”A Rose by any other name would Snell as sweet.”
(Wait. That sounded better in my head.)
We all wracked our brains for puns that somehow included the name of a tailback none of us thought would figure so prominently in Kentucky’s comeback, 35-20 win over Central Michigan. A.J. Rose until now was the member of a humble clan of college football players known only because they back up the Stars of the Game.
Rose has the (non)distinction of playing firmly behind Benny Snell, perhaps the best running back in the Southeastern Conference. And despite a fever that spiked on game day at 102, Snell turned in his usual heroic effort – 20 carries, 125 yards, two touchdowns.
But it was Rose who left his second-fiddle status on the sideline and played more like a concert violinist, lighting a fire under the Kentucky offense that seemed to have been lulled to an early nap by the heat and humidity that blanketed Kroger Field.
Rose exploded for a first-quarter, 55-yard touchdown run that gave the Cats their first lead at 7-3, nearly 14 minutes into the game. Kentucky already had punted twice and fumbled once. Three more turnovers would follow in the first half.
But Rose’s run brought the UK crowd back to life and served as a preview of things to come. In the second quarter, Snell would explode for a long TD run of his own, racing 52 yards, splitting the last two would-be tacklers by leaping over and through them.
Somewhere, the kid who brought the “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Benny Snell” poster to last year’s Tennessee game must have turned to the person next to him and said, “See?”
On the UK Sports Network post-game radio show, Rose admitted that he knew his role might expand in the opener because of Snell’s illness. After all, Snell is not just his teammate – he’s his roommate as well. So Rose upped the mental preparation, peppering Snell with questions and then heeding his advice.
“My roommate – we on it now,” Snell said after the game. “We woke him up.”
Wide awake, Rose said his performance in the Blue-White game, which indicated he was ready for a larger role, was just a preview of what he thinks he can do. His game against the Chippewas was hard evidence – eight carries, 104 yards and two scores.
“I went out there today to show my full ability,” he said, “and I feel like I did a great job of doing that.”
While Rose and Snell were playing the role of double-barreled battering ram, Kentucky’s two quarterbacks spun a different tale. First-teamer Terry Wilson showed just enough of his strong arm and talented legs to see why Mark Stoops anointed him the starter.
But his two interceptions helped dig a hole that his new backup, Gunnar Hoak, helped erase by leading a scoring drive in the final seconds of the first half. It swung momentum squarely back to the home side of the field, but it also means the long leash Stoops prefers for his starting QBs may have lost a few links.
“(It) said an awful lot about Gunnar and his character and his ability, and I was really proud for him,” Stoops said. “Then Terry coming back in, settling down, playing much better in the second half. Good effort overall by the team.”
An effort that included a defense that gave up only 255 yards despite having little respite in the first half. The offense kept giving the ball back to Central Michigan.
The UK D surrendered only one touchdown to the Chips, that coming on a 14-play, 80-yard drive kept alive by a penalty on third-and-long. It was the kind of overall defensive performance Stoops needed to see with a trip to Gainesville coming up.
It would be helpful, too, if both running backs performed against the Gators the way they did in the season opener. And we just might see Hoak spelling Wilson occasionally, too.
“It’s a tough environment,” Stoops said. “And yeah, I anticipate that both guys will be ready to play. We’ll see where we’re at this week and get back to work, but yeah, both guys will be ready to go.”
The 31-game losing streak beckons. It’s waiting in the Swamp.