The 2015 season led Cat fans through a roller coaster of emotions. In a nutshell, those emotions started with , progressed to , fell to , before ending with .
Ok, maybe that’s a little too far, but starting the 2015 season 4-2 and not making a bowl is enough for some fans to write a team off, especially after starting the 2014 season 5-0 and ending with the same result. It seems hard to get excited about 2016, but never fear…the hopeless optimist is here to review 2015 and tell you why 2016 “might” be different.
Game #1: vs. Louisiana-Monroe WIN 40-33
The Cats first touch of the football in 2015 could pretty well sum up the season – a 51 yards punt by ULM, which Ryan Timmons returned for 16 yards, only to be called back for an illegal block in the back. The Cats would win the game 40-33, but required a Josh Forrest interception on the game’s final play at the UK 10 where ULM was trying to go in and score to tie the game.
Cat fans were willing to write this first game off as just that: the first game of the year. Maybe there were some nerves, maybe there weren’t, but there were a lot of things exposed in this game, like the Cats inability to stop a running QB.
Game #2: @ South Carolina WIN 26-22
In my opinion, this was the game that misled Kentucky fans for 2015. Shooting out to a 24-7 halftime lead, the Cats were scoreless in the second half, until South Carolina’s Pharaoh Cooper fumbled on a 4th quarter two point conversion, to tie the game, and UK’s Denzil Ware scooped it up and returned it for two points the other way.
South Carolina was vastly overrated going into the season, but no one knew that yet. The Cats were 2-0 and we were READY for Florida.
Game #3: vs. Florida LOSS 14-9
Personally, I traveled from my home in Georgia, with my dad and 3 of 4 kids (wife stayed home with newborn) for this game. I was invested, ready and confident – and I wasn’t alone. I talked to another couple at the Cat Walk who had driven in from Virginia. All that, for a dud of an effort from the UK offense. Dorian Baker dropped a 40+ yard touchdown, right in his bread basket early in the game – and, unfortunately, that set the tone for the UK offense the rest of the game.
The play calling was unimaginable and frustrating as the Cats fell 14-9. Quarterback Patrick Towles was less than impressive. The defense, however, played really really well. So the streak continues….
Game #4: vs. Missouri WIN 21-13
Patrick Towles got seemingly back on track with a 249 yard 3 TD game (1 was rushing). One of the big differences in this game, was it seemed the coaching staff allowed Towles to use his legs more than the first 3 weeks, as he carried the ball 9 times.
The Cats beat Mizzou for the first time since Missouri had joined the SEC and the Cats were 3-1. Fans were optimistic again.
Game #5: vs. Eastern Kentucky WIN 34-27 OT
In a game that should have never been close, Kentucky found a way to make it interesting. Bad offense and bad defense were the recipe for keeping Eastern in the game and providing hope to the Colonels. Dorian Baker gave fans a glimpse of the wide receiver he could be with a touchdown late in the game to send it to OT and the eventual game winner during extra time. The Towles throw to tie the game at the end of the 4th quarter was spectacular – a fade route to Baker in the right corner over the top of a Colonel defender.
But a win’s a win, right? 4-1 is pretty sweet – there’s no way we’re collapsing this year. Seven, eight, nine wins this year? We were ready for Kentucky football history.
Game #6: vs. Auburn LOSS 30-27
The first Thursday night game at Commonwealth Stadium was shaping up to be a critical game for the Cats as Auburn came to town. The Tigers had been struggling of late and gave the starting QB job to Sean White in place of Jeremy Johnson, a pre-season Heisman candidate. The Cats fell behind early and never recovered. More complaints about the play calling were well founded and Towles struggled again…that made back-to-back bad games for Towles and three of his last four.
In yet another electric atmosphere at Commonwealth, the crowd was taken out of the game very early. This game was supposed to be winnable. It wasn’t the end of the world, but fans were starting to have 2014 flashbacks of collapse.
Game #7: @ Mississippi State LOSS 42-16
Not much to say about this one. The Cats proved, yet again, that they can’t stop running quarterbacks. Dak Prescott looked like the pre-season Heisman candidate he was. The offense was abysmal as Coach Stoops decided to rotate Towles and backup redshirt-freshman Drew Barker. It was a disaster, though Barker showed promising signs by throwing an early interception and finishing 6/6 after it.
4-3. Fans were in full-on panic mode. They hated Shannon Dawson’s play calling, Mark Stoops’ indecisiveness and Patrick Towles’ inconsistency. They were clammoring for incumbent savior Barker. Personally, I’d backed Towles as much as I could, but after a second straight game without a passing TD and the continued poor performances at quarterback, I was on the train to Barkerville.
Game #8: vs. Tennessee LOSS 52-21
I never expected us to beat Tennessee, given the way we’d been playing. But I surely didn’t expect to get blown out like that. Towles turned in another lackluster performance finishing 16/33 for 184 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. As far as the defense…wait for it….wait for it….scrambling quarterback! Bet you didn’t guess that we made Josh Dobbs look like a ’16 Heisman front-runner.
