On a beautiful November evening at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky got almost exactly what the doctor ordered: a relatively easy victory against a Football Championship Subdivision team (48-14), some fireworks from the offense, defense and special teams, and a stellar game from QB Jalen Whitlow.
What the doctor presumably did not order was three UK receivers getting injured: two in ways so unusual that offensive coordinator Neal Brown was left remarking he had never had that happen before. Leading pass-catcher Javess Blue suffered an eye injury in warm-ups that kept him out of the game and Alex Montgomery injured his knee while trying to celebrate with a flying hip bump after catching a TD pass that put the Cats in front 20-7. Budding star Ryan Timmons suffered a couple of more common injuries as he got his shoulder banged up in the first half and apparently sprained his ankle shortly before Coach Stoops was going to take him out for good in the second half.
The status of these players for next week is undetermined. With a chance (slim, but a chance none-the-less) for Kentucky to win out and become bowl eligible, they definitely need for all hands – knees, ankles, heads and shoulders, too - to be healthy. Kentucky is improving each game and Coach Stoops is making huge strides to change the culture of UK football.
The defense is starting to create turnovers and the Wildcats have now gone four games in a row without giving the ball away. Penalties against UK have gone way done since early in the season. The defensive secondary, while still giving up some big plays, is rapidly improving. If Whitlow can increase his consistency, the Air Raid offense can be effective mixing in his considerable running ability.
With 10th ranked Missouri coming to town for a high-noon match up this Saturday, Kentucky could do a lot to make themselves relevant again in the high stakes SEC football matrix. Last year at Columbia with Whitlow at the controls, UK was outplaying the Tigers. Then, that staff inserted Patrick Towles and the Wildcats lost the early momentum and swagger they had with Whitlow.
Now, Coach Stoops and Coach Brown seem to have made the decision that this is Whitlow’s team.
The Cats have shown that they are a resilient team. The last four games have proved that. They were getting rolled at South Carolina only to come up off the mat in the fourth quarter and make it an exciting contest. They did take their obligatory beat down at the hands of Alabama, but who has not? On the road in Starkville with both Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow banged up, they still gave themselves a chance to win, and playing Alabama State in a guarantee game, they were in control the whole way.
For that segment of the Big Blue Nation that is not turning its attention to Coach Cal and his quest for perfection, November could be one of the best months in UK football lore. This team is rapidly improving and is learning what they need to do to win. Five and 0 in November? Unlikely, yes. Impossible, no. A bowl game for Kentucky in December, what a way to end Stoops’ first season.