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Keys to Kentucky Football’s Last Three Games

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UK Athletics

The Kentucky football team has had a rollercoaster of a season, from the win at Florida to push Kentucky into the AP Top 10, to the brutal home loss to South Carolina.

Entering the season, most expected Kentucky to finish 9-3, and if the Wildcats had waited a half-second at the end of the Ole Miss game and Will Levis had played against South Carolina, they would have had a great chance to do that.

With three games remaining on the schedule and sitting at 6-3, Kentucky could still do that. However, with No. 1 Georgia sill left to play, the Wildcats would have to pull a major upset.

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If Kentucky were to win the next three games and the bowl game, they could still still win 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.

Let’s examine the matchups and see the keys for Kentucky’s success.

Vanderbilt: Start Fast and Don’t Overlook

Winless in the SEC since 2019, Vanderbilt is not a good football team. However, in their last two games the Commodores have played Missouri and South Carolina close. If Kentucky isn’t prepared (i.e. South Carolina), Vanderbilt could catch them off guard.

With a defense that is ranked last in the SEC, Vandy has given up a ton of points this season, giving up nearly 37 points and over 300 yards in offense to be exact. On the other hand, Kentucky has also struggled to put up points – even against mediocre defenses – scoring just 23.6 points per game, which is even less than Vanderbilt’s average of 26.7.

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Getting off to a fast start can put this game away early with the strength of Kentucky’s defense.

If Kentucky can get a 2-3 possession lead by halftime, it would help immensely to boost the offense’s confidence just in time for Georgia’s top ranked defense to come to Lexington next week.

Georgia: Make Them Earn It

Georgia is the best team in the country and they proved it last week against Tennessee.

The most important thing about this game is to force the Bulldogs to earn their victory at Kroger field and not giving it to them via turnovers, special teams miscues, etc.

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The Kentucky defense will have one their toughest challenges of the year and will have to make Georgia fight for every point. On the other hand, if the Kentucky offense can move the ball it will take a lot of pressure off of Brad White and the defense.

Kirby Smart and Co are looking to come into this game and assert their will, but the Wildcats will have to let them know that this game won’t be an easy one.

Louisville: Control the Line of Scrimmage

In the last three meetings against the Cardinals, Kentucky has outscored them 153-44. One of the biggest reason why is that they have controlled the line of scrimmage.

It has been taken for granted that Kentucky has had several NFL-level players on the offensive and defensive lines, but the roster turnover has finally caught up with the team, especially on the offensive line.

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The offensive line specifically, has been strong enough to help the Kentucky offense for an average of 491 yards in the last three meetings. In this season’s matchup, they will have to take a step up for Will Levis and Co to get close to that number.

With that said, this an improved Louisville team, who in the second half of the season, have improved their performance, primarily due to a stingy defense that is currently ranked top-20 in scoring defense.

Knowing that, it looks like this year’s Governor’s Cup will be closer than recent years. Again, this is a game that Kentucky should win, but it will come down to controlling the line of scrimmage.

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Football

Chris Oats, Senior UK Linebacker That Suffered a Stroke, is Celebrated on Senior Day and Even Throws an L’s Down

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Chris Oats committed to the Kentucky Wildcats as a four-star linebacker in 2018. After two seasons, he had appeared in 25 games and recorded 73 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

Things were trending up for Oats as he was set to become a defensive leader and have a breakout season, but in May of 2020, he suffered a career-ending stroke. While the medical incident ultimately forced Oats off the field, his legacy has been carried with the team on and off the field.

On the field, one rotating Kentucky player wore his No. 22 jersey without a name on the back in honor of their teammate during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Off the field, Oats reminds the team what “true adversity really is” says head coach Mark Stoops.

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Since his medical incident, Oats has been progressing with rehab. With the help of Big Blue Nation, $170,000 was raised last summer to help Oats and his family purchase a wheelchair-accessible van to get to and from treatment.

That treatment has helped Oats regain some movement and independence. In March of this year, Oats was able to stand up with the assistance of his family for the first time since the incident.

In September, he was able to walk his sister down the aisle, citing it as motivation for what he has worked so hard for.

The most emotional moment came on Saturday as Oats participated in Kentucky’s senior day activities, standing up and even throwing an L’s down.

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After the game, Stoops talked about the emotions of having Oats on the field and what he has meant to the program. “You have a tendency to feel down or disgruntled or — that’s real adversity. He’s facing it head-on. I’m sure there are ups and downs. I know there is. But we all can learn a little bit from that.”

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Barion Brown Puts a Stop to Transfer Rumors, Says He Is “BBN for Life”

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This season’s Kentucky team had plenty of experience but also had plenty of young talent, including some explosive offensive players. During his weekly call-in show last week, Mark Stoops talked about trying to keep this group of freshmen, calling it a “free-for-all” where schools just throw money at players.

One of those explosive freshmen is Barion Brown, and in recent weeks there was a rumor that he could be looking to transfer. Brown responded several times to fans on social media that was not considering leaving, but after Saturday’s game he wanted to end any and all doubt about his return.

When asked in the postgame press conference, Brown quickly dismissed the rumors and said that he doesn’t know where they came from, but that he will return and is “BBN for life.”

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This is positive news, as Brown has proved himself as one of the great young talents in the SEC. With the Bowl game still remaining, Brown already holds the Kentucky freshman record for receiving yards in a season (604) and most pass receptions in a season (45).

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Mark Stoops Calls NIL/Transfer Portal Era “100% Free Agency”

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UK Athletics

In 2021, college athletics was forever changed. In the span of just a few months, the NCAA implemented the “one-time transfer rule” and rules to allow student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL).

With both of these, it opened up the possibility for players to transfer to schools strictly based on potential marketing/brand deals, with Stoops calling it “100% free agency” on his weekly call-in show.

Now, a year and a half later, college sports have already seen several cases of this play out. This includes a billionaire alum of the University of Miami, John Ruiz, using his wealth and company, LifeWallet, to buy as much talent as he can afford.

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While it may not seem fair, it is the new reality and it is starting to take effect on the Kentucky football program. In his weekly call-in show on Monday, Mark Stoops opened up about it.

“With the name, image, and likeness, man, it is just a different world. It is absolutely insane what’s going on. Transfers. Your own team. You know how many people are going after our young players? We have as good of freshmen as I’ve ever had. And it’s like a free-for-all.”

The freshman Stoops is referring to?

Deone Walker, who has been a bright spot on the defensive line and is a semifinalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award. Two freshmen receivers, Dane Key and Barion Brown, now hold all of UK’s freshman receiving records. Not to mention, Alex Afari and Keaten Wade, who have made big plays in key moments this season.

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Recruiting that caliber of player is relatively new to Kentucky football, but now they have to find out how to retain them with schools “just throwing money” at them, as Stoops said.

“They’re just throwing money, you know what I mean? I don’t know, I don’t understand. It doesn’t seem healthy, I’m not sure it’s sustainable, but it’s legal, and once again I’m sorry. I hate to ask but we need the support. We need it desperately. It’s total free agency.”

In his Monday morning press conference, Stoops even suggested that he would donate back to the players if he was allowed. “I wish I could take some of that contract I just got and give it to my players and give it to the collectives… I promise you, I’d donate back to the players.”

At this point, the precedent has been set and it is up to the programs to adjust.

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