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Kentucky Football - Irrational Exuberance: Lets Get Stoopider

The annual fever-dream of a Kentucky football fan.

Andy Lyons

Oh boy! It’s here! It’s finally here! FOOTBAWLLLLLLLLL. And what comes with football? Preseason high hopes and expectations and it runs rampant at UK where a new sheriff in town has captured the spirit of the Big Blue Nation and made his 2-10 record look much better than … the previous 2-10 record? Some outsiders start to "get it" but most don’t. We know better, we know the improvements, we know the direction, we know the program and we will not listen to doubters. We can be positive or even more positive but now it’s time for a flight of fancy where all our football dreams come true, where opponents are the ones falling on their own sword and God takes a moment to smile upon our downtrodden football program. It’s a new year and we’re undefeated.

So what can herald such unbridled optimism other than massive intake of mind altering drugs? Kentucky has a lot going for it this year and we, of course, will accentuate the positive and minimize or totally ignore any semblance of fact that contradicts our hearts desire. Can a team make dramatic improvements from one year to the next? Yes. Can a team exceed the "experts" predictions for the season? Yes. Irrational? Absolutely. Exuberant? Of course.

To get you in the right frame of mind let’s start by going through positives surrounding this team - and there are a bunch.

  • Recruiting - After a quickly slapped together impressive first recruiting class Stoops & Company did not disappoint with his second group of players. He recruited and kept together a great class (including in-state standout Drew Barker) that will provide some immediate help for this season (A.J. Stamps, Blake Bone, Dorian Baker, Matt Elam, Jarrett LaRubbio, Ryan Flannigan, Mikel Horton, Stanley Williams, T.V. Williams, Josh Krok, well, just about everyone is possible).

  • Depth - To go along with recruiting is depth. Stoops knew there was little to work with when it took the job, maybe even less than his worst estimates. Kentucky was at the point where we had some good players scattered around the team but, in most cases, if that talent went down there was no one to step in. "Next man up" cries were answered with "Who, me?" Two recruiting classes have gone a long way in shoring up the team and now has given the staff options at some positions (QB, RB, DT, OL, WR, S, DE, etc.) Considering the previous talent on the team combined with over 50 players in the last two classes, Stoops is at two deep for every position. Some of that depth does not have experience or is very young (or both) but at least fans don’t wince every time a 2 comes in to give the starter a rest. Depth has risen sharply and the grind of an SEC schedule demands that depth.


While the offensive scheme is still Neil Brown’s, we now actually have some players to run it (or pass) the football. It is going to be a thrill to watch a game with realistic expectations that passes will be completed, blocks will be made, runs will gain yardage and quarterbacks won’t be pounded into the ground and become one of the walking wounded.

  • Quarterback - Last year had to be incredibly frustrating for Neil Brown. He comes back to Kentucky to install a high powered offense only to realize he has to choose a quarterback between a player suited to an option offense and a player held together by duct tape. This year he had the luxury of selecting among 3 ½ viable options and now is in the position where he has options, and good ones. The quarterback position may be the most improved position on the field compared to last year.

  • Running Back - In 2013, Kentucky had three running backs with more than 20 carries go for a total of 1246 yards and they had to work their butt off to get those yards. Two (Sanders, Mobley) are gone but we’ve ended up with a stable of backs, each with their own running style and ability, whatever might be needed at a particular point in a game - speed, power, elusive, inside, outside, shifty and all are expected to catch passes and provide blocking or they don’t get on the field. A more effective passing game (see below) will open up the run game for Kemp, Heard, Horton, Williams and Clemons — enough talent to think "run first" to set up the passing game.

  • Receivers - This ones a slam dunk (for you basketball fans). The good news is, Kentucky’s top four receivers are back from last season. The bad news is that they accounted for 1422 yards, which only got Javess Blue to #19 and Ryan Timmons to #43 in the SEC. Just like our upgrade in the backfield, our receiving corps has grown in number and size. We still don’t have the level of receivers Neil Brown wants on a perfect roster but the group of Blue, DeMarco Robinson, Thaddeus Snodgrass, Jeff Badet, Alexander Montgomery, Rashad Cunningham, T.V. Williams, Cameron Fogle and more will provide a lot of options. With the addition of height (Dorian Baker, Blake Bone), a year of experience, a running game and a quarterback, this unit will explode. And don’t forget, Javess Blue is a 2nd year JUCO - "Javess got loose" sounds pretty good.

