Finally we got to celebrate an emphatic victory for the Kentucky football program.
For the first time all season, I was able to relax during the second half and simply enjoy a win. I wasn’t chewing my fingernails, waiting to see if we would hold on for the victory. I wasn’t wondering if the other team would take a lead too insurmountable to overcome. The fear and anxiety that have been experienced so many times this season was washed away, replaced with the joy and excitement of seeing our Wildcats simply take their opponent out back and put them out of their misery.
Even now, with the news of the decommitment of Jarren Williams from the 2018 recruiting class, I cannot be brought down. Yes, I know there is a likely loss coming against Georgia, but I am not going to worry about that right now. For the moment, I am going to enjoy what I witnessed Saturday night.
I witnessed one of the best quarterbacks in the program’s history ensure the first road winning record for Kentucky in nearly a decade, and record the highest win percentage of any Kentucky quarterback in modern history. Stephen Johnson will go down as one of the best signal callers to ever play in Lexington; not because of his numbers or his talent, but because of his poise, his leadership, his strength, and the fact that he is simply a winner.
I witnessed Benny Snell become arguably the best running back in Wildcat history, as he scored a trio of touchdowns in his third straight game. The young man, who did not even play in the first two games last season, set the school rushing touchdown record in twenty-one games.
Twenty. One. Games.
We will have this young man for another fifteen, sixteen, maybe seventeen games (let’s face it, he’s going to be an NFL pick after his junior year, and that’s fine), and he may double the record before he’s done. Forget running backs—he may go down as one of the best players in Kentucky football history, regardless of position, if injuries do not slow him down. Part of his resurgence in the second half of the season is due to his patience, which was exhibited on the first run of the Vanderbilt game: despite having a hole to run through, he waited for his pulling guard, which turned a five yard gain into a sixteen yard gain.
Speaking of that offensive line...it’s amazing what cohesion and chemistry does to change how things go on that side of the ball. The interior trio have settled in, and Benny’s nine touchdowns in three games coincides directly with the guard-center-guard combo being stable and unchanging. Drake Jackson has lived up to the hype, and while he is not as good as Toth—yet—he could turn out to be one of the best linemen this program has seen.
I saw Lynn Bowden break out, finally taking a return 93 yards to the six yard line—and running about 150 yards to do it. He also had his best receiving game, ran very crisp routes, and has shown the ability to break the big play.
I saw the defense step up to the challenge issued by Coach Stoops. They forced four interceptions from a quarterback who had thrown a total of three during the entire season. They put pressure on him all night, and were able to keep the running game from being a weapon for the Commodores.
I saw Eddie Gran, for the first time all season, stay aggressive once he got the lead. This was refreshing to see, and I loved the playcall coming out of the half—a screen pass against a properly-anticipated aggressive defensive unit. I still have some concerns with his play-calling (PLEASE take a shot after we get a turnover!), but he called a terrific game in the scheme of things, and that was good to see.
I saw Mark Stoops smile. Seriously. He smiled! This will be a better week for him, as the pressure will come off, he will see an extra $250,000 deposited into his bank account, and he now has another year on his contract thanks to the seventh win. He has a tough game to prepare for now with the trip to a ticked-off Georgia, but he will do so knowing that his team has confidence.
Finally, I saw a Kentucky team move to 7-3, a record they haven’t seen in ten years. I saw them clinch no worse than a 4-4 record in the conference, which is something rarely seen in program history, for the second straight season. I saw them clinch a winning record on the road, and no worse than a 7-5 record. Most importantly, I saw them take a necessary step forward, and set themselves up to possibly finish 8-4, if they can take care of business at home against Louisville in two weeks.
I am glad that I finally got to see what this team can do when all of the pieces fall into place. Now, we prepare for Georgia, a team coming off a beat-down from Auburn who will be looking to redeem themselves. While I hold hope that we could somehow pull the upset, I am prepared for the likelihood of a defeat. My only hope now is that we get out of that game with no injuries, and without getting embarrassed on national television. Let’s get the win against Louisville, let’s get to 8-4, and let’s go to a nice bowl game (the Citrus Bowl has scouted the team twice now).
Finally, Kentucky football got things fully on the right track. Let’s keep them there and finish this season on a very high note.