Kentucky went into the Thursday night game vs. Auburn with an eye on the prize, the bounty being the inside track on a possible SEC East title, as well as a New Years Day Bowl. The Kentucky faithful were straight up rowdy before the game and during it. The very first tailgate I walked upon had some Wacka Flocka blasting and what looked like the fourth game of been pong in a best of 27 series.
The New Commonwealth Stadium was packed and a lot of orange got in for the Tigers. Nonetheless, it was a borderline special atmosphere for our boys in blue to work with.
In all three of UK's SEC games, they have started the game in a tumultuous manner by essentially handing the opponent an opening score. While tonight there was not a turnover, the ease with which Auburn marched downfield and punched it in was reminiscent of a lopsided little league game.
Auburn converted on four third downs and punched it in to take a 7-0 lead with ease. To the ‘Cats credit they jumped on the back of newly reinstated Boom Williams and rode him to a 60-yard run to set up goal to go and then a finishing TD from Boom to reset the score to even.
‘Cats All-Conference kicker Austin MacGinnis is nursing a sore groin and was relegated to field goals only so back up kicker Miles Butler was handed the kickoff duties. Butler simply does not have the leg that MacGinnis does and the ensuing kickoff was taken at around the 14-yard line and returned another 28 yards. A long pass from Sean White to Ricardo Lewis set up a first down DEEP in UK territory.
Two plays later, the Tigers would score on yet another third down to take a 14-7 lead. It seemed we have been in store for a shoot out but UK would not be able to keep up as they went three and out. Towles missed a wide-open Jeff Badet around mid-field on what would have been a big conversion for UK.
Kentucky was able to avoid a deep hole by holding Auburn to a three and out on a great defensive stop on third down with an all out blitz and a batted down screen pass.
UK put together an impressive drive with a huge third down conversion of 26 yards to Charles Walker, from the four-yard line. Passes of 16 and 12 yards to Dorian Baker and Juice Johnson, with a 14- yard Towles scramble sandwiched in there, got the ‘Cats in striking distance.
On second and goal, Patrick Towles made a bad decision and tried to force a slant to Dorian Baker. The pass was picked of f in the end zone and you could feel the collective groan in the stadium.
Disaster was avoided when the ‘Cats D was able to bend but not break and only gave up a field goal to see the Tigers go up 17-7
Kentucky would overcome a huge loss of yardage when Juice Johnson had a 30-yard completion negated and backed up 15 yards on a questionable offensive pass interference call. Towles hit Juice Johnson over the middle on 3rd and 22 and a threaded needle to put UK near midfield.
The ‘Cats would drive but stall and settle for a 28 yard MacGinnis field goal to pull to 17-10. Kentucky would once again stall Auburn deep in UK territory and settle for a field goal to go down 20-10. Kentucky had visions of scoring just before halftime and getting the ball back in the third but a very quick three and out gave Auburn the ball back with plenty of time to score.
Auburn would end the half with a long field goal to go up 23-10 and they took momentum with them. The first half was one that saw UK get zero pressure on the QB. The few times they did get pressure it resulted in a badly missed pass or a tackle for loss.
Offensively the summation of the half was simply missing opportunities. Towles missed an easy TD to Garrett Johnson and it would have been 23-17.
UK opened the second half getting the ball and needing some momentum badly. Kentucky found the middle of the field early an often on their first possession of the half. Sprinkle in what can only be deemed a Boom Williams play* (crazy run only a few people on earth can do) got UK to first and goal.
The next play Boom took the ball up the middle, juked one defender, was seemingly tackled, but was able to stretch out the ball for a TD. If you were playing NCAA Football, you would have to immediately edit the awareness setting on Boom to 99 because that was a phenomenal effort.
The score brought the ‘Cats to 23-17 and a MUCH needed momentum jolt as well as a crowd energizer. A HUGE defensive hold gave the ‘Cats the ball with 10:38 left in the third. While the ‘Cats were not able to take advantage on offense they were at least able to flip the field and cause Auburn to start from the 20 instead of great position.
The ‘Cats held on a HUGE third down when Jason Hatcher sacked Sean White inside the 10, the sack was important because Auburn had a receiver running wide open 20 yards downfield.
In maybe the most pivotal play of the game, Kentucky had a fourth and one, and barely got the necessary yardage. Had they not gotten the first down it is Auburn ball near midfield and momentum gone.
Freshman C.J. Conrad is a big Rob Gronkowski fan and helped set up the ‘Cats with a very Gronk-like reception where he caught it at the 28 and was stopped, but pulled the pile to the 21 yard line.
While UK could not punch it in, they did gain some valuable momentum and pull to within three points behind another MacGinnis field goal.
The UK Defense continued its massive momentum shift when they held Auburn to a three and out and another punt. Auburn was suffocated the entire third quarter, the secondary was playing much tighter coverage, and most importantly the defensive line was getting pressure.
The ‘Cats opened the fourth quarter with all the momentum and a three point deficit. The Big Blue Nation was ready to party as if Commonwealth Stadium was on Grove Street.
After UK was unable to move the chains, they punted to Auburn who grinded out a monster TD, largely on the ground, to give the Tigers the lead 30-20 with 7:56 left.
The ‘Cats had to go to work with their backs against the wall and a much deflated stadium behind it. Kentucky would get a chance to play hero to 63,000 when they were able to score on the back of a Jeff Badet sideline catch at the two-yard line. Two plays later UK was within a field goal and a defensive hold away from a program changing win.
An amazingly borderline holding call would negate a huge Boom Williams gain, but UK would get to midfield and that is when the wheels fell off. There are times in people's careers when opportunity presents itself. Sometimes it comes giftwrapped in a nice big bow. Shannon Dawson had a chance to grab something that is normally reserved for the SEC's upper echelon.
I am not sure if he was trying to be cute or what, but with no timeouts and the clock under a minute he called a run on second and five, from midfield. My question is so what if you get 5 yards, you need 20-25 more for a safe attempt from a gimpy MacGinnis.
This set up a rushed 3rd and five and an incompletion, on 4th down Patrick Towles looked to be scrambling from the outset and did not see a WIDE OPEN, WIDE OPEN Blake Bone eight yards downfield. The ‘Cats turned it over and a potential primetime victory.
Kentucky has now taken a potential dream run off the table and now must focus on getting bowl eligible and hoping for probably a 7-win season. Granted, that would still be a great year and be welcomed by the BBN. Having said that, in all realms of life, you are handed opportunities and Kentucky has now had two BIG opportunities for something special a year or two ahead of schedule.