Like a soothing shot of wheated bourbon after a particularly harrowing plane ride, these New Mexico State Aggies were exactly what the doctor ordered for our beleaguered UK Football Wildcats. Given our less-than-stellar history, there aren’t too many teams considered “gimmes” on the gridiron schedule. This was one of them–and these visitors from the southwest should have been unceremoniously pounded like a well tenderized steak.
Like me, you probably haven’t fully recovered from the suffocation at the Swamp last Saturday. No matter the era, rest assured that you can always count on death, taxes and bad Kentucky Football whenever Florida shows up on the schedule. There are 30-year old Kentuckians walking around that have never witnessed a UK football victory over the supercilious Gators, so why should we be even remotely surprised by one more trip to the alligator woodshed. Suffice it to say, the Cats needed to return home and steamroll an overmatched opponent. Not surprisingly for this team, they made it much more difficult than it needed to be.
On a soggy and dreary day in a stadium sparsely filled with military heroes, Mojo Tones concert groupies, and Jordan Rodgers Bachelorette fans, UK eased past the Aggies 62-42. For most of the contest, I was shielded from the intermittent rain under the cozy cover of press row but honestly, I would have preferred to watch this one from the comfort of my couch. Although ridiculously high scoring, there’s less to be impressed with and much more to be worried about from a game such as this.
Drew Barker suffered a back injury on the very first series and his replacement Stephen Johnson performed quite adequately. Can anyone say quarterback controversy? Even with Coach Stoops’ supposed increase in oversight, the entire defensive unit was unmercifully shredded and continued to look just as disjointed and confused as ever. The special teams fumbled away another punt and of course there was the last minute score by the opponent right before the half that we have all come to expect.
On a positive note, the running game put up some nice statistical numbers with Boom Williams amassing 181 yards with 1 TD and Benny Snell Jr. running hard for 136 yards and barreling over the goal line a school record setting four times. C.J. Conrad with his three TDs showed that good things can indeed happen when the tight end is also included as part of the overall game plan. Charles Walker returned a punt for a UK touchdown for the first time in six years and on the night, UK outgained New Mexico State 692-500. The score was tied at 35 at halftime before the Cats took control and managed to outscore and outlast NMSU by three touchdowns for the final margin.
After the game, Coach Mark Stoops was relieved and a bit less frazzled than in his previous two post-game press conferences. “I’m pleased with the way the team responded. We have a lot of things to fix, but we will fix them”, he said. “We don’t have a great football team, we have a good football team. And we’ll get better.”
Don’t read too much into this victory. Just be thankful that UK won, because we all know that a loss to a Division I pretender would have effectively ended our season. I’m certainly disappointed at the 1-2 start and still completely flummoxed as to why? It’s not like Mark Stoops suddenly forgot how to develop talent, or that Ryan Timmons forgot how to run fast, or that Eddie Gran forgot how to call plays. This team was for whatever reason teetering on the brink of disaster and needed a big boost of confidence with a little dash of momentum thrown in. This victory, hopefully, provides them with a pinch of both.
Bowl eligibility for this team is still a possibility so I’m not giving up just yet. Neither should you because next week will arguably be another one of the most important “must wins” in the Mark Stoops era. It’s getting harder every week, but like Charlie Brown as he tries to kick the proverbial football, I’m keeping the faith. UK 24-USC 14. For the time being, whatever battle slogan UK comes up with each year–“Why Not?”, “We Believe”, “Finish”—is fine with me. However, if the Cats don’t get significantly better and end up blowing this one at home against the rebuilding Gamecocks, then “Pass the Bourbon” may be a bit more appropriate. If that happens, it’ll be a long and painful rest of the season.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Football Column for Nolan Group Media publications.
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