Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, Randall Cobb, Matt Roark, Andre' Woodson, Stevie Johnson, Derrick Locke, Danny Trevathan, and Derek Abney are some of the Kentucky football players that have, in my lifetime, provided us with some of the all-time great single game performances. These names are royalty among Kentucky fans.
Who can forget Tim Couch going into Louisville and absolutely blowing the doors off of Papa John's Stadium in the Cardinals home debut there? Or Jared Lorenzen gunning it out with Arkansas in a seven overtime game that ended in a loss for the Wildcats? The term "Stevie Got Loose" is one uttered in reverence and will always bring a smile to the face of whoever says it. Randall Cobb had more than one game that left fans breathless and wondering, "How in the hell can he do all of that?"
Now add Jojo Kemp's performance against South Carolina on Saturday night with the rest.
Before I begin, this was a team effort and a team win. I don't want to take anything away from Bud Dupree, AJ Stamps, Josh Forrest, Patrick Towles, Ryan Timmons, or the host of Wildcats that played excellently against the Gamecocks. But what Jojo did deserves extra attention because of the situation.
One cannot forget that Kemp barely saw the field in the prior game against Vanderbilt. The bulk of the carries went to Braylon Heard and Boom Williams. Jojo entered the game late and ran the Wildcat in order to bleed out the clock so that the ‘Cats could exit the field with a victory. The Commodores couldn't stop it, but they weren't able to stop Kentucky running the ball all day, so it didn't really register how effective the package would later prove to be.
After the game, offensive coordinator Neal Brown was asked why Kemp didn't see the field more against Vandy, and Brown responded with a simple answer, "He needs to practice better."
The following night changed everything. Boom Williams, along with Drew Barker, Dorian Baker, and Tymere Dubose were all suspended for causing a panic around campus. They were playing a game called "Man Hunt" with air-soft guns, which are less powerful than a pellet gun, and were subsequently suspended for the South Carolina game. Without Boom, Kentucky was left without one of the most explosive weapons on offense.
Someone had to step up and take the place of Boom. That someone was Jojo Kemp. He rushed 17 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina, the majority of those runs were late in the game. His final touchdown came as Kentucky was down 38-31 with just under four minutes remaining in the game. His teammates had to practically carry him off of the field because he was so exhausted from his efforts.
The Gamecocks couldn't stop Jojo in the Wildcat, so Neal Brown kept running it. And he kept running it. And he kept running it. Kemp was ripping off six yards or more per play. There came a point when he tried to signal to the sideline that he needed to come out of the game for a breather, tapping his head to notify the coaches. But relief didn't come. Coach Mark Stoops urged him to stay in the game and finish what he started. And that's what Kemp did. He capped off the drive with the game tying touchdown.
As I watched him run, I could almost feel every hit that he took. The look of pure exhaustion on his face made my heart go out to him as he was almost pleading to be taken out of the game. But he continued to grind and carry the team and the hopes and dreams of the fans on his back. My admiration for the young man went up and he became my favorite player on this team.
A Mike Douglas tip and a Bud Dupree interception for a touchdown clenched the victory for the Wildcats.
But without Jojo Kemp's heart and desire, Dupree may not have had the opportunity to win the game. What Kemp did took guts. It inspired his teammates and the crowd in the stadium and the people watching the game at home. It signified that there is no quit in this team, and that the players that Mark Stoops is bringing to Kentucky are elite and some of the best in the nation.
After the game, Kemp let his emotions flow and begged the question, "Why Not Kentucky?"
Mark Stoops had never given a game ball before. But he gave one to Jojo Kemp after the game and it was well deserved. Hours after the win, Kentucky received a commitment for a four star defensive back from the class of 2016. The following day, two four star twin brothers from Ohio and the class of 2015 pledged their commitment to the ‘Cats. Would that have happened without a win? Who knows for sure.
The ramifications and the ripple effects of the game against South Carolina are just starting to be felt. Recruits are buzzing. The national media is starting to take notice. The SEC is set up for the ‘Cats to actually make some noise.
The crowd was magnificent on Saturday night. The coaches called one helluva game. Big time players made big time plays on both sides of the ball. But it was Jojo Kemp that will be the face of that win forever. He will be the player associated with the game that changed it all for Kentucky.