As a life-long Kentucky fan, I’ve been conditioned not to expect to win this type of game, but for the love of God, man, COMPETE. Falling to 4-4 is looking like it’s going to come down to Vandy & Charlotte to get us to the post season. At this rate, we’re not getting past Georgia and Louisville.
Game #9: @ Georgia LOSS 27-3
This was a joke. Blown out for third straight time had fans begging for Shannon Dawson and Mark Stoops’ heads. Social media was brutal towards Patrick Towles, to the point I genuinely felt bad for the kid. Towles finished 8/21 for 96 yards and 2 interceptions. Stoops’ loyalty to Towles had fans beyond fed up.
Turn Collapse System: ON. 4-5, now having dropped their last 4, Kentucky needed something positive to happen. Thank God, we play Vandy next week – we HAVE to beat THEM, right?!?!
Game #10: @ Vanderbilt LOSS 21-17
Nope. This was the most Kentucky football game ever. Vanderbilt didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves with costly penalties, turnovers and a blown coverage. The only offensive TD by Vandy was a trick play/busted coverage that supposedly should have been a penalty, but wasn’t called, as the receiver lined up outside the numbers after coming inside the numbers with the sideline huddle. Whatever. Barker threw a pick-6 and Boom Williams fumbled inside our own 5. Again, the most Kentucky football game ever.
On a positive note, if you can find one in a 5 game losing skid, is that Drew Barker found Ryan Timmons for his first collegiate touchdown pass from 7 yards out.
Game #11: vs. Charlotte WIN 58-10
Finally, a game that ended the way it was supposed to. Barker got his first collegiate start – he wasn’t spectacular but the first time since Missouri, a QB didn’t throw an interception. The Cats rolled up 544 yards of offense, mostly on the ground behind JoJo Kemp and Boom Williams combining for 305 yards and 5 touchdowns.
That leaves Louisville between us and bowl eligibility for a second straight year. I’m not confident but was really hoping this game gave the boys some confidence they could win.
Game #12: @ Louisville LOSS 38-24
The Cats came out fierce. Bowl eligibility was within grasp as the Cats turned UL Quarterback Kyle Bolin over three times in the first half en route to a 24-7 lead at the break. The second half watched Louisville score 31 unanswered points as freshman Lamar Jackson RAN (another scrambling quarterback) all over the Cats – 17 carries for 186 yards and 2 TDs.
This had many fans begging for Stoops’ and his defensive coordinator, DJ Eliot’s head. This was unacceptable as the Cats had fallen out of bowl contention for the second straight season. Someone needed to be fired and fast.
Shannon Dawson and receivers coach Tommy Mainord were let go, much to the delight of the fan base. Many wanted Stoops fired, however, it wouldn’t have been financially responsible to fire him with so much money left on his deal. It was announced the Eddie Gran, the Cincinnati OC would replace Dawson, but with the title Head Coach of Offense. Gran coached running backs and special teams at Florida State when Stoops and Eliot were there.
Lots will change over the next few weeks in regards to the 2016 recruiting class. So, there’s not a lot to say in that regard other than Stoops and Gran need to hit offensive recruiting hard. Patrick Towles and third string quarterback Reese Phillips have transferred out, so there’s immediate need as Drew Barker’s backup. The Cats are solid at running back, but could use some new blood at receiver to spark some of their seemingly entitled egos. The offensive line didn’t play very well this past season. Mauled by bad footwork, lack of quickness and untimely penalties, the o-line was a major headache for much of the year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line needs to find a way to create a pass rush. Losing Josh Forrest, Khalid Henderson and Ryan Flannigan at linebacker really hurt, so it’ll be interesting to see who steps in next season. Getting depth at linebacker is priority number two. The secondary wasn’t terrible last season. I expect Marcus Walker and Darius West to compete for AJ Stamps’ vacant spot at safety.
Reasons to be positive:
- Eddie Gran is the Head Coach of Offense. When Gunner Kiel went down with injury at Cincinnati, Gran was able to get backup Hayden Moore to produce. The numbers weren’t flashy, but were definitely better than the QB production we got most of last season. With Barker as the full time starter, it’ll be exciting to see what production Gran can get out of him.
- Our stable of running backs should fit nicely into Gran’s system. If you look at Gran’s list of 1000 yard rushers, JoJo and Boom are right there talent wise – just need the offensive line to play better. Last season, Gran had three rush for 750+ yards.
- The defense has been a chore, however, they have been improving. This team is strides better than any Joker-coached defense, so there’s plenty to build on.
- If I’m not mistaken, I believe that Gran is also going to coach special teams – which Kentucky did not have a Special Teams coordinator last season and the results were horrific.
- The promise of a new season. There’s always hope at the beginning of the year. I believe in Stoops’ approach. He wanted Dawson to control the offense so he could focus on defense. He definitely has that now with Gran. Biggest thing for the defense is to figure out how to stop a running qb…(cough…containment…cough)
- 6 wins is possible. It’s a difficult schedule, but it’s definitely possible as I see 7, maybe 8 winnable games on the schedule (Not beating Florida, Alabama, Georgia & Tennessee). We can’t beat ourselves, like we did against Vandy.
1/4/2015 – Khalid Henderson is graduating and will not be back next season. Post has been updated.