Many apologies for a lack of blogging. It was a long, long weekend. Here are a few scattered thoughts from it at large.
— All the rumors about Kentucky fans are true: the crowd that showed up Saturday was a laid-back, gregarious group of people. On multiple occasions fans in blue approached either me or Peter to ask how far we'd driven, whether we were enjoying ourselves, what we thought of our team, and so forth. Even when the Alabama team buses came charging up University Boulevard to Commonwealth Stadium, the collective boos from the UK fans were somewhat half-hearted.
Let's just say it was a little strange for two guys raised on football in the South. Peter and I walked around campus for a good hour before we saw any indication that anyone was coming to the game. As it turned out, the tailgating and party-type atmosphere was pretty lively around Commonwealth itself, but once you walked a few feet away, you'd forget there was even a football game going on.
Inside the stadium, the Wildcat legions (at least those that showed up — the stadium never really was full) conducted themselves the way overly-supportive Little League parents behave during their kids' games: they're very aware their kids aren't any good, but every time one of them does something right, they cheer like crazy. Deep into the fourth quarter, after the outcome was very much decided, many of them hung around and kept supporting their team.
But they never really believed they had a chance Saturday. Prior to the game, Peter and I stopped for a moment to listen to a portion of the pregame radio show, broadcast remotely in a large trailer. The announcers both agreed the following things: a) Kentucky didn't have a chance; b) the rest of the schedule appears winnable for them. "The main thing," one of them said, "is to make sure we don't let whatever happened last week and what happens today affect us the rest of the season."
At no point did either of them say, "To have a chance to win ..." or even, "To have a chance at keeping it close ..." They'd already resigned themselves to a lopsided loss. And none of the fans listening seemed to disagree.
— Having said all that, though, Kentucky had a chance to win the game. Here's where it happened:
The 'Cats, having dominated much of the first quarter (after Alabama's first quick touchdown), had pinned Alabama at its own 3-yard line with the second of two fantastic pooch kicks. On first down, Micah Johnson came through the Tide line unblocked, nailing Trent Richardson for a safety ... or, at least, that's how it looked from Section 219, Row 32. Officials on the field ruled Richardson had cleared the goal line, but barely. Incredibly, the replay