Kentucky is 3-0 including a road win in the South Eastern Conference. Normally for that to happen everything would have had to go perfectly right for a UK team. That has not been the case for this year’s team. Both Boom Williams and Jeff Badet left the program before their senior seasons, one for the draft the other was a grad transfer.
There was time to get over those losses and time for players to adjust to new roles. There were other play makers that could step up, including Dorian Baker. But during camp Baker went down with a season ending ankle injury. Kentucky also lost starting left tackle Cole Mosier for the year to a torn ACL. Both those injuries occurred during the preseason, so there was time to adjust and reconfigure line ups. Kentucky had many wide outs who were capable of increased roles and the offensive line’s versatility meant some interior linemen could be moved out to the tackle spot. However, that would mean someone would need to fill the back up guard position.
After two wins that didn’t impress some fans the UK team took another hit. Their returning leading tackler Jordan Jones injured his shoulder and would be unavailable for the game in Columbia, South Carolina. Soon after kick off the UK defense took another body blow when Deebo Samuel got free and scored a touchdown on the first offensive play for the Gamecocks. The UK offense wasn’t helping early. Two first quarter turnovers made a USC win seem inevitable. But the UK defense made stands that included big plays from Jones’ replacement Eli Brown. Brown finished with six tackles including a tackle for loss. After the game Coach Mark Stoops said, “Sure, I’d love to have Jordan. We miss him, but I was really anxious to give Eli (a shot), next man up.”
The UK offense got straightened out and Kentucky took a lead near the end of the first quarter. UK never trailed after taking the lead but there still was drama. Late in the game USC had a fourth and short near the goal line. Eli Brown was off the field dealing with cramps. Jamar “Boogie” Watson came in and combined with Derrick Baity to stop SC running back Rico Dowdle from scoring a touchdown. In his press conference Monday Stoops said of Watson, “Saturday he went in and helped on a critical stop in a critical situation.” and he noted that Watson is currently spending time at multiple positions, “He’s helping us fill some holes right.”
Stephen Johnson (who himself was a back up at one point) completed passes to nine different players including three tight ends and running back Sihiem King. That means five different wide receivers caught passes in the victory. One of the early Kentucky turnovers was a high snap that South Carolina recovered but after that the UK offensive line settled down. Nick Haynes had some issue much like Eli Brown because of the heat and needed some rest so Mason Wolfe came in, “Mason did a good job. Nick (Haynes) in that heat and excitement needed some rest and it was nice to rely on Mason to get in there and give us some quality snaps.” Mark Stoops said in his Monday presser. Wolfe’s drives weren’t short according to Stoops he was in on UK’s two first half touchdowns. Stoops added, “Those were his series and they went long, so he ended up getting some really quality snaps.”
An SEC road win for Kentucky normally consists of many mistakes for the home team and everything going right for a fully healthy UK team. That was not the case in Columbia. Kentucky turned the ball over multiple times and allowed USC an easy score on broken coverage. On top of that UK was missing it’s top linebacker and his replacement was dealing with cramps. None of that stopped the Wildcats from winning. In fact they controlled the game after the first quarter. The difference is depth. Now not only can the next man up have a great game, but the guy who comes in when the next man up gets hurt can make a critical tackle on a fourth down.