November 26, 2011

Big Blue Review: Cats end losing streak

All the notes, quotes and anecdotes from Kentucky's historic 10-7 win over Tennessee.

Top Cat

What a way for senior wide receiver, and supposedly quarterback, Matt Roark to go out. He originally committed to UK with the idea that he'd compete at the quarterback position, that didn't pan out his freshman year but four years later his first career start under center helped snap a 26-year losing streak. Normally a quarterback who only throws for 15 yards wouldn't be considered "Top Cat" but Roark controlled the game with option runs, accumulating 124 yards on 24 carries. He was the leader, and now the legend, that propelled the Cats past Tennessee.

Top Stat

Only twice in SEC play has UK controlled the time of possession, the Cats lost both but against the Vols UK won the possession battle 35:57 to 24:03. UK established its running game on its first drive; going 62 yards in 15 plays and hitting a field goal, chewing up nearly eight minutes. If the Cats didn't control the clock, Tennessee would have had more chances to take the lead and force Roark to throw the ball, something the UK coaching staff didn't want.

Big Moment

On 4th and 17 with under three minutes to play in the game sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray dropped back to pass, having to get a first down to prolong the game. Instead he connect with UK's Taiedo Smith who intercepted the pass and returned it 26 yards, officially ending the 26-game losing streak.

Quotable

"I love this team, I feel like we took care of business today," Danny Trevathan said. "It's been 26 years, that's too long for anything. I think we played our hearts out today, I feel like we played one of our best games."

Notable

UK passed for 15 yards Saturday, its lowest total of the season and its lowest total during the 26 game losing streak. Second lowest was 55 yards in 1993, UK lost that game 48-0 but found a way to win Saturday thanks to a solid running attack and prolific defense.

Bottom Line

The streak is over. For the first time in any current UK player's life, the Cats beat Tennessee and end what was a rocky season on a joyful note. The field was rushed, fireworks were fired and music was played. Whether or not Joker Phillips is, was, or will be on the hot seat wasn't discussed as Big Blue Nation finally exhaled and had a reason to celebrate this football season. The seniors stepped up in their final game and will be remembered as the class that finally beat Tennessee.


Quarterback: A+
What do you even qualify Matt Roark as? Is he a quarterback? A receiver? An athlete? More than anything, he'll be a legend in Lexington after his performance on Saturday. The senior who had been benched earlier this year for dropping passes made an emergency start at quarterback and led the Cats to their first win over the Vols in 26 years. He did it with more heart than arm. He completed 4-6 passes for 15 yards, the fewest Kentucky has ever had during the streak. His first completion went for 15 yards, so he had zero net passing yards after the first drive of the game. He ran for 124 yards on 24 carries. But the most important thing is that they won. He'll never be forgotten for that.

Running backs: A
With Roark starting at quarterback, Tennessee was able to stack the box the entire game. That made for an incalculably difficult game for CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders, the only Kentucky tailbacks to touch the ball. They combined for an impressive, hard-fought 71 yards on 27 carries. They earned every inch of it. They ran into the heart of the Tennessee defense on nearly every play and at times, sustained drives through sheer willpower.

Wide receivers/tight ends:A
This wasn't a game in which any receiver was going to get more than a handful of yards. In fact, La'Rod King was the only wide receiver with a catch, and it went for just two yards. They were there when called upon, though, and blocked superbly for Roark and the tailbacks. Senior Nick Melillo saved the first drive with a 15-yard reception. Without that, Kentucky might not have kicked the early field goal, which was the final margin of victory. Don't forget about true freshman Demarco Robinson who had a 13-yard reverse for a first down as well after being left for dead earlier this season.

Offensive line:A+
It was the final game for three seniors on the line, and they'll remember it for a long time. Tennessee did end up with eight tackles for loss, but that's to be expected with an offense as one-dimensional as Kentucky's. They moved around well enough to protect Roark and the offense moved the ball when it had to. It was one of the ugliest offensive performances for Kentucky in ages, but the offense did its job. The line, maligned since a rash of injuries hit them in training camp, was a big part of that.

Defensive line: A+
Collins Ukwu had half a sack, as did Luke McDermott. The numbers for the defensive line can't possibly begin to show how well the defense as a whole played. For all of Roark's heroics, even an average defensive performance would have meant the game was just another loss to tack on to the streak. Tennessee also ran for just 61 yards as a team, and no Volunteer running back averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry. The defensive line let the rest of the defense make the plays needed to seal the win.

Linebackers: A+
It was a banged-up Winston Guy and not Danny Trevathan who had a monster final game. Guy had a season-high 14 tackles, including two for losses. He also combined with McDermott for a crucial sack on Tennessee's final drive. Trevathan didn't have a shabby performance, though, finishing with eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He also broke up two passes. Ronnie Sneed had an interception that the offense couldn't turn into points, but stalled the Tennessee offense in the second half. This was the defense's finest hour.

Secondary: A
Tyler Bray did pass for 215 yards and connected on a 53-yard touchdown to Raijon Neal, but he never really got in a rhythm. Taiedo Smith's game-clinching interception will go down in the Kentucky football annals in the same department as Braxton Kelley's overtime stop against LSU in 2007. Bray is one of the most talented players in the league and had only lost one game this season as a starter before Saturday, so keeping him in check is a feat in and of itself. Randall Burden was beat a few times, but not badly enough to detract from how well the defense played.

Special teams: A
It took every phase of the game going perfectly for Kentucky to win this one, and that included the special teams. Without Alvin Dupree's blocked field goal in the first quarter, this one might have gone to overtime. Who knows what happens then. Ryan Tydlacka didn't play the best game of a spectacular senior season, but was still a weapon and flipped the field often. Craig McIntosh's 24-yard field goal in the first quarter was a chip shot, but every kick in this game is pressure-laden. There were no special teams miscues that could have been costly, either.


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