2019 Yearbook: Kentucky Football

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 31: The Kentucky Wildcats celebrate after defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies 37-30 in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium on December 31, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

 

8 > 10. How much do you remember about elementary school math? Do you remember inequalities; greater than and less than? The mouth on the sign is supposed to open toward the bigger number, right?

So…when is 8 greater than 10?

When you are Mark Stoops and you follow up 2018, the first 10 win season in your head coaching career and the third in UK Football history, with a superb 2019 season – only the fifth of at least 8 wins in my lifetime (1980).

When you are Eddie Gran and lose your returning starting quarterback in the second game of the season, yet find a way to win six of your final 8 games, including the Belk Bowl versus Virginia Tech, by completely recreating the offense on the fly.

Lynn Bowden

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 31: Rayshard Ashby #23 of the Virginia Tech Hokies tries to stop Lynn Bowden Jr. #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats as he runs with the ball during the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium on December 31, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When you are Lynn Bowden and you go from WR1 to QB1, saving the season for your team while setting school and conference records for rushing yards by a quarterback.

But there is no denying; 10 wins and the Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State were incredible.

One cannot argue the magic that Josh Allen and Benny Snell provided Big Blue Nation in 2018. Stoops and his troops deserved every accolade afforded to them last season. Yet, somehow, this season was even better!

There is a legitimate argument to be made that no Kentucky Football team has overcome more adversity to achieve the level of success that the 2019 Cats achieved. They won 8 games without Terry Wilson when some experts prognosticated a 5 or 6 win season WITH him.

When Terry went down versus Eastern Michigan, the momentum built by this program over the previous 3 seasons seemed on the brink of disintegration.

Then came 3 losses in a row: Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Next, was the loss of backup quarterback Sawyer Smith. Did anyone mention the field goal kicking woes?

So many questions rattled around the pessimistic minds of BBN after September 28, 2019. Would Kentucky become bowl eligible? Would the historically highly rated recruiting class of 2020 stay faithful to their verbal commitments with the Cats, even through a catastrophic season? Could these Cats beat Tennessee? Louisville? Heck, Vanderbilt? Would Stoops leave Lexington for a more traditional power, like, say, Florida State?

From these ashes arose the gutsiest Kentucky Football performance in recent memory.

The inexperienced defensive backfield evolved into one of the most stifling in the country, holding their competition to under 190 yards passing a game and under 58% completions. The defense replaced UK’s all-time sack leader and Kentucky football legend, Josh Allen, with Calvin Taylor Jr., who finished second in the SEC in sacks this season. From the legacy of great UK linebackers emerged DeAndre Square, Chris Oats, and Boogie Watson, combining for over 150 tackles and 8 sacks.

Big Blue Wall

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – AUGUST 31: The line of scrimmages of the Kentucky Wildcats game against the Toledo Rockets at Commonwealth Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Big Blue Wall spearheaded the run-heavy, new-look Cats offense. Drake Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Luke Fortner, Landon Young, and Darian Kinnard embraced the challenge of dictating
the style of play. A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Chris Rodriguez created a three-headed monster in the backfield. The receivers sacrificed their stats in support of one of their own, and perhaps more importantly, in the name of winning. Finally, Lynn Bowden took the mantra spoken by Kash Daniel to heart; he replaced the legends on the 2018 squad by becoming one.

This season kept the bowl streak intact. This season saw the commencement of a postseason winning streak, the continuation of Governor’s Cup dominance, and the emergence of the greatest Australian export to the bluegrass since the old Blockbuster on Richmond Road got Crocodile Dundee on DVD – Max Duffy!

Kentucky Football’s progress continues with the success of 2019.

It is evident in the signing of a 5-star recruit like Justin Rogers and an all-American Vito Tisdale. It is evident in the transfers that are joining the program to be a part of big blue history – highly touted players like quarterback Joey Gatewood, cornerback Kelvin Joseph, and linebacker Xavier Peters. It is evident in the postseason recognition given to Lynn (Paul Hornung Award) and Max (Ray Guy Award).

Most importantly, it is evident in the expectations for next season. 2019 means more because it gives a fanatical fan base something to look forward to besides Calipari’s Cats competing for titles.

Namely, Kentucky expects to compete with Georgia for the SEC East in 2020.

There is a ton of talent returning for the defending Belk Bowl champs. An incredible corps of defensive experience and offensive depth accompanies the unsung return of Devonte Robinson, as well as a triumphant resurrection of Touchdown Terry.

The state of the program is the healthiest it has been since the late 1970’s.

The power in this season is hidden in the possibilities it provides for the immediate and long term future. This season’s 8 wins reinforced the success of the previous season. It confirmed the solid ground upon which this era of Kentucky Football is built, and it has provided Kentucky Football fans the type of energy that has been missing for decades.

So…when is 8 greater than 10? 10 wins in 2018 gave fans hope. 8 wins in 2019 give the Big Blue Nation belief!