They couldn’t make it easy, could they? They just had to make us sweat it out. Nonetheless, the Kentucky Wildcats have defeated Mississippi State for the first time in seven years, and they now sit at 4-3 on the season. This game had its ups and downs on both sides of the ball, as at times the entire team looked dominant, and at other times it seemed like the sky was falling. The final moments weren’t for the faint of heart, but Austin MacGinnis proved himself and made up for an earlier miss with a game-winning 51-yard field goal to give the Cats a 40-38 lead as time expired. Here are some takeaways from the much-needed win.
Time management has to be better
Let me get the bad stuff out of the way first. Mark Stoops did not handle the clock well at all on Kentucky’s final drive. I assume that the plan was to have the offense set once the chains reset after first downs so that time wouldn’t be wasted. However, on one of the final plays of the game, the Cats wasted about 15 seconds trying to organize the formation despite the fact that they had multiple timeouts left. It worked out for the best in the end, but Kentucky was scrambling to get into field goal range in time when they could have instead had a much easier kick and perhaps a few seconds to spare.
Stephen Johnson’s turnover issues need to be fixed
The coaching staff has already addressed Johnson’s turnovers, but the problem isn’t getting fixed. Johnson had 2 fumbles yet again, and there’s been a prevalent theme of him turning the ball over multiple times each game ever since he took over for the injured Drew Barker. The rest of Johnson’s game was pretty good, he threw for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns and went interception-free. However, his fumbles - namely the one that was returned for a touchdown - put Kentucky in a very tough spot that they shouldn’t have been in.
Benny Snell should get the ball as much as he can handle it
Benny Snell, the emerging leader of Kentucky’s dominant ground game, was a man among boys this week. He had 19 carries for 128 yards, averaging 6.7 yards-per-carry and scoring 1 touchdown. He outdid his elder, Boom Williams, who had the quietest 99-yard game I’ve seen in quite some time. Snell has continued to emerge as perhaps the best running back on the roster. While his skill set differs from Williams’, it’s safe to say that Eddie Gran will be happy to feed the hot hand and let Snell lead the team in carries if he’s going to run as well as he has the past few weeks.
BENNY. SNELL. JR. TO. THE. HOUSE. pic.twitter.com/JCRXIzpbGv— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 23, 2016
Kentucky got deep into the playbook
It’s safe to say creativity blossomed this week, as the Cats were running some plays that came out of left field. The wildcat formation was used heavily, as we’ve seen before this year, but this week Kentucky ran some trick plays out of it. There was a trick play where Johnson pretended to adjust the line as the ball was snapped to Snell (that one didn’t work out so well) and there were multiple reverse plays. On top of that, Gran had some much more aggressive play calls, letting Johnson loose to throw the deep ball. Above all else, the creativity showed confidence in Johnson, and Johnson showed confidence in himself.
Jeff Badet had a breakout game
We certainly could’ve wished for more from the receivers this week. It seemed as though their dropping issues from a year ago had been solved for the most part, but the issue crept back up in this game. Despite the drops, one player Kentucky should be more than pleased with is Jeff Badet. Badet had a career day, catching 7 passes for 139 yards, giving him a whopping 19.9 yards-per-catch. He also hauled in 2 touchdowns (including that one above). It was Badet’s first 100-yard performance of the season, and helped to make up for some of the very bad drops that we saw from other receivers.
Badet does an outstanding job on this play of using his body to shield off the defender while making the catch.
Kentucky’s bowl hopes are alive and strong
No one, and I mean no one, thought we’d be where we are now after Week 1. The Cats have a winning record, they’re 3-2 in SEC play, and they have multiple games left on the schedule that are very winnable. Nothing’s guaranteed here, but Kentucky looks poised to end the bowl drought, and finally finish at least 6-6 (though they have a real chance to go 7-5).