Monday, October 30, 2017

5 thoughts following the Cats' latest win

By Justin Rowland | Publisher
October 30, 2017

Five thoughts following Kentucky's win over Tennessee, which moved the Cats to 6-2 and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

It really doesn't matter how good you think Kentucky is or isn't.

What matters is through eight games the Cats are 6-2. If you're trying to gauge "how good Kentucky really is" then you can find whatever evidence supports your point. It's certainly true that Kentucky could be worse than 6-2, but the Cats were also a series of unfortunate events away from being 7-1 and most people would probably take Kentucky's 6-2 over Florida's 3-4. The schedule is far from the toughest Kentucky has faced in recent or much longer history, but that doesn't matter. A decade from now very few people are going to be talking about Kentucky's strength of schedule, but a lot of people will remember how many games were won in 2017 and what bowl game the Cats reached. You can only play the schedule you're given.

For the doubters, there are only four regular season games left. The season is two-thirds of the way over, and no matter how much improving you think Kentucky needs to do, three of their four remaining games (Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Louisville) seem very winnable.

It really was all about beating Tennessee.

During the heat of a game it's easy for anyone (myself included) to get caught up in what's going right and what's going wrong. Overreactions are always going to happen anytime humans are involved. We're good at snap judgments and we're prisoners of the present moment to varying degrees.

But at the end of the day, it really was all about beating Tennessee. It's the second time in more than three decades that it's happened, and the second time in the same period of time that Kentucky is 6-2.
You're still going to hear about how often Tennessee has beat Kentucky because it will make for a nice graphic anytime the SEC Network is showcasing games in the series to the casual fan, but now that Kentucky has won two against UT since 2010, it doesn't sting nearly as bad.

I hope you're appreciating Stephen Johnson, because he really does just win.

Johnson is now 13-6 as Kentucky's primary quarterback over the last two seasons. Over the past two weeks the passing numbers have regressed to some of the uglier numbers from last season and more than once in a while Johnson reminds you that he's not an elite passer. But when he went out of the game with an injury that was clearly very painful, and came back in, was there any doubt that he would sacrifice limb and seemingly life to pick up that extra yard and do whatever it takes to win a football game?

Kentucky's football turnaround in the Mark Stoops era is due to a lot of things. Vince Marrow's recruiting, Eddie Gran building an offense that's more conducive to wins based on Kentucky's personnel and program strengths/weaknesses, but just as much as anything, Johnson's penchant for making the big play at the right time.

Beyond the intangibles, at this point it's clear that it's Johnson's mobility that has won several of these games.

Benny Snell had his best moment of 2017 and showed some real maturity last night.

When Snell fumbled in the Southern Miss game, during the Cats' season opener, he did not respond well. He went on to miss several holes and ran with less confidence than he did in 2016. He didn't fumble again until last night, but he promptly put the miscue behind him and on the very next drive ripped off the huge run and followed it up with his first of three rushing scores. That showed some real maturity on his part and perhaps learning from an earlier response, against Southern Miss, that hindered his productivity for a little while.

If the offensive line has rightfully been the object of blame for much of 2017, the unit deserves a lot of credit for Kentucky's win against Tennessee.

What a difficult year it must have been for John Schlarman until last night. He returned what many believed would be one of the SEC's top offensive lines, but the Cats' front has struggle with snaps, penalties, missed assignments and simply getting pushed backwards. But last night there was some serious redemption. The line handled a very talented Tennessee front, got plenty of push off the ball, blew open holes, avoided bad mistakes and kept Johnson clean unless he wanted to run, which he did for more than 80 yards.

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