Cats Take a Punch, Move to 3-0 Anyway
The start was nothing short of disastrous.
South Carolina's first play from scrimmage, Kentucky let the one player
the Wildcats knew they couldn't let beat them -- Deebo Samuel -- get
loose for a 68-yard touchdown. On UK's own second play, Stephen Johnson
tossed an interception right back to the Gamecocks.
In a raucous road environment, a rout seemed possible. In fact, it might have been likely in the recent past.
Not this time. Not with this team.
took a shot right on the chin to start the game, place was going wild
and we embraced it," Mark Stoops said. "We took the shot and went right
back to work. That doesn't even faze us and that's what I love about
Rather than folding in front of 82,493 fans in
Williams-Brice Stadium, the Cats weathered the storm – and the
"Sandstorm." After falling behind 6-0, UK scored 20 unanswered points
and later added a game-clinching field goal in the final minutes to
claim a 23-13 win. The victory is the fourth straight for UK against
South Carolina and, more importantly, moves the Cats to 3-0 on the
"It means a lot," Johnson said. "It's definitely
going to help our confidence knowing that we can go into tough games,
go into tough environments and win a really critical game."
has proven its ability to do exactly that time and time again since
Johnson took over at quarterback. The Cats are now 10-3 in
regular-season games with Johnson as their primary quarterback,
including three straight victories on the road.
"He's a winner," Stoops said. "He's a winner. He makes plays when you have to."
led UK to successful conversions on eight of its first 10 third downs.
The Cats missed on their next four, but then Johnson snapped off a
back-breaking 54-yard run on third-and-eight. He slid at the South
Carolina 10-yard line, which helped UK bleed crucial seconds from the
clock and ultimately set up Austin MacGinnis' third made field goal in
as many tries.
"It just seemed like they evacuated the
middle," Johnson said. "It was almost like a two-man situation, so
nobody had me and accounted for me. As soon as everybody went out, I
just took it up the middle."
After that early
interception, Johnson avoided major mistakes and worked in tandem with
a potent ground game, which rolled up 184 yards behind Benny Snell's
102-yard, two-touchdown performance.
"I thought our team
was unbelievably smart," Stoops said. "We took shots when we had to
take shots. We played it tight to the vest when we had to play tight to
the vest. We used the clock. We got important first downs. We got
aggravating run yards, even early in the game. Churning out the clock,
churning out first downs, aggravating the heck out of them. I know,
because I hate it when it happens to us."
The thing is, it didn't happen all that often to UK on Saturday night.
Cats had been stout against the run in wins over Southern Miss and
Eastern Kentucky, but the question remained: How would they hold up in
their first Southeastern Conference test? Pretty well, it turns out,
because UK allowed a season-low 54 rushing yards on 20 carries.
defense battled in there and kept us in the game early on," Stoops
said. "Fourth-down stops, same thing. Those are just sheer guts and
determination. Guys are playing better up front. We have guys that are
making better plays and those were big stops."
came from all over, including Jordan Jones' replacement Eli Brown and
Jamar Watson, who came on in place of a cramping Brown in the fourth
quarter. The transformation of UK's defense is certainly encouraging,
but the Cats haven't arrived by any means. Don't let a little postgame
elation fool you on that front.
"It doesn't mean that
there's not a lot of things that we gotta get better at," Stoops said.
"It doesn't mean that we're not deficient in certain areas. We're going
to have to continue to get better as the season goes on, but their work
ethic is right, their attitude is right. They have a winning attitude
and they can take a punch, that's for sure."
That's important, because plenty more punches are coming.
a grind," Stoops said. "We gotta strap it up and play Florida next
week. It's never easy, but we love it that way. We want to continue to
play with a little edge, a little chip on our shoulder and we got our
work cut out for us next week, but it'll be a lot of fun."