  • Offensive line - Yes, some say we’re returning a "bad" line but last year the line was blocking for a one-dimensional offensive scheme. A viable offensive scheme and a year of experience will prove critical to a line that will come into its own this year. A combination of experienced returnees bolstered by Stoops first batch of redshirt freshmen will gel into a two deep wall of quarterback protection and lane opening trench warfare. It may not reach the level Stoops wants, but it will erase last year’s memory of confusion and breakdowns. At the least, we could go big - real big. How about Teven Eatmon-Nared, John Gruenschlaeger, Cole Mosier, Jon Toth and Jordan Swindle lined up together? Average height, 6’ 7". Average weight, 331. That’s even bigger than Brown’s lines at Texas Tech.


Year 2 of Mark Stoops means defensive improvement. Take it to the bank. Players will know what to do and how to do it. That alone is good for at least a couple of wins. Add to that Stoops defensive depth chart and one gets the impression Stoops and Eliot have invented a new defensive scheme that melds from play to play.

  • Defensive Tackles - Gone are Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble. Enter Matt Elam (could someone widen and lengthen that door please), Mike Douglas, Melvin Lewis, Regie Meant, ChristianColeman, Cory Johnson and others. Personally, I think Rumph was by far the better of the two but together they still did not reach their potential. The defensive dike was so leaky last year blame was spread pretty evenly across the whole side of the ball (exemption for Za’Darius Smith/ Bud Dupree and AveryWilliamson) but up front Eliot has harnessed enough meat and talent to clog the middle against about any team.

  • Corners - J.D. Harmon is back, all last year’s players are back and new players are competing for playing time. Things are looking nothing but up for this critical position. We are definitely heading in the right direction in stopping wheel routes and other defensive groaners from last year.

  • Safety - Ashely Lowery has done well but look for an upgrade at safety. Competition raises everyone’s level. Eliot’s job becomes easier with the luxury of choosing between Lowery, Glenn Faulkner, Stamps, Eric Dixon, Zack Blaylock, Marcus McWilson and others to lock down the deep ball and provide run support. No matter who starts, there will be a good rotation in the secondary.

  • Linebacker - You just don’t easily replace Avery Williamson but with the de-emphasis of linebackers in Eliot’s scheme and the return of experienced personnel there won’t be the drop off many expect. While we may not have a great deal of depth, we will have a good linebacking corp - Khalid Henderson, Daron Blaylock, Blake McClain, TraVaughn Paschal, Josh Forrest and more will ease the Big Blue Nation’s mind.

  • Defensive Ends - C’mon! Dupree and Smith? Enough said, we’re set there, have capable backups with a year of experience under the belt of Jason Hatcher, Farrington Huguenin and Denzil Ware. I pity the opposing quarterbacks (not really).

Special Teams

The entertaining Bradley Dale Peveto is gone but Craig Naivar has stepped in to lead the Special Teams. Landon Foster returns and I look forward to him returning to 2012 form and Austin MacGinnis steps in to replace Mansour. So far, reports from camp indicate we’re in good feet and the punt/kick-off return men (Timmons, Blue, Robinson, etal) will add some excitement and uptick from last year’s woes.


With the exception of Peveto, Stoops retained his entire coaching staff to add stability and consistency to the coaching effort. All the returning players have a year of experience not just on the new offensive and defensive schemes but also on how they are being coached, how practices are conducted, how they are to represent themselves and the university, what is expected in the off season and a year of encouragement of the BBN. This experience is crucial in the continuing upgrade of the team. Practices go faster so more is learned and, most importantly, new players can be "coached" by veterans. There was no one last year to help the coaching staff spread their knowledge.

  • Erik Korem - Stoops not so secret weapon is using Korem’s comprehensive and innovative (at least to NCAA football) approach to creating better athletes, athletes whose bodies are developed specifically for the position they play. Much has been written about his system but the end result is efficient development of the team while striving toward minimizing injury. On the thin roster like Kentucky’s, this avoidance of injury is paramount and keeping our best players on the field is vital to a successful season. Make no mistake, Korem is vital and should receive coach of the year honors.

