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Kentucky Football: Seeing Saturday’s Forest Beyond the Trees

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The 'Cats survived a scare, and on the surface, there could be a lot of be frustrated with. However, upon further examination, it is another step forward.

Jason Marcum

The Kentucky Wildcats got a win and dropped a 40-burger on a team that has won 36 games in the past four years.  A team that has won four straight bowl games and has a head coach who will soon be at a major program.  These are good things.

There are some frustrating aspects of the game and definitely some areas of opportunity, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

The Kentucky Football Fan is one that is jaded, that is understood.  However, the amount of tweets on my timeline along the lines of  "shame on me for falling for this again," and "new stadium, same team" was disturbing.

If you cannot see that we are a better team year over year under Stoops and you are ready to cash in your chips on just another UK football season, then maybe you never will.  You might be the kind of fan that would be mad that we barely won the College Football Playoff if that ever happened.

I wanted to post a very fair, but very rational assessment of what took place on Saturday.  We have many areas of opportunity, but we have A LOT of positives, with only one true concern.

THINGS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT

The Scoring Was There

The ‘Cats scored 40 and left a minimum of 11 points on the field with the extra point and missed field goal to go along with Towles missing Badet in the corner of the end zone.

Louisiana is no slouch, this is a solid team, and for about 40 of the 60 minutes we handled them like an FCS team.

The Running Backs

It is clear we have at least two STRONG backs in Boom Williams and Mikel Horton.  Boom is clearly a playmaker of Cobb-esque proportions and Mikel Horton has a chance to be one of the best all-around backs in the SEC.

The more svelte Horton has added more speed to a large frame and runs downhill as hard as anyone.  Just ask the Ragin Cajun in the video below.

The Secondary

Chris Westry is some kind of talent, and he is only going to get better. J.D. Harmon stepped up to have his best game as a Cat and I would expect him to be the starting corner beside Westry very soon. A.J. Stamps and Marcus McWilson played very solid games, especially in coverage.

The Wide Receivers

Each one of our guys was open deep virtually all night and the completions that Towles did have were spread around to Badet, Bone, Timmons, Johnson, and Baker.

This is a very deep group of talent and they have improved from last season, we are only going to see this group do more and more.

OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE

The D-Line and the Linebackers

This group of players is a big reason for the yardage party the Cajuns had.  The reason this should not be near as big of a worry as some are saying is that we had three of the seven missing.

Jason Hatcher, the best guy we will have not named Forrest is a BIG loss to the defense.  CJ Johnson will make a significant difference up front and give them a big boost in controlling the line of scrimmage. Ryan Flannigan is our best defender not named Hatcher or Forrest.  He averaged 12 tackles per game the last two games of 2014.

Youth

With those three guys out, someone had to fill the void... 16 players made their UK debut Saturday.  That is an absurd number of new guys taking the field, and while they are talented, they are not quite there yet.

True freshmen Josh Allen and Jordan Jones made critical mistakes, but they also made promising plays.  Time will heal as they become exponentially better with time.  Denzil Ware had six tackles, including one for loss in a promising debut for the redshirt freshman.

Add to the list of those making debuts:

  • George Asafo-Adjei: The big guy looked good A LOT, but he was exposed a few times.  Coach Hudspeth took advantage of Asafo-Adjei on multiple occasions.
  • Chris Westry: Westry was solid in coverage all night, he got beat a few times, but nothing that is not fixable or was bad enough to kill us
  • CJ Conrad: Conrad did not record a catch, causing some to wonder about him.  Conrad was a blocking machine all night and made plenty of contribution by springing others.

All of these guys will improve week to week, and with the three missing starters coming back in the next two weeks, they will be depended on less and less.

The Quarterback Position

Patrick Towles is taking a lot of criticism right now; I will be honest and say that I am in agreement with most of it.  My only concern on Patrick coming into the season was his between the ears game.  He failed rather miserably in that area Saturday night, in my opinion.

When Towles started missing passes, he locked up and started aiming the ball.  This, of course, led to his struggles and near disaster performance.

I know that Towles has NFL tools, but I am starting to have serious doubts about his mental abilities.  I would have loved to see Barker with the game on the line.  I am not saying it is time to think about the change, but I am saying it is time it came to front of mind instead of just a possibility.

At this point, taking last season and this performance into consideration, I would not be surprised if Drew Barker takes the job.

THE CONCERN

Austin MacGinnis

It may seem overboard to say that he is the concern of the team, considering his success last season.  However, kicking is more mental than physical and after he missed the extra point, he was clearly rattled.

He pushed the field goal to the right, and he was not able to kickoff into the end zone for his usual touchbacks (he had four touchbacks prior).

It is more than likely a minor setback and he will back to normal as early as Saturday, but it is worth paying attention to.  If he were to struggle to recover, we have nobody near as good as him as an option.

CONCLUSION - THE BIGGEST POSITIVE

As we sat there and the score was 33-10, the discussion was that it surely was Drew Barker time and some mop-up duty.  It seemed like no more than 10 minutes later it is 33-33 and the inevitable Kentucky meltdown was in the house.

However, things are different now...  I can honestly say that as I sat there, I did not think we were going to lose.  It might be the first time in my life I have had that same feeling about Football that I usually reserve for Basketball.

This team took an inevitable death spiral and turned it into a victory.  This coaching staff will not allow this team to fall into that loser mentality.  The evidence that the worm has turned on this program is in the play calling and the lucky bounce.

Shannon Dawson and Mark Stoops were facing a fourth down at midfield in a tie game and instead of punting, they made the decision that if they could not rush for one yard, they did not deserve to win.

In the most Kentucky Football play ever, we fumble the snap on the play.  Instead of it costing us a first down and/or the game, we turn it into a positive gain, a first down, and inevitably a game-winning touchdown.

You do not have to look far to have a good comparison of the difference in the program.  Do you recall the punt against Tennessee when we were inside the Vols 45-yard line?

Would we have liked to see a dominant finish, of course?  However, this program is a whole lot different than before, we are better, and better days are ahead and on the near horizon.