Offense: 54 points. Defense: 33 points.
What a lot of us might have predicted to be the final score of Kentucky’s season opener instead is the aggregate score of the first TWO games of 2017 for the football Wildcats.
Oh, yes. These numbers are even bigger: 2-0.
This time last year the Cats were winless, two thirds of the way through a three-game series that saw them give up more than 500 yards per contest, and an average of 44 points.
After a turnaround in 2016 that landed Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the Big Blue Nation looked forward to a season where the offense would keep cranking out points and the defense would be improved enough to give the Cats a shot at winning shootouts.
So, who are these guys, here in 2017?
These Wildcats are undefeated after a surprisingly close win over Eastern Kentucky Saturday night, having defied virtually all prognostication. Perhaps, when we’re trying to predict what will happen on a UK football Saturday, we should borrow a page from Mr. George Costanza:
“…I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day. So now, I will do the opposite, and I will do something!”
And with that, this bald, unemployed loser who lived with this parents, hit on an attractive blonde – and connected, in one of the funnier episodes of “Seinfeld.”
Should we predict the opposite for this Kentucky football team, from here on in? Will we be watching an offense that’s doing just enough to stay in the game until the defense can make it all better?
It seemed as though that’s what was happening in the inaugural game played at newly-christened Kroger Field. The defense was doing its best to keep the Colonels’ quick-strike offense at bay while the offense tried to find the right combination of linemen and battle through a key injury.
Benny Snell, whose broad shoulders figured to be the resting place for much of the Kentucky attack this season, proved to be a mere mortal when he missed most of the first half with badly bruised ribs. Even an early appearance by a healthy Drew Barker failed to ignite the Cats, who couldn’t keep the Colonels from sacking Barker twice.
But the defense kept grinding. Kentucky did give up 256 yards through the air on the day, but no touchdowns. And the Wildcats held EKU to 62 yards on the ground, buying time for the UK offense.
With Snell hurting, Kentucky eschewed the Wildcat formation for much of the afternoon, relying instead on handoffs, which allowed them to get much more mileage out of Shihiem King (61 yards on nine carries). And when Snell returned, they handed him the ball as well (19 carries, 103 yards).
Stephen Johnson actually lived up to his own prognostication. Throughout camp, Johnson had assured us he would do a better job of finding tight end C.J. Conrad. Wouldn’t you know, the Wildcat QB for the second game in a row connected with Conrad for a touchdown. And he took advantage of a broken play by slithering into the end zone for a touchdown that made it 24-16 UK with 10 minutes left to play.
But it just wasn’t enough. Kentucky, a 32-point favorite, needed defense to happen, and it did. Josh Allen sacked EKU quarterback Tim Boyle for a loss of 15 yards AND forced an intentional grounding call, forcing an EKU punt.
After the Wildcat offense sputtered through a three-and-out, the defense did it again, Mike Edwards stealing a pass from an Eastern Kentucky receiver, triggering a Kentucky drive that ended with a game-clinching field goal.
The second half was certainly different than the first.
“We had to respond to EKU coming out and hitting us in the mouth,” said cornerback Derrick Baity. “We started off slow, but we responded well in the second half.”
And it led to a second consecutive victory for a team that figured to spend much of this season, at least in the first few weeks, celebrating touchdowns and hoping the defense could hang on.
Instead, it’s doing the opposite. And it is doing something. George Costanza would be proud.