With the rapid annualization of football, (actually it’s alway been there, the BBN just didn’t have a reason to live it) it seems like an eternity since we last saw our Cats walk off the field at Neyland Stadium. Even though they compiled the same dreadful 2-10 record of the previous year, something was different. They didn’t leave the field defeated, just dedicated. Dedicated to reversing history of the program, reversing mindsets of the players, reversing doubt in the fanbase … and Change the Game (and I don’t mean to basketball).

So enough with all these positives, it’s time to talk games. Thankfully, UK got a bit of a reprieve in the schedule compared to last year but it is still far from a cake walk, more like a minefield. Sure, there have been encouraging forecasts and positive spins but let’s go farther, into that area of pigskin bliss where our team can do no wrong and our opponents wither before us as we climb the ladder of success on the gridiron. So we begin our annual Irrational Exuberance…

Week 1 - Tennessee Martin Skyhawks

What better way to kick off the season than playing a FCS school. It’s sort of like the first time the training wheels come off a new bike. Wheeeeeeee… this is fun. Freedom to go faster, hit harder and make a few mistakes without jeopardizing the outcome. Towles does well in his first outing as Brown concentrates on cleaning up offensive execution in a basic offensive attack. The defense looks more like a cohesive unit than last year. Of course, it helps they are going against a team with a new scheme and offensive coordinator and we know that can be trying at times. The Skyhawks offense struggles throughout the game as Kentucky’s defense gets ever more aggressive as the game wears on. While not a thing a beauty the team works out some kinks at the expense of the Skyhawks and gets the season off to a nice start. UK 27, UTM 6


(via L'eau Bleue)

Week 2 - Ohio University Bobcats

What’s the difference between a Bobcat and a Wildcat? About 30 points. It looks like things are coming together a little better in UK’s second outing. It’s obvious from the outset that Neil Brown’s emphasis today is going to be tempo. The Cats (the Wild kind) get plays off so fast the referees are using subs. Ohio has a great Head Coach (Frank Solich) but even he has no answer for UK’s offense and by the second half the Bobcats are gassed and couldn’t stop a Pop Warner team. Meanwhile the defense stifles Ohio’s offense and if not for some secondary lapses resulting in Bobcat scores, it would have been a perfect game. The BBN still savors the win and leaves the stadium jubilant at the "new" team. UK 41, Ohio 10


(via Vlad the Impala)

Week 3 - at Florida Gators

And so the SEC schedule begins, and with the biggest thorn in our side - Florida. They have defeated our Cats around 48,793 consecutive times (I might be a little off, but that feels right). In 2014 Kentucky puts up a helluva fight. Jojo by himself doubles the total 48 yards rushing output of the 2013 fiasco and the receivers make some significant catches but really never seem to get open and dropsies spread like the plague through the receiving corp. Heard and Timmons do all they can in the running game but our passing game falls apart; there are too many Gators in the box and there goes our rushing. We do get a couple of field goals (MacGinnis looking very good) and a couple of touchdowns but Florida is just too much and they are adapting well to their new offense. I hate them, I hate this game and will just have to enjoy seeing them get destroyed by Georgia, LSU, Missouri and Florida State. UK 20, Florida 37


Didn't see that sign... (via gruntzooki)

Week 4 - Vanderbilt Commodores

At this point even the pessimists acknowledged UK would be at 2-1 but so far the team has played above everyone’s projection (except mine). Despite yet another loss against Florida, Kentucky enters the game very confident while the 'Dores are reeling from being dismantled by South Carolina and Ole Miss in their SEC games, and having to come from behind to win a nail biter at Massachusetts. After losing three straight to Vandy, Kentucky runs the risk of going below .500 against the Commodores, the only SEC team we’ve held better than .500 historically. Going into Commonwealth is not on their top 10 list of things to do and it shows. The Commodores show a brave front but so did the Ewoks. Towles racks up some great numbers for three quarters then Phillips comes in for mop up in the fourth and continues the barrage. Stoops tries running the ball to avoid running up the score but Heard, Timmons and Horton chew up yardage like marathon runners. Kentucky goes a long way to make up for the 40 - 0 beat down in 2012. UK 52, Vandy 17 (Holy crap!)


