After last weekend’s tough loss to Florida, many were hoping that Kentucky would bounce back and thrash the Eagles of Eastern Michigan on Saturday night.
That did not happen.
Kentucky was able to intercept a Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation to seal a 24-20 win over their MAC opponents, in a game that felt like Joker Phillips’ games against the MAC—ugly games that led to teeth gnashing, hair being pulled out, and possibly a few broken items, depending on if you were watching at home.
A win is a win, and Kentucky is sitting at 4-1 with Missouri heading into town next week. While the game left a lot to be desired, there were some positives to take away as well. Here are my top three positives, and the three biggest negatives after the four-point victory.
Josh “Blitz Cousin” Paschal and Josh Allen
Yep, you read that right—Blitz Baby has been promoted to Blitz Cousin. This, according to Denzil Ware during post-game interviews, is the promotion the true freshman linebacker was given following his standout performance against the Eagles. In addition to blocking a key punt in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown, he was in the backfield all night wreaking havoc on the visitor’s passing attack. Paschal only recorded one tackle and half a sack, but he had numerous forays into the backfield, pressuring Brogan Roback all night and helping Josh Allen and Ware each get into the sack column as well.
Allen now has more sacks than the entire Alabama defense. Yes, you read that right. One of the best pass rushers we have seen at Kentucky, he added another one and a half sacks on Saturday, and also was causing all sorts of problems for the pass protection. The three played a key role in forcing Eastern Michigan to face second-and-long many times in the fourth quarter, helping to win the game.
The electric wideout saw more of the ball in this game, and while he didn’t hit any huge plays, he showed why he has so much hype around him and turned every opportunity into positive yardage. He had two catches for nineteen yards, one of which he made multiple men miss and nearly busted it for a huge gain. He also had one run for five yards, and added a kick return for twenty-six yards. Small plays, yes; but they showed that the staff is getting him more involved, and he showed the explosive speed and moves that could make him a huge playmaker for the offense in the second half of the season.
This isn’t about Johnson’s stats--although they were quite good, especially when you consider he started the game 8-of-9 for two touchdowns, with the only incomplete pass being a tipped ball in the endzone. This is about the poise and toughness that the senior signal-caller showed despite being mauled all night long. It started on the first play of the game, when left tackle Landon Young was beaten for a strip-sack and a turnover. This would become a common theme on the night, with Young getting beaten so bad in the fourth quarter that he fell into Johnson and rolled up his leg.
Yet, despite the numerous big hits he took, and the wear and tear his body suffered, Johnson stuck it out. He remained in the game and kept his poise, and made some great throws to help Kentucky get the win. That said, he made some very poor passes in the fourth quarter, and you wonder just how much the hits were getting to him, as well as if he can take much more of this. However, his fight and determination have spurred his teammates to rally around him, and if he can keep making the throws he has the last two weeks, he will have a great chance to lead Kentucky to a very successful season.
The Offensive Line
Seriously, though, about that line....
Young got whipped like he talked back to his mother. The offensive line let guys come clean through to hit Johnson over and over, like he had done something to offend them. They couldn’t create holes to give Benny Snell any time at all to gain yardage. They even tripped Snell on a play in the first quarter where it looked like, had he stayed upright, he might still be running as we speak.
Injuries are certainly playing a key factor in the struggles; one one play in the second half, both guards went out at the same time to be seen by the trainer. That said, they have to figure out a way to protect their leader, or Drew Barker will be in the game whether people like it or not. Missouri will be a test for them next week, as their defensive line will get after them from the opening whistle.
The young man is doing everything he can out there, but as mentioned above, his offensive line is giving him little help. The young man said after the game that he is “a producer” and he feels the pressure of not giving the team what they need in the rushing game. However, that is not his fault. As he showed on his touchdown run, when he gets the chance to get into space, he can still run over a man or two, and he can still move the pile. However, that is difficult to do when you cannot get past the line of scrimmage without being hit.
However, I believe that Snell’s productivity will increase if the last “down” is improve upon...
Eddie Gran and the Playcalling
I’m not going to go too into detail on this one—mostly because I will do that in the next few days--but I have had it with the inability of Gran to coach the offense. Look, he’s a solid game-planner, and that’s great. However, Gran cannot make in-game adjustments, and he does not understand the concept of setting up plays to save his life. He also doesn’t understand how to attack a defense when they are loading up on the run, and until he does that, Snell will continue to see teams crashing into the backfield to stop him.
Whether Stoops is neutering him because he wants to play “grind it out and let the defense win” football, or he simply doesn’t have the balls to take chances down the stretch, Gran needs to stop playing not to lose down the stretch, and start letting his offense keep the momentum on Kentucky’s side. The Wildcats did not earn a first down in the fourth quarter, and, aside from having a twelve-yard touchdown run after the blocked punt, the offense did absolutely nothing to take the pressure off of the defense. This defense cannot continue to be asked to sit on one or two-score leads for the entire fourth quarter. They are wearing out down the stretch, and it will—and has, like last weekend—cost us games. Man up, Eddie Gran.