A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ryan Clark: We must keep perspective, but this Kentucky football team is clearly different

I heard a lot of strange reactions to Kentucky’s 35-28 victory over Missouri Saturday night.

Some said it was a statement victory. Others were disappointed that the win wasn’t by a wider margin. Still others were relieved Kentucky escaped at all.

All of those folks are having the wrong reactions. But I will say this: This was a game the old Kentucky would’ve lost. Even a Kentucky in the first few years of the Stoops’ era would’ve lost this game. But this era, this new Kentucky, wins these kinds of games — the kinds of games where UK doesn’t necessarily play their best.

To begin: No, this was not a statement victory. Mizzou is not a statement program, and the way in which UK won made no statement (Arkansas over Texas. THAT was a statement). The Cats hung on — but yes, they did win (more on that in a second). For the fans that were dissatisfied about the 7-point margin: A win is a win. Be happy. As fans you cannot be so spoiled that you don’t appreciate a win. Not here at Kentucky.

Ryan Clark has been writing sports stories and books for 20 years. After graduating from Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky, he went on to write for The Clarion-Ledger, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky Sports Radio, WCPO.com, Saturday Down South and ESPN.com, among others. He’s covered Kentucky Wildcats basketball, Ohio State football and the Cincinnati Bengals for various outlets. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including the local bestseller 100 Things Wildcats Fans Must Know & Do Before They Die.

And for those who were just happy UK escaped — you need to realize your team is a bit more special than that. There were long stretches where they dominated another SEC team not named Vanderbilt, and that is an impressive thing — especially in the second game of the year.

We’re simply preaching perspective here. It’s easy to overreact. Let’s lay out the facts of what we’ve seen so far:

• Kentucky’s offense is very good, capable of explosive plays in both the run and pass game. This is a fact after two games, where they scored 45 and 35 points (although with a fumbled TD and blocked field goal, it could have easily been 45 points in both games).

• For the first time in the Stoops’ era, Kentucky has playmakers on both sides of the ball, a better-than-average quarterback, running back and set of receivers.

• Kentucky’s offensive line is one of the best in the SEC. No surprise there.

• Kentucky’s defense will always be a bend-but-don’t-break, well-coached collection of hard-hitting dudes.

• They’re extremely thin in the secondary, something that could be remedied during the course of the season, but for now, is an issue. 

• They struggled getting penetration against Missouri’s offensive front. But when they had to make a play to win the game, they did. It’s become a hallmark of Stoops’ teams.

• Finally, the special teams may need to work out some kinks.

Kentucky has two very winnable games coming up against Chattanooga and at South Carolina, who is just above Vandy in the latest conference power rankings. UK could be 4-0 and ranked when they start their toughest stretch of the year — a murderer’s row of Florida, LSU, Georgia and Mississippi State — but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What happened Saturday was special not because it was a must-win game, or because Kentucky escaped. Kentucky showed it was the better team. They deserved to win. And when they had to tighten the screws they did. Even when there was a multitude of adversity. 

This seems to be what Stoops’ teams do. As he said in his press conference afterward, he fielded a congratulatory call from his brother Bob, and the pair discussed how Kentucky never makes it easy. That seems to be true as well.

Whether it was fumbling a sure touchdown into the end zone, allowing a 90-second touchdown drive just before the half or getting the potential game-winning field goal blocked, UK did make it difficult on themselves. But again, in the second game of the season, they overcame it all — and they still won. It was a game that in the past, they would’ve lost.

This is a different group of football players — even different than some of the guys Stoops has brought in. Will Levis, the QB transfer from Penn State, consistently gives up his body for first downs. Wan’Dale Robinson is a superstar who makes plays when his team needs them the most. (Look at the 3rd-and-12 catch on the last drive to set up what we thought would be the game-winning field goal). And once again, the defense stood up when they were most needed.

Now it’s time to iron out the wrinkles and get ready for the rest of the schedule, which looks favorable in the near future. 

Simply, this was a good, solid SEC win, and definitely worth celebrating. But the team needs to be better if they want to get where they want to go.

Can they do it? Absolutely. This team has all the parts — parts they haven’t had before.

It’s a different team. And I think it’s going to continue to be fun to watch. 

Related Posts

Leave a Comment