CRAWFORD | Post-snap read: Kentucky does just enough (again) to beat Mizzou
Kentucky continued to keep living dangerously -- and winning -- in a 40-34 victory over Missouri Saturday night.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – If the Kentucky football team keeps this up, vendors in the Kroger Field stands will have a new product to shout about.
“Get your popcorn! Get your peanuts! Get your low-dose aspirin!”
The Wildcats’ flair for the dramatic has led them to three straight heart-stoppers at home, games that still were up for grabs on the final play.
Legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis made famous the phrase, “Just win, baby.” Kentucky is working on a variant: “Just win, barely.”
Saturday’s game against a struggling Missouri team looked like it might be an exception after the Wildcats jumped to a 13-0 lead. The offense was clicking, Missouri had been turnover prone and has been having trouble putting things together offensively. For once, the Wildcats, who entered the game 10-point favorites, were going to get some breathing room.
Hold that breath. Missouri started to hit the long ball, and Kentucky answered with big plays, and this one came down to the last possession for each team. Once again, Kentucky made enough plays late to walk away a winner, 40-34, to improve to 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the SEC.
I know what people are saying: “This is the worst 5-1 team in the country.” My thought: Who cares? They don’t put style points on the scoreboard. Kentucky keeps playing with fire. But it’s only been burned once – and should have won that game.
“The way this team's built right now, it's going to be tough, hard fought-games” Stoops said. “And that's the way most of this league is. Y'all see it. Y'all see -- take a look around, I mean, it's tough. So I'm just proud of the way our team fights back from some tough situations and most of our games are going to be sixty-minute games.”
Kentucky took its early lead on a Blake Bone 14-yard TD pass from Stephen Johnson after a turnover, and a couple of Austin MacGinnis field goals. Then Mizzou answered with a 50-yard TD pass. Then Benny Snell answered with a 50-yard TD run. Mizzou came back with a 58-yard TD pass in the final minute of the first half, and UK led 20-14 at the break.
Mizzou pulled even on a Tuck McCann 25-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter, then Kentucky played longball again, Johnson to Garrett Johnson for a 64-yarder. On the very next play, Missouri’s Drew Lock hit Johnat Johnson for a 75-yard TD pass.
It came down to a couple of MacGinnis field goals, a 53-yarder to break the tie, and a 20-yarder with 1:48 left, that provided the Kentucky margin.
Nothing is easy with this bunch. Call it winning ugly, but it’s something else to Stoops.
“It was beautiful to see the offense respond,” he said. “And as I've said in here, and y'all heard me and you can quote me, the strength of our team is our team. That's not coach-speak BS, that's the truth. We do what we have to do to win games. One week maybe all three sides aren't hitting on all cylinders. Tonight, if we didn't have the big offensive plays, and they didn't score points, we wouldn't have won the game. So other times, other games, the defense had to step up or special teams. And we're all in this together. It's a great group, we're far from perfect, but we definitely play for each other and believe in each other and that's good to see.”
Here’s what else is good to see at Kentucky:
- The Wildcats are 12-5 over their past 17 games. They hadn’t won 12 out of 16 since 1977-78.
- UK has won 8 out of 10 at home, the first time that has happened in a decade.
- UK has won 6 out of its past 10 SEC games, also for the first time in a decade.
- UK has scored at least 23 points in 12 straight regular-season games, something the program had never done before.
- The Wildcats have scored in 20 consecutive quarters. The last time they did that was 2007.
Saturday was one of the better passing games of Johnson’s career. He’s had bigger numbers than the 298 passing yards he put up Saturday, but he made big plays, and completed 22 of 36 passes, including some drops.
Snell carried 20 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns. His 71-yarder was a career long. Senior Garrett Johnson had six catches for 11 yards, his sixth career 100-yard game, but just his first of the season.
If UK’s offense can get unwound, as it showed signs of doing against Missouri, the margins could grow.
“Five and one baby!” Snell said after the game. “I’m happy we’re 5-1, we’ve come a long way from last year. After every game I feel like we’re our own enemy, we’re our own critic. So us just getting better, on every side of the ball we did our thing.”
Garrett Johnson said, “I came back in the locker room and I said it wasn’t pretty but we got it done. Sometimes that’s just how it is, you got to get nitty gritty, get to it. . . . , I feel like the maturity and the mentality (is growing). We’re getting older, we’ve been in the system for longer so we’ve seen games games like this for numerous years so we just know we can’t fall in that hole, we have to just get over it.”
The Wildcats also recovered a pair of Missouri fumbles to go plus-1 in turnovers, raising their season total to plus-8, another reason they’ve been able to escape a few tight spots.
They now get a bye week, which means folks in the bluegrass can rest their hearts a little bit, before the Wildcats travel to Mississippi State on Oct. 21.
NOTE: The teams shared an anxious moment near the end of the game when Kentucky backup QB Luke Wright suffered what appeared to be a seizure on the sidelines. Stoops said he couldn’t give medicall particulars, but that Wright was responsive when brought into the medica room for treatment.
“Yeah that was very scary for all of us, because nobody likes to see that and our team was definitely a little bit shook, but once we kind of figured out what it was, at least it was better than some other things that could have been going on, I guess, without getting into it,” Stoops said.
Wright himself Tweeted, a bit after midnight, “All came back good. Thanks for all the prayers!”
Kentucky cornerback Chris Westry and nose guard Naquez Pringle also were injured in the game, but Stoops said he couldn’t update their condition immediately afterward.
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