Cats’ missed opportunities let Cards off the hook

Ira D. Combs — Tri State Sports Media

September 16, 2013

I can’t help but think this may be one of those seasons where the first game keeps haunting UK until the end, where it may be the difference in a uniquely special season that was lost on one ugly afternoon. WKU is 0-2, having been outscored 83-44 since its upset (according to the Vegas spread anyway) of UK.

I promise you I’ll move on myself now.

Even though this year’s Governor’s Cup ended smack on the nose where the boys in Vegas predicted it would, with a 14-point spread in favor of the Louisville Cardinals, how it arrived at that ending was a completely different story than what all of us predicted. As a matter of fact, for the entire first half it was basically an old fashioned smash mouth college football game spattered with numerous dropped passes by Kentucky receivers and missed opportunities for turnovers by the Wildcats defense.

There were plenty enough missed opportunities by UK that it should have never let the Cards pull away to a 20-6 lead heading into the final quarter.

Still halfway through the final quarter, Mark Stoops’ troops exhibited some of that toughness and never-say-die attitude that he had been preaching. With just under five minutes, UK had the ball with an excellent chance of cutting it to a one TD difference.

Didn’t happen. The Cats came up short 27-13, but the final score was a classic example of not truly showing the sequence of play or final spread.

Probably of more concern today to UK is that QB Maxwell Smith went out with another arm/shoulder injury and stayed out for most of the second half to the final horn. However, Smith did inform the media in his post-game interviews that he felt similar type pain before and was able to resume play within a week, and with UK idle this coming Saturday he felt sure he would be back by the Florida game.

UK sits at 1-2 on the 2013 season now with the Louisville loss, but by all rights most football gurus across the Commonwealth felt the Cats would be setting at 2-1 going into their first open date this Saturday before they start SEC play the last weekend in September.

That’s the bad news, but it may not be as bad as it seems. Three games into the Mark Stoops era and it’s beginning to show that Stoops is definitely instilling a unique defensive toughness into UK football that hasn’t been seen since Jerry Claiborne. And Neal Brown, UK’s creative offensive coordinator, has tweaked his own version of the Air Raid offense with a special emphasis on the running game to the point it’s starting to take shape, albeit with limited talent at certain positions, plus extremely young and inexperienced talent at other offensive positions.

By the time the next Governor’s Cup is played at the end of the 2014 season, when Terry Bridgewater is in the NFL and Louisville has played a full season schedule in the ACC, it should be a very interesting football game and have a true rivalry type atmosphere making for a special Thanksgiving Holiday.

Until then, UK must keep improving and hold on to its 2014 top 15 recruiting class commitments. Louisville, on the other hand, must figure out a way to hold on to Charlie Strong. Both will be difficult to do.

Wildcat pigskin highlights after three games

Mark Stoops has sent 11 first time freshman or sophomore starters into competition in the first three games so far.

Defensively, UK has its highest percentage in holding down third conversions to its opponents in many years, and second nationally going into the Louisville game.

UK ranks 18th nationally in sacks with 3.0 per game, and all three rush ends (Bud Dupree, Za Darius Smith, and Jason Hatcher) are underclassmen.

Freshman Jo Jo Kemp is leading all running backs in yards gained with 170, with senior Raymond Sanders having gained 156. Kemp has eight less attempts.

The Air Raid tandem of Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow have completed 60 of 100 pass attempts, with five touchdowns and only one interception while averaging 277 yards a game.