The Kentucky Wildcats had a rough outing Saturday night. That isn't news to anyone. Kentucky played flat for most of the game, but snuck back in the final seven minutes of the game to score two touchdowns to tie the game in regulation and win the game in overtime.
Now that the game is over, and we've all collectively caught our breath and our hearts have quit racing, here are five takeaways from Saturday night's game.
1. Dorian Baker is the receiver Kentucky has been looking for.
Dorian Baker is an SEC wide receiver. He's big, fast, strong, can catch a variety of passes, and commands the attention of the opposing defenses. Baker is the kind of receiver Kentucky has been lacking for years, and that is showing through.
I know EKU is an FCS opponent, and they aren't an SEC defense, but Baker stepped up and made play after play Saturday night, catching eight passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-tying and winning touchdowns.
Baker is still putting it together. He has to maintain consistency in catching passes and avoiding critical drops. There is always room for a receiver to polish off their route running. He has to make sure to play within himself, and avoid getting too anxious. That being said, he has all the physical tools to be a top-notch SEC wide receiver.
2. Cory Johnson is an All-SEC caliber defensive lineman
In the last three games alone, CJ Johnson has racked up 36 total tackles, two sacks, and a blocked kick. Six tackles against Florida, 11 against Missouri, and 19 against EKU. Those 19 tackles are the most by a UK defensive lineman since 1991. Not bad for a guy who was second string at the beginning of the season. After starter Regie Meant went down with an injury, Johnson stepped up and has never looked back.
If Johnson continues on this pace, he will finish near the top of the SEC in tackles, possibly near the top of Division I. In his senior season, Johnson is making a major impact on the Kentucky defensive line.
3. The offensive line is young, but talented
With senior Jordan Swindle out, Kentucky started four redshirt sophomores along the offensive line, with the only other being junior center Jon Toth. In addition, true freshman George Asafo-Adjei has seen a lot of playing time. Kentucky's young offensive line is talented, but the lack of experience shows at times. They were vastly outplayed against Florida and for most of the night against EKU. However, they held their own for most of the game against one of the league's best front sevens in Missouri.
The young offensive line is something to be excited about for the future of Kentucky football, especially with more talented recruits coming in. Swindle provides experience for the young group, and hopefully he will be able to be back on the field when Auburn comes into town October 15.
4. Kentucky's red zone defense has been astounding
The Wildcats do not make it easy for teams when they're in scoring range. Time and time again, Kentucky's defense has held strong with their backs against the wall. A large portion of that can be attributed to an improved pass defense. The secondary is much improved. True freshman Chris Westry has played pretty well as a freshman, Cody Quinn has been improved, JD Harmon has exceeded all expectations and has made several big plays, and safeties Marcus McWilson and AJ Stamps have held up strong. Linebacker Josh Forrest has also played a big role in pass coverage, being among the team leaders in passes deflected.
Kentucky has only allowed three passing touchdowns in the red zone through five games.
5. This team will go as far as Patrick Towles takes them
Towles is the key to this offense. When he is playing well, the Wildcats are a tough team to beat. Patrick Towles has to play within the offense, take the plays that are available, not force throws, and use his athleticism when nothing is available. When he has done that, Kentucky has fared well. When he has not, the Wildcats have struggled. The difference can be seen in Towles against Florida and then against Missouri. It is nearly night and day.
The main key will be accuracy. If Towles completes 60 percent or better of his throws, Kentucky is at their best. in Kentucky's four wins, Towles has completed roughly 67 percent of his passes, including 72 percent against South Carolina and 81 percent against Missouri. If Towles can maintain a high completion percentage, Kentucky will be in every game from here on out.