Beat down (via dwhartwig)

Week 5 - Bye week


Week off. (via A Train)

Week 6 - South Carolina Gamecocks

We generally play South Carolina pretty close (we’ll ignore that ‘11 drubbing of 54-3) and this year it’s at our house. Spurrier comes into the game 5-0 but still pissed off at Kentucky for getting Drew Barker and wants to win bad and run up the score; in other words, Spurrier hasn’t changed. The Gamecocks come out passing, passing and passing again. Well, things are different this year. The secondary responds with interceptions on the first two possessions (one a pick 6) and the combination of Dupree and Smith make Dylan Thompson’s life miserable. When they refocus their offensive attack to Mike Davis he has some good runs but pays dearly. This Kentucky team is very physical and Davis takes some serious damage that reduces his performance. Despite the defense rising to the occasion the offense can’t quite get on track but manages to run enough to keep to ball for long stretches and score enough to get the win on a trick play at the end of the game. Ya gotta luv it. Spurrier consoles himself with a new set of golf clubs. UK 21, USC 17


Man, this driver's sweet. (via Keith Allison)

Week 7 - ULM Warhawks

Lemme see, looking down last year’s results ULM went 6-6 and had an impressive win against…hmmm…no one. Not a whole lot to say about this one as Kentucky has it’s way and gets tuned up for next week against another Louisiana team you may have heard of - LSU. Towles and his receivers turn in their best performance to date after being a bit off in earlier games. All together the offense unleashes over 700 yards of offense in an incredible blowout. UK 53, ULM 10


Well, this is irrational exuberance, after all. (via vancityhotshots)

Week 8 - @ LSU Tigers

Death Valley. A lot of dreams go to die here. It’s loud. It’s intimidating. It’s big. It’s also filled with the best fed but slightly off-kilter fans in the conference. Great people but… there’s… something… not… quite… right… in… the… head. Players from Kentucky showed up with the attitude of an angry dog at a meat market. On the field a war ensues from the outset and neither team is backing down. LSU’s freshman running back phenom, Fournette, is held in check along with the other Tiger running backs and the LSU passing attack is stifled by both the coverage and the relentless Wildcat pass rush (8 sacks, 2 quarterbacks). The Stoops/Eliot defense completely confuses the Tiger offense and comes to be called the Proteus Defense. Kentucky spits and sputters on offense but key receptions by Cunningham, Bone and Badet along with some spectacular running by Heard and Horton keep Kentucky in the lead for the whole game. The fans are muted in shock and Les Miles eats every blade of grass on the LSU sideline - he is flagged later for being on the field while seeking new grazing land. In the end, Kentucky celebrates a victory and the LSU faithful sacrifice themselves into giant vats of jambalaya. UK 13, LSU 7


Oh Noes!  We just lost to Kentucky in Death Valley! (via Tambako the Jaguar)

Week 9 - Mississippi St. Bulldogs

Last year MSU was lucky to pull out a win, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before… and the year before that. Ouch! The 5 game streak has put UK on the wrong end of a 20-21 record against the Bulldogs but Stoops has set up a fine welcoming dinner for Mullen’s minions. For an appetizer Kentucky serves up an on-sides kick to open up the game (recovered). Moving on to the next course the MSU defensive front is fed a steady diet of Kemp, Heard, Horton, Clemons and William. By the middle of the second quarter they seem to be full so we feed their secondary with a bit of Blue, Timmons, Robinson and, of course, throw them a Bone. Not to ignore the Bulldog offense, Dupree and Smith decide to make some nice Prescott and Russell sandwiches and the rest of the defense pitches in to keep MSU well fed with frustration, disguised coverages, blitzes and a 375 pound helping of Beef Elam. By the end of the game both parties are full. MSU is full of discouragement, frustration and body aches while the Kentucky players are full of satisfaction. Burp. UK 31, MSU 24


Man, practice is gonna hurt this week... (via Dyl86)

