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A A "blacked-out" Commonwealth Stadium (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's fourth-quarter comeback victory over Steve Spurrier's South Carolina was a cathartic experience for everyone who has invested in the UK football program in recent years.

At least prior to Saturday in the Mark Stoops era, when Kentucky would go down by 14 points they would lose the game. And so to come back twice from 14 points and win, was a novelty for those who have been around Kentucky over the last two years.

To their credit, Stoops' teams never gave up in past close games in which they fell behind, they just never finished the job. The Wildcats fought back valiantly in Southeastern Conference games against favored teams like Mississippi State and South Carolina last year, in addition to a triple-overtime loss at Florida three weeks ago.

So the 2014 Wildcats' ability to fight back from a two-touchdown deficit not once, but twice -- including with less than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth -- made the program-changing victory over the Gamecocks all the more of a milestone.

D.J. Eliot realized that Kentucky had gotten over a hump it had so often struggled to mount since the current staff took over before the 2013 season.

"We've had some some tight games before," the UK defensive coordinator said. "We had a tight game with these guys last year and we didn't win. This year we ended up on the better side. I'm excited about that."

Running back Jojo Kemp, who was the offensive star of the game with three touchdown runs and 131 yards on 17 carries mostly out of the Wildcat formation, summed up just how big the win was for a program that is learning to win in an on-field interview with the SEC Network after the game.

"I came here to change the program. And that's what we're doing," Kemp said. "Why not us? Why not Kentucky?"

Brown gets tricky against the Head Ball Coach


Saturday's win was, for lack of a better term, a "game-changer" when it comes to outward impressions of the UK football program.

In terms of the game itself, a trick play early in the third quarter may just have given UK the confidence it needed to defeat South Carolina for the first time in four years.

Once again out of the Wildcat, from which UK scored all five of its offensive touchdowns, Kemp handed off to wideout Javess Blue, who ran left before pitching back to Patrick Towles. From there the UK quarterback passed 48 yards for a touchdown to Ryan Timmons. The touchdown gave UK its first lead of the game, igniting a season-best crowd of 62,135 as well as a sideline of players already high on belief, but hungry for results.
 
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown certainly enjoyed executing a trick play against South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier who after all is known for his willingness to take risks.

"To be honest, yeah, it was fun," Brown said of the de facto flea-flicker. "It was the same play we ran against Tennessee. We had it the same and we didn't execute it. It was fun to execute it. That was the first trick play I think we've hit it right since I've been here.

"We used to hit those all the time at (Texas) Tech and Troy. So that was fun. It was a big play in the game. You talk about--that place was loud. When we hit that and Timmons scored, this place was electric."

Forrest played like Williamson


The consensus around the UK defense entering the season held that the Wildcats' strength would be on the defensive line bookended by Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, while the secondary had an injection of talent spearheaded by junior-college transfer A.J. Stamps.

For their part Dupree and Stamps both had interceptions on Saturday, but the UK defense was anchored by junior linebacker Josh Forrest.

The middle linebacker entered the season facing a tall task: replacing Avery Williamson, who became the face of the program and an All-SEC selection in his final two years at UK and now plies his trade on Sundays for the Tennessee Titans.

Forrest, like Williamson last year, is currently the team leader in tackles, but his master class performance came against South Carolina.

The Paducah, Ky., native totaled a career-high 15 tackles, the most by a UK player since Williamson had 15 tackles in 2013 vs. Louisville. And his big game was the second double-digit tackle game of the season, with the other having come in another big SEC game, as he totaled 10 against Florida.

The trend for Forrest bodes well for a UK defense, which didn't play great, but did enough to win.

SEC East ... contenders?


Saturday's result was, in a word, crazy, and the manner in which it occurred fit every bit of that description.

But perhaps the wildest development from Kentucky's fourth win of the season, given the trajectory of the program less than two years ago, was what the victory meant in terms of this season.

Believe it or not, at 4-1 (2-1 in conference play) the Wildcats are right in the thick of the race for the SEC East title.

Yes, a Kentucky team that went 2-10 each of the past two seasons, finds itself just one game behind first-place Missouri (4-1; 1-0 SEC) in the SEC East loss column.

Of course, UK has five conference games remaining (three of them against current AP Top 25 teams in addition to a trip to newly unranked LSU), but the Wildcats are also a triple-overtime game away from being 5-0.

How far UK has come in a short time, and how close UK is to perfection so far this season is not lost on UK's signal caller.

"We are extremely close to being 5-0, which would be unbelievable," Patrick Towles said. "We're 4-1, which is unbelievable. We're going to move forward, we're going to win a lot of games. The tenacity and the passion that we showed tonight is going to win us a lot of football games.

