Start polishing those balls, because it looks like the Cats are going bowling...
What an epic run it has been for Coach Mark Stoops and the Cats over these past six weeks. There were plenty of fans, myself included, that didn’t believe it was possible for Kentucky to bounce back after starting the season with a heartbreaking loss to Southern Miss, followed by an embarrassing blow out defeat at Florida.
I’ve never been so happy being wrong.
This team has overcome an awful lot of adversity and given the Big Blue Nation something to be proud of. The Wildcats are almost guaranteed to become bowl eligible on November 19 when they host the Austin Peay Governors, an FCS team whose record is currently 0-7.
With that said, I expect the Cats to be competitive in their three other contests against Georgia, Tennessee and yes, competitive even against Louisville.
Here’s a look at what they’re saying after Kentucky’s fourth SEC victory of the season...
Back-to-back SEC games with 500 yards for Kentucky; only had two 500-yard games in conference play over previous 8 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 29, 2016
And I wouldn’t be surprised if both prior 500-yard games were against Vanderbilt. Mississippi State and Missouri may be experiencing relatively down years, but this is an impressive stat no matter the opponent.
We’re excited. For the first time this isn’t about will we win enough games, it’s about how much more we can do, Stoops said.— Jen Smith (@jenheraldleader) October 29, 2016
We were worried about the turnout of fans to both the New Mexico State and South Carolina games...now Georgia next weekend might be a sellout. Everybody’s excited.
Kentucky now legitimately alone in second place in the SEC East. Should Florida lose two more, Cats beat struggling UGA, UT, Stoops to ATL.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) October 30, 2016
Florida still has to play two road games vs. SEC West opponents Arkansas and LSU. After Week 9 of the season, it’s not impossible that the Cats could make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. They are actually the second choice as we speak. Wait, what? Somebody pinch me.
Mizzou entered the game leading the SEC in total offense at 505 yards per game. UK defense held them to 386 today.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) October 29, 2016
And this was the defense that at the beginning of the season we all thought was legitimately terrible. The one that Lee Corso said was the worst in the country on College Gameday. What a 180.
Can we get a redo on that Southern Miss game?— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) October 29, 2016
Wouldn’t that be nice? I’d settle for just a re-do on the second half. But in all honesty, I think that loss followed by the Florida loss may have been the necessary motivation this Kentucky team needed in order to orchestrate this amazing turnaround. Things happen for a reason.
I don't ever remember...since I started covering UK in the early 1980's where I've ever seen them push people around like they are now doing— alan cutler (@cutler18) October 29, 2016
The offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the success of Kentucky’s run game. Of course, having great backs helps. But the offensive line has really come on strong lately, and are finally getting the credit they deserve.
Florida loses to LSU and Arkansas.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) October 30, 2016
Kentucky beats Georgia and Tennessee.
Kentucky is your 2016 SEC East champs.
I just wanted to reiterate the facts.
The Herald-Leader’s John Clay had a good account of just how Kentucky Football was able to turn the season around...
So how did this happen? How did a team that looked so lost and disjointed in September suddenly morph into a team that looks so together now?
“You know what I’m going to say,” Stoops said. “I didn’t lose faith. Just stay the course.”
To me, it’s two things, one on each side of the ball.
On defense, the turnaround began with Stoops’ decision to do what he does best, to become more involved with that side of the football. Working with defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, packages have been simplified and confidence has grown. Kentucky has played with much more of a defensive purpose since mid-September.
On offense, the turnaround began with the commitment to the ground game. Yes, Benny Snell (192 yards on 38 carries) and Boom Williams (182 yards on 19 carries) were spectacular Saturday, combining for 374 rushing yards, but much of the credit has to go to John Schlarman’s offensive line, which has cleared the way for the Cats to rush for 250-or-more yards in each of the last three games.
“They are playing extremely hard and smart,” Stoops said Saturday. “They really set things up nicely for the offense, and that is what teams do.”
5. Kentucky could win the SEC East. Every year, the SEC East seems to reach a new low. The pinnacle would be if Kentucky -- yes, that Kentucky -- somehow reaches the SEC Championship Game for a brutal mismatch against Alabama. Might Nick Saban rest some starters if he played Kentucky for the SEC title? After Tennessee lost to South Carolina, Kentucky now sits alone in second place in the SEC East despite a Week 1 loss to Southern Miss and a 45-7 loss first-place Florida a week later.
If the Wildcats win their last two SEC games (vs. Georgia, at Tennessee) and Florida loses two of their last three (at Arkansas, vs. South Carolina, at LSU), Kentucky would go to Atlanta. Is that likely to happen? Perhaps not. But it's not as far-fetched as it may sound. The decision to move Florida-LSU from Gainesville to Baton Rouge could have major SEC East implications that no one could have imagined: Kentucky in Atlanta.
Even with all of the praise, not to mention the possibility of winning the SEC Easy, Mark Stoops is shutting that talk down.
“There will be no talk about that,” Stoops said at today’s press conference. “We need to control what we can control, and that’s playing Georgia well. We’re in no position to look ahead against anybody. We’re going to do the same things we’ve been doing and we’re going to try to do them better this week. And that’s the great thing: I believe we have much better football in us.”
What Stoops does want to talk about is packing Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday when Georgia comes to town.
“I think it’s very important to ser the stadium filled. I think our players would love to see that happen,” Stoops said Monday. “Our fanbase has been — there’s been a lot of loyal fans to us and we just need more. We need more people in there to fill it up. I’d love to see it filled. Again, to make no bones about it, when we see it filled, I expect our team to play at a high level to make those fans proud.”
Saturday, 7:30 pm in Commonwealth Stadium. Be there.