There was rain and wind and plummeting temperatures; when you mixed it all together it made 48 degrees feel like 4-plus-8 (that’s 12, if you’re scoring at home). But the true force of nature wasn’t swirling around Kroger Field. It was actually down ON the field.
The Kentucky run game for the second straight Saturday flattened a team from the Volunteer state (I know – if only it could have done the same to the team CALLED the Volunteers). Tennessee-Martin was behind 9-0 before the Skyhawks could say, “Man, it’s cold out here.” Two bad snaps took care of that.
The first led to a safety; the next should have led to another deuce but quarterback John Bachus first tried to pick up the ball and with what looked like half the Big Blue Nation bearing down on him, seemed to lose interest. Just swatting the ball out of the end zone would have resulted in yet another safety and the glorious (and rarely seen) football score of 4-0.
Instead, Kentucky defensive back Yusef Corker fell on the football for his first collegiate touchdown and a 9-0 Wildcat lead.
“First play of the game you get a safety,” said linebacker Boogie Watson, “you know it kind of helps your mojo out a little bit and you know we could keep dominating.”
Which they did, when the runners took over.
The offense that eight weeks ago figured to be a delightful mix of Terry Wilson passes to Lynn Bowden, along with the occasional burst from any number of running backs, settled into gear.
By the time the Wildcats had retreated to the post-game warmth of their locker room, they had gashed UTM for a school-record 462 yards, thanks in part to a 63-yard TD run by AJ Rose and a 58-yarder by Lynn Bowden, the two longest runs of the season for the Wildcats.
Mix in a 45-yard scoring scamper by Tyler Markray and you can see why it didn’t matter that the Cats completed only two passes on 11 attempts for 17 yards. What is it Mark Stoops likes to say about your chances of winning if you outrush your opponent?
And what are the odds if you top four bills on the ground and the other guys manage only minus-12?
“If you outrush them like that, I can pretty much tell you it's going to be 100 percent,” Stoops said to laughs in the media room. “If not, I'll take it some day. But when you outrush somebody by whatever, 470 yards, yeah, you have a pretty good opportunity to win.”
And winning is something the Wildcats have done six times this season, confounding some of the experts who predicted only five – and that was BEFORE Wilson went down with a season-ending injury less than two games in.
You know the Kentucky story by now: Sawyer Smith steps in at QB and then HE goes down with a slew of injuries. Enter Lynn Bowden.
The wideout-turned-QB has merely rushed now for 100 or more yards five times, a new school record. Only Randall Cobb has rushed, received and thrown for 1,000 yards or more in a UK uniform. Until now.
“He’s a beast,” Stoops told me. And that was at halftime as the coach was jogging to the locker room.
Kentucky’s defense was beastly as well, and not just when the UTM quarterback was chasing down errant snaps. The Wildcats held their opponent to fewer than 34 points for the 25th straight game. That’s the longest streak of its kind in the nation.
For the fifth consecutive game, UK has limited its opponent to fewer than 300 yards. And the defense, once again, did not yield a TD pass. A unit that lost its top six defensive backs coming into this season is tied for first nationally, having given up only six scoring strikes.
The bowl bid is locked up. The only question is, Where? And the team that could mean the difference between someplace warm in Florida and Shreveport is the one Kentucky fans love to hate.
The Louisville Cardinals are next on the docket. They come to Lexington bowl eligible themselves. And they no doubt recall what the Wildcats did to them on their home field last season, when most of them were simply looking for a place to fall down.
Not so this year. The Cards are under new management. They’re happy and they’re playing that way.
So are the Wildcats, which means someone is going to be horribly disappointed next Saturday night. But that’s the way it goes in college football – rain, snow or shine.