The ebbs and flows of a football game are very real, and we as fans can always feel them, probably more strongly than the participants themselves.
I imagine the phrase “Big Mo” was coined by a broadcaster or a season ticket holder as opposed to a player or a coach, and I have to admit I was feeling ol’ Mo pretty strongly on Saturday night as I watched the Cats take on Eastern Michigan. While there were a lot of high swells during the evening, we had our share of time in the low ebbs as well.
The game started about as well as it could have for the UK. Even though the initial drive eventually stalled, UK ran 10 plays and held the ball for almost 5 minutes, and the ensuing two drives ended in touchdowns.
The defense kept pace, allowing the Eagles only one first down in their first three drives. The Cats were roaring on offense averaging almost 7 yards a play, while EMU was stymied, moving the ball at a rate less than 2 yards a try.
But as we all know too well, Mo is a fickle friend, and can turn on a dime even with the slightest of mistakes or a single isolated event of misfortune. On Saturday night, it was a fumble on UK’s fourth drive at the EMU 1-yard line.
After that fumble, Kentucky could not buy a first down and netted minus-4 yards for the remaining three drives in the half. And while the defense responded with two interceptions of an otherwise extremely accurate Mike Glass, the EMU offense seemed to come to life, reeling off a smart 6.5 yards per play the final two drives of the half, driven primarily by those signature short passes from Glass.
Kind of amazing when you think about it: a single fumble seemed to turn a game UK was dominating into a much more competitive contest.
In the second half, the Cats must have put the fumble and all that came with it behind them, because they came out storming, stopping EMU on their initial drive and pulling off a 94 yard touchdown drive that took up half the third quarter.
But EMU seemed to have learned a valuable lesson in their late first half flurry: UK was not able to stop the methodical short passing game. Ultimately, the Eagles rode the short passing game for 274 yards in the second half – maintaining that 6.5 yard average per play – and put up two touchdowns in the process. This is something the UK defense will have to address going forward.
Perhaps the biggest momentum killer of all, though, happened in the middle of Kentucky’s second drive of the second half when Terry Wilson suffered what turned out to be a season ending injury. The offense, which started the half in high gear under Wilson, did not disappear after he left the game; the Cats were able to score two touchdowns in two and a half drives under capable backup Sawyer Smith, which provides hope for the rest of the season.
But the momentum shift in this case had little to do with the outcome of the game. As the Cats dutifully focused on business at hand and finished off a solid victory, I am sure they along with all who watched had a very hollow feeling in the pit of their stomachs – I know I did.
It’s also scary to think what Dan Mullen and Florida’s offense can do this week after EMU showed that UK’s defense can be beaten in the short passing game like we saw after the fumble last Saturday. The Cats have a lot of work to do this weke to ensure Mullen can’t find those same holes in the defense that Glass found far too often.
While I feel certain Kentucky will continue to play good football and win games this season, I’m personally going to have a little momentum shift for the worse knowing “Touchdown Terry” will not be on the field to guide the Cats. Here is wishing Terry a speedy recovery and a great year in 2020.
Statistics sources: ESPN.com and CollegeFootballData.com