good luck in Atlanta. Congratulations are also in order for Kentucky's seniors, for leaving it all out there on the field and giving us another memorable effort, even in a losing cause. We are going to miss those guys, but they have one more chance for glory.
Bowl-wise, we are looking at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA. I'm not an expert on the bowl selection process, but if I were the bowl committees, I would think one of the first two would be more likely to draw a crowd from Kentucky, especially given our overwhelming presence in Nashville last year. Memphis is further, but the Cats certainly travel well enough to sell that one out as well. Shreveport is another story, but I think they would want Mississippi State rather than Kentucky. My money is on another Music City Bowl appearance.