Week 10 - @ Missouri Tigers

Dorial Greene-Beckham ran wild on Kentucky last year but now sits out a year at Oklahoma after being tossed off the Tiger team for being pretty much a moron. Kentucky’s visit to Columbia does not go as planned. The surprising 2012 SEC East Champs must have had a big gulp of "whoop ass" before the game because they come out on fire and never let up. Kentucky is caught flat footed and quickly find themselves in a big hole. Later Stoops would cast some of the blame on fatigue after the stirring victory at Baton Rouge and beat down of MSU. In the second half Kentucky does make a run at getting back in the game but falls short because of some critical dropped passes. I thought we had gotten past that stage, but no. UK 16, UM 28


Well, that didn't work. (via RobertBasil)

Week 11 - Georgia Bulldogs

The Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium for the last home game for our seniors. The energy from the emotion is palpable when the game gets underway. Kentucky players are playing at the top of their game and quickly take the lead. As it turns out, there are many players not dressed out on Georgia’s team but that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. In spite of the missing personnel, Georgia stages a valiant comeback and goes ahead in the second half. From there it’s back and forth until MacGinnis kicks a 52 yard field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation. Overtimes are just as even as the extra periods extend until in the 4th OT, Georgia converts their two point conversion and Kentucky’s pass for their conversion goes incomplete. (I swear there was pass interference.) UK 45, UGA 47


Yeah, you just knew this wasn't going to end well. (via Cryo Mariena)

Week 12 - @ Tennessee Volunteers

Is there a worse color than orange? Anyway, this game features the two best 2nd year coaches in the SEC (Bielema who?). I don’t doubt Stoops could take Butch Jones but now we’re looking at how those coaches’ teams will face off. Kentucky is coming fresh off two SEC losses while the Volunteers are coming off a bye week after the three week rigors of Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina. It’s a game to see whose battered team can come out on top. Kentucky last beat UT in 2011, before that it was … hmmm… still looking… still looking… oh, 1984. That’s all past history as the 2014 team has proven their mettle and looks to start some streaks of their own. Going into the season the weakness of Tennessee was projected to be their offensive and defensive lines and it proves out on this sunny day at Neyland Stadium. UK fans that made the trip are rewarded with a steady performance by their team. UK’s size and strength in the trenches is the difference in the game. Kentucky picked up a few delay of game penalties as the linemen got into arguments about who could create the biggest hole in the line and who had the most pancake blocks. By the end of the game Kentucky would line up and Towles/Phillips/Smith would just point where they wanted to take the ball. With the running game so effective there were only a token effort in the passing game but even then, no problems. The Wildcat defense was in the same situation. They would draw straws to see who would get the tackle. If it had been about any team but Tennessee it could have been a boring game. UK 38, UT 12


All dressed up and nowhere to go. (via Joelk75)

Week 13 - Bye Week


Target practice. (via Mojave Desert)

Week 14 - @ Louisville Cardinals

This is what we live for. Beating a team with absolutely no redeeming values. It’s a shame such a nice city has to share its name with a horde of embarrassment. We all know that UL has returned as Head Coach that paragon of virtue, Bobby Petrino. The ever-so-amiable Petrino has taken his Cards to the brink of a bowl berth in their first year in the mighty ACC and Cardinal fans are betting line beards and mullets that Louisville will prevail. (With funding secure, Caesar’s Palace proceeds with their "Cardinal" expansion.) The game itself is a glorious spectacle - if you’re a member of the BBN. Kentucky drives in the first half go TD, FG, TD, Punt, TD while Louisville manages Punt, Fumble, Punt, Punt, Interception, FG. The second half (played in front of 15,000 Wildcat fans and 436 Louisville fan) proves much of the same; however, Stoops eases off the pedal after securing a 30 point lead. The seniors denied victory at home make up for it with career performances against the toothed birds. Dupree and Smith become honorary members of the Cardinal backfield while the Louisville secondary gets whiplash watching Blue, Borden and Robinson haul in catch after catch. It’s a thing of beauty that brings tears to your eyes. Afterwards Stoops win Coach of the Year honors and Petrino make a fifteen second consolation stop at Porcini's. UK 49, UL 17


Louisville's offense: I've fallen and I can't get up (via tiswango)

And so ends a season for UK football like no other. The team performed above everyone’s expectation, Stoops pulls down every coach of the year honor, Damien Harris picks Kentucky and Kentucky is picked to go to a major bowl against … Oklahoma. Asked for comment Stoops said "‘Sup, bro?"

And then I woke up and the season began.