"We're definitely in (the SEC East title race) now. Definitely no question. We're there to stay for sure."

Big-play Bud: Dupree's pick-6 completes comeback

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DupreeUSC_cw.jpeg For more than three-and-a-half hours, Kentucky and South Carolina went back and forth.

There were too many momentum swings to count. There were two separate 21-0 runs in the second half. There was a perfectly executed trick play touchdown. The Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 62,135 was into it from start to finish, but it was a long night nonetheless.

No moments passed more slowly than those that immediately preceded the biggest play of the game.

UK had just pulled into a tie and was looking to prevent a game-winning Gamecock drive in the final minutes. Facing a second and 10 from his own 20, Dylan Thompson dropped back to throw and fired a pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage.

For the next 1.9 seconds, hearts stopped.

"I saw it floating up in the air," Mark Stoops said. "Felt like it was up there for five minutes. I was hoping somebody would run underneath it."

Enter Bud Dupree.

"The ball came down and it seemed like it took forever," Dupree said. "I thought somebody was right behind my waiting to tackle me as soon as I caught it."

Dupree snared the ball at the six-yard line, showing off the short-burst speed that makes him an elite NFL Draft prospect. No one was catching him, not until he got into that end zone for the first pick-six of his football career, high school or college.

In spite of the magnitude of the moment - the play would send UK to a 45-38 win and touch off a mad field-rushing scene - Dupree could only think about one thing: Don't pick up a penalty. He had a celebration in mind for his first-career touchdown, but his better judgment wouldn't allow him to break it out.

"I couldn't do it," Dupree said. "Everybody started running at me and I was thinking, 'What if I get a penalty and they take it back?' I just wanted to play it smart and make sure we won the game."

Dupree wouldn't have had much time to get that celebration in anyway. Quickly following him into the end zone were his teammates, who piled on top of the star defensive end/linebacker in celebration.

"I think what made me most tired was getting up from everybody being on top of me," Dupree said. "I lost a lot of energy trying to get up with everybody on top of me. I was tired on the next series just because of that. It's a great feeling."

That sweet exhaustion would not have been possible had it not been for Mike Douglas, who made the play before the big play.

The senior defensive tackle occupied the right guard as Dupree rushed Thompson from the outside. Sitting near the line of scrimmage, Douglas jumped as Thompson threw and reacted in time to swat the ball into the air with his right hand.

"I saw the ball leave his hands and I tried to get my hands up in time," Douglas said. "I'm glad I did."

After Dupree and Douglas combined to give UK the lead, it was another senior who make the game-clinching defensive play.

Just a touchdown away from likely sending the game to overtime, South Carolina had a first and 15 at its own 46. Thompson dropped to pass and fired high over the middle into the waiting arms of safety Ashely Lowery, who made UK's third interception of the game and ninth of the season (fourth nationally).

"Those guys, Mike Douglas, Bud Dupree and Ashley Lowery, guys that kind of bought in to what we're doing here made big plays tonight," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "It's something that was very rewarding."

The night may have ended rewardingly, but UK had more than its share of frustrating moments, especially on defense.

South Carolina jumped all over the Cats early, running at will and building a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. UK would stiffen on defense and eventually take a 24-17 in the third quarter on a reverse pass from Patrick Towles to Ryan Timmons out of the Wildcat formation, but the Gamecocks once again asserted themselves.

South Carolina scored 21 unanswered to take a 38-24 lead, drawing the ire of Stoops and eliciting a sideline talking-to he said wasn't fit for his postgame press conference.

"Quit looking around for guys to make plays; you make a play," Stoops said, recalling his message in tamer terms. "That's where I started challenging them. That's where I had enough. Quit looking around. Quit looking for a call. Somebody dig in and make a play."

More than one somebody did just that.

South Carolina piled up 38 points and 500 yards of total offense, but the Gamecocks were shut out on their final three drives and managed just 34 yards. Mike Davis (183 yards, three touchdowns) was dominant in the ground game and South Carolina had 282 yards rushing as a team, but the Cats got the stops when they were most needed.

"I think shows how resilient we are as a team, especially as a defense, after rebounding after we played horrible for pretty much the whole game," Douglas said.

To Douglas, that ability to overcome adversity all comes down to a team chemistry he says is the best he's seen at UK.

"It's an open floor for communication," Douglas said. "That's what really helps because there's nobody built up, mad because he made a play, mad because he missed it. We get it out on the sideline and then we go back and move on to the next play."

Jojo Kemp carried 17 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns in UK's upset of South Carolina on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Jojo Kemp carried 17 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns in UK's upset of South Carolina on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Understandably, Jojo Kemp was tired.

