(Photo courtesy UK Athletics)
This had all the trappings of, well, a trap. And we’ve seen it before, you and I.
Whether you’re a Kentucky fan of vintage age (blush) or new to the party, you’ve walked this path before: Your team wins a game or two, gets you excited, has you thinking glorious thoughts and then WHAM – loses a game you had the temerity to think it would win. And here comes the Big Blue depression.
Nothing doing Saturday night. In fact, the Wildcats almost immediately made you feel as though this was going to be a special night, one that saw the college football world turned upside down.
In what pigskin universe is Kentucky undefeated and Alabama is not?
A DeAndre Square strip-sack near midfield on LSU’s opening drive brought a packed house to a roar and Kentucky rode that noise to its first touchdown of the night.
Mark Stoops tossed the coaches’ handbook aside on fourth down, eschewing the sure field goal for a shot at seven and it paid off with a three-yard touchdown pass from Will Levis to Chris Rodriguez. Book play? No, thanks. He went with his gut.
“I just wanted to play aggressive,” Stoops said. “I wanted to score. And if we didn’t, I felt like we could keep them backed up there.”
It was the beginning of an onslaught that had to bring a smile to some guys who knew what it felt like to pound a traditional program like LSU. This was Homecoming Weekend and in the house were Curci’s Cats, who celebrated both on Friday night at a reunion, and Saturday as well at Kroger Field.
Fran Curci was introduced during a pause in the action, flanked by his two most-prized recruits, quarterback Derrick Ramsey and defensive end Art Still. Their 1977 team counted among its 10 victories a 33-13 rout of the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
In that game, Still blocked a field goal, scooped and scored the only touchdown of his All-American career. As he rumbled toward the end zone, a solitary Bayou Bengal gave chase. It was the LSU kicker, prompting those of us who witnessed the play to wonder, “What is he going to do if he catches him?”
Still told me, “I waited on him. I said, ‘Come on, Cuz.’ But…” No such luck. Still crossed the goal line unimpeded and the blowout was on.
There was no such special-teams drama in this one, which got interesting late, when LSU put together back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But the Wildcats, who had turned over the run game to Kavosiey Smoke, went back to Rodriguez. He salted things away with an 18-yard touchdown run, blasting through a hole opened by the Big Blue Wall.
Kentucky’s O-line was so dominant that it produced two hundred-yard rushers, Rodriguez finishing with 147 and Smoke cracking triple digits for the first time in his career, with 104. Levis pitched in with 75 of his own.
“Coach (Mark Stoops) preaches to us all what you got to do to win,” Rodriguez said, “and I feel like we all went out there and we did what we had to do.”
Levis played his finest game as a Wildcat, throwing for three TDs and running for another two. His passing stats were anything but gaudy and that was fine with him.
“If we go drive where I just I hand the ball off and we score, it’s the same thing as if I throw 75 yards passing,” he said. “What matters is the ticks in the win column.”
That would be six ticks now, against zero losses. Zero, a number that fairly glows in the dark, especially with the Georgia matchup looming ahead. It’s a special Bulldog team but so is this Kentucky bunch. The Cats are 6-0 for the first time since 1950, just the third time in school history. And they’re 4-0 in the SEC for just the fourth time.
If it was, indeed, a trap game, Kentucky deftly side-stepped disaster with physical defense and a ground-and-pound offense, setting up the showdown between the hedges. Winner grabs the driver’s seat in the SEC East.
With Alabama falling at Texas A&M, the race in the SEC West just got more interesting as well. It’s a college football world turned upside down and the Big Blue Nation is enjoying the view.