Kentucky Wildcats fans were forced to push through the five stages of grief last week, mourning the team’s first loss of the season and the 31st consecutive loss to the Florida Gators.
If the team had lost today’s game to the Eastern Michigan Eagles — second place in the Mid-American Conference’s west division — that grief would have been extended. But the Wildcats ended with a victory, and now, they’re 4-1 for the season.
The score: 24-20.
I’m sick of writing about the bad starts
Is it always going to take a terrible first few seconds to get the Wildcats to actually play? Just like against South Carolina, Kentucky gave up seven quick points in fewer than 15 seconds.
The Eagles’ defense stripped and recovered the ball from Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson. Eagles quarterback Brogan Roback followed with a 20-yard completion to Sergio Bailey II for a touchdown.
Luckily, the Wildcats quickly answered with a 20-yard touchdown of their own, carried in by tight end Greg Hart. Otherwise, I would have probably turned off the television. (Just kidding.)
Speaking of Greg Hart...
Give it up for the senior Nebraska transfer who grabbed his first touchdown of his career at Kentucky.
Greg Hart with his 1st career touchdown. pic.twitter.com/muFccmihyV— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 30, 2017
It was an afternoon of firsts. Sophomore receiver Tavin Richardson also logged his first score in the second quarter.
Tavin Richardson with his 1st career touchdown. pic.twitter.com/17qGG196g4— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 30, 2017
It’s always exciting to see players add touchdowns to their statistics. Here’s to many more.
Kentucky’s passing defense still has room to learn
It’s been like this all season. The Wildcats hold their opponents in the run game, but when it comes to passing, those opponents excel.
That’s making it easier for opponents to score quickly. For example, it only took Eastern Michigan three passing plays for 81 yards to score its second touchdown of the game, tying the game 14-14 at halftime.
Currently, Kentucky ranks ninth in the nation in rushing defense and could climb after only allowing 13 rushing yards Saturday, thanks to a few sacks.
But the Wildcats only rank 104th in defending the pass. This season, they’ve given up nine receiving touchdowns, two today.
Good work by Kentucky special teams
A blocked punt in the fourth quarter placed the Wildcats 12 yards from the end zone.
Josh Paschal with the one hand cross body punt block. pic.twitter.com/QzgvcSFSKk— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 30, 2017
The Cats’ leading rusher Benny Snell Jr. then drove in for a touchdown in the next play, putting his team at a 24-14 lead with 12 minutes to go in the game.
Benny Snell will not be denied. Touchdown Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/EMDC4gKtkI— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 30, 2017
Then it was the defense, specifically Kendall Randolph, who grabbed an interception with a little more than five minutes to go.
At this point, all Kentucky needed to do was play solid defense, and they were set. But then, Roback had an opportunity for a final heave to the end zone with three seconds left, which would win his team the game. That failed after Kentucky’s Mike Edwards picked it off as the buzzer sounded.
A win in front of a football pioneer
Former Kentucky defensive back Nate Northington stood on the sidelines as honorary captain of the game, exactly 50 years after he became the first African American to play in a Southeastern Conference (SEC) contest. Kentucky players wore a sticker on their helmets of No. 23, Northington’s old number, to show their appreciation.
It’s good Northington got to see a victory today, even if it was too close for comfort. Here’s to next week.
Here is the game’s final box score:
Here are the highlights, courtesy of Kentucky Wildcats TV:
The Wildcats will return to SEC play as they host the Missouri Tigers next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.