On a potential game-tying fourth quarter drive against South Carolina, Kemp was carrying the load for Kentucky but he needed a break. He signaled as much to the sideline, but the Wildcats couldn't afford not to have him in the game.

And on the very next play, Kemp unleashed his longest run of the night.

"He put the team on his back," Stoops said. "He was trying to come out of the game once. I said, 'That's it; no more. You stay in there, grind it out.' And he did."

After that 43-yard run out of the Wildcat formation, Kemp stayed down on the left sideline. Completely exhausted, he finally got up and limped off after cheers of "Jojo, Jojo!" rang through Commonwealth Stadium. He needed only a one-play break before reentering and scoring from five yards out to tie the game.

"I ain't gonna lie, I was gassed," Kemp said. "But I had to lay it on the line for my team. We've been working so hard and I've been wanting to show the fans what our hard work has been doing so far and it finally paid off."

It paid off in the form of a 45-38 victory, one that sent UK (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) to a second consecutive SEC win. Star defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree scored the game-winning touchdown, snaring a pass fellow senior Mike Douglas batted into the air and returning it six yards.

"Bud is a heck of an athlete," Kemp said. "Bud, he's great. He's a great leader and we kind of did this for the seniors tonight."

The seniors may have been the inspiration, but it was a sophomore who carried the heaviest load.

Kentucky, having already overcome a 14-0 first-half deficit to take a 24-17 lead, found itself trailing 38-24 when Mike Davis sprinted 26 yards for a touchdown with 11:45 left. It was at that point that most teams would turn to the pass to make a comeback, but the Cats went the other direction.

"I really liked what we were doing coming into the game," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I thought we were right on schedule with our plan and I knew if we just stayed with it. ... I knew if we just stayed the course I felt like we were playing well enough up front that we could get back in the game."

Brown would call on Patrick Towles - who played a solid game, completing 20-of-29 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown - to throw just one pass as the Cats mounted a furious rally. In fact, Towles was split out wide more often than not in the formation that's come to known as the "WildKemp."

"I'll take it," Towles said. "I probably didn't expect that we'd do it that much, but if it's productive why go away from it?"

Productive might be an understatement.

Kemp ran 17 times for a career-high 131 yards to go with three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter alone, he piled up 116 yards and two scores on 14 carries.

"I felt like at the end of the game if we got in it we could get rolling," Brown said. "I thought the fourth quarter having success on first down was huge for us. I really felt like we had enough time to stay in it and we did. Jojo did a great job. He's going to get a lot of the credit, but we blocked really well up front."

Kemp doesn't disagree.

"My o-line, they were out there hungry, fighting for every yard I got," Kemp said. "So I gotta give the praise to my o-line."

The Wildcat formation has become a mainstay of the UK offense over the last two weeks. Against Vanderbilt, the Cats used it to salt away a win. Against South Carolina, it was the means to a thrilling comeback.

"What happens is you bring the motion, so you gotta defend the motion because that's two of our better players, whether it was Javess (Blue) or (Ryan) Timmons coming in, you gotta defend the sweep," Brown said. "And then all the motion, the defenders gotta move, can't play it downhill as much. And Jojo's got a really good feel for it. You have to be patient."

Brown has been patient in his Wildcat play-calling as well, keeping an ace of a trick play up his sleeve until the first drive of the second half.

In the first, UK scored both its touchdowns off Wildcat looks, first with Kemp and later on a 38-yard burst by Braylon Heard. The trap set, Brown called for an end around to Blue off the Wildcat and reverse to Towles. Timmons wide open by 25 yards, Towles threw deep for a 48-yard touchdown.

"That was the first trick play I think we've hit it right since I've been here," Brown said. "We used to hit those all the time at Tech and Troy. So that was fun. It was a big play in the game. You talk about--that place was loud. When we hit that and Timmons scored, this place was electric."

It was even more electric after Kemp's final three carries of the night.

After Dupree's interception return, the UK defense came up with yet another stop when Ashely Lowery picked off a Dylan Thompson pass. Needing just one first down to kill the final 1:31, Brown unsurprisingly called Kemp's number.

With some help from a South Carolina offsides penalty, the Cats picked up that first down with three carries by Kemp. When the official measurement revealed that Kemp had reached the line to gain, it touched off a raucous field-rushing situation.

"I gave a lot (of high-fives), but I was just trying to get my breathing," Kemp said. "I was gassed."

He had enough energy to make a short walk in the postgame locker room when his coach summoned him.

"Jojo, so proud of Jojo," Stoops said. "I think that was, other than some special guests we have sometimes when we honor somebody, that was the first game ball I gave out tonight. Called JoJo up and gave him a game ball. Because just sheer determination that he had."

