Kentucky Football — EK Who?
EK Who? —By John Huang
Saturdays in September have a uniquely distinct odor. Gone are the halcyon scents of summer, replaced by the pungent smell of football in the air. Whether it’s the aroma of the best pre-game breakfast burrito I’ve ever had, or the smoke from a tailgate barbecue, or the sweat from post-game interviews, I love everything about this special time of the year. You simply can’t beat the home opener for Wildcat Football and the excitement it brings to everyone in the commonwealth. Thankfully, Kentucky was playing EKU—a significantly lesser opponent incapable of pulling off the gargantuan upset and crashing the party.
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There aren’t a whole lot of positives about Kentucky’s 27-16 win over the Colonels—so I’ll spare you the gory details. After a lackluster offensive outing last week against Southern Miss, a dominating performance over an obviously inferior and overmatched opponent was something BBN expected and needed. Unfortunately, Kentucky didn’t wake up in time for the opening kickoff, and found themselves trailing 13-10 at the half. After intermission, the Wildcats made just enough adjustments and big plays to secure the come-from-behind victory. Stephen Johnson, Benny Snell, and Darius West performed admirably between the lines of the newly christened Kroger Field. Additionally, a long-awaited breakout game by Blake Bone kept many disgruntled UK fans from jumping prematurely off the Clays Ferry Bridge.
Number crunching analysts will point to the 436 yards of total offense, the effectiveness of the rush defense, and the positive turnover margin as legitimate reasons for continued optimism. In a ho-hum game such as this—in order to keep alive the hope and the hype–I’m forced to dig deep and search for more of the intangibles, the unmeasurables, and the unseen.
Attitudes and thought patterns frequently go unseen. Ever since the conclusion of spring practice, I’ve sensed a certain degree of confidence and swagger oozing from this coaching staff that I haven’t seen since the Hal Mumme days. If you remember, immediately after the uninspiring Blue-White Spring game, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran made his infamous comment about players drinking bad Kool-Aid, as if they’ve developed detrimental habits due to getting too high on themselves. When I recently confronted him about his previous remarks, his current outlook was totally different.
“They’re all in,” he said. “They’re drinking the right Kool-Aid. It’s pretty cool. This is a neat group. It’s a neat team…I think there’s a cohesiveness here with this football team. I think they love and trust each other.” Coach speak you might say? Not from a man who quotes scripture and takes care of his elderly dad. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and continue to believe it’s the real deal.
Everything out of Head Coach Mark Stoops’ mouth substantiates this optimistic mindset. “I felt like this team was very united, very unselfish,” he said after last week’s hard-fought road victory against Southern Miss. In his post-game remarks today, he continued putting on his happy face. “That’s the whole key. It feels very good to be 2-0. We know we got a lot more in us. It’s a good team.”
I’m sure that words like unity, unselfishness, and cohesiveness will bring a smirk to the face of any long-suffering UK football cynic. We’ve heard it all before, but for what it’s worth, I’m still buying into it after two clunker games—drinking the Kool-Aid one more time.
But that’s not all. Not only is there unity and cohesiveness among the players, there’s also chemistry within the current coaching staff. “I feel comfortable with this staff,” said Stoops. “I think there’s a great chemistry there, there’s a great camaraderie. I have high trust in all these guys.”
There you have it. A churlish Lynn Bowden tweet and a Jordan Jones spitting tantrum notwithstanding, everything remains hunky dory in Wildcat Land. Strains of Kumbaya resoundingly resonate from the locker room after a 2-0 start, and the Kool-Aid remains copiously sweet this time of year. Initial game jitters from Southern Miss are long gone and EKU was stubbornly dispatched like Mitch McConnell’s health care agenda.
Now the real season begins. We’ll find out what really lurks behind the unseen world of chemistry and cohesiveness when adversity hits in Columbia, South Carolina next week. My crystal ball predicts a narrow loss. But win or lose, I say this new Cat cohesiveness eventually weathers the impending storm. Everyone keep the faith.
John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can see more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.