Mark Stoops


Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot


Stoops soaks in monumental win

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Mark Stoops (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
College football is an emotional game and Mark Stoops is an emotional guy.

Anyone who has seen him yell at an official after a bad call -- and seen his facial expressions in said tirades -- can attest to that.

And still he'd never experienced as a head coach the emotional ups and downs, and ultimately highs, that he did in Saturday's 45-38 comeback win over South Carolina.

"It's hard to describe how much pride you feel for the team, just for everybody in our organization," Stoops said. "You know to fight back through that adversity. To start down 14 points, and be down 14 in the fourth ... it just felt uphill the whole game. Felt frustrating."

But who could blame the UK coach, who after not winning a Southeastern Conference game during his debut season last year now has won two in a row, and has his team very much in the thick of the race for the SEC East title, for getting a bit overwhelmed after the game?

The manner in which Stoops' team won, coming back from not one, but two 14-point deficits, including that score line in the fourth quarter would be enough to overwhelm just about anyone.

"It's really hard to put into words," Stoops said. "I think just I feel very proud of the whole group and all the work that we put in. And it was emotional. I felt overwhelmed at times when I was on that field. It happened so quick.

"I was frustrated a lot of the night. But just very grateful, I think, is the thing that comes to mind and appreciate the guys in that locker room."

And so after celebrating on-field postgame with thousands of members of the Big Blue Nation, talking to his team and giving away the game ball to a current player for the first time in his career, Stoops soaked in just how much Saturday's win meant.

He apparently enjoyed the moment so much that he didn't want it to end. So he actually extended his press conference to two extra questions because he was "enjoying it too much."

Perhaps adding just a measure of the feel-good factor to the win was who was standing across from him on the opposite sideline. The relationship between the Stoops and Spurrier families has been well-documented as Mark's brother Bob -- now the head coach at Oklahoma -- was the defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier on the staffs that built Florida into one of the nation's premier programs in the 1990s.

The frustration Stoops spoke so much about postgame was in many ways attributable to Spurrier's coaching prowess.

"Coach Spurrier, I have so much respect for offensively, and he went to some--not different things, because he's run all those sets before, but he featured them and kept us out and kept us really off balance," Stoops said. "And it was very frustrating. That's why he's a Hall of Fame coach and won an awful lot of football games."

But the gravity of the moment was not lost on Stoops, and it moved him enough to engage in a time-tested football tradition, which the second-year coach had never engaged in before tonight. Perhaps he never had a big enough win to do it, or perhaps he had never had a player deserving enough of the honor.

But Jojo Kemp's three-touchdown, 131-yard game, which also included a big third-down conversion with barely a minute remaining, was worthy.

"JoJo , (I'm) so proud of JoJo," Stoops said. "I think that was, other than some special guests we have sometimes when we honor somebody, that was the first game ball I gave out tonight. Called JoJo up and gave him a game ball.

"Because just sheer determination that he had. He put the team on his back. He was trying to come out of the game once. I said: That's it; no more. You stay in there, grind it out. And he did.


Dr. Everett McCorvey from the Kentucky School of Music led Commonwealth Stadium in the national anthem prior to Kentucky's 45-38 victory.

Live blog: Football vs. South Carolina

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Live Blog Football vs. South Carolina
 

Video: A sit-down with Patrick Towles

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Kentucky Wildcats TV continues to produce some great stuff as UK's Saturday matchup with South Carolina approaches. This time, Patrick Towles sits down to talk about his journey from third stringer a year ago to having a breakout season as the starter in 2014.

And by the way, one of the best players in UK history and current Green Bay Packer star Randall Cobb will be in attendance to watch Towles and the Cats in action this weekend.

Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: He mentioned coaching numerous times in his postgame press conference, including his opening statement: "OK. You know, there's not a read more
  • Brian: Funny that Stoops said they got outplayed but forgot to mention that he and his staff were also out coached... read more
  • William Bagshaw: The Kentucky Madness was a failure for the fans that was not on court. This was useless to put on read more
  • justin: Poythress is a straight beast. read more
  • John Lee: On the article, it says "early in the fourth quarter," but it should be 'first' instead..because we only trailed early read more
  • Hugh Jones: We'll be in Memorial and Rupp for all your games. Love you gals! Go Cats! read more
  • Ryan: This is intense, I've never seen a live blog like this, keep up the good work! read more
  • Ryan: Watching this guy is really inspiring. Makes me have faith that guys like him are running the show on the read more
  • Tom Roosa: I just have 1 question, do you think that this team has the chance to have a great year? They read more
  • steve crum: Glad to see Coach Stoops get rewarded for all the time and hard work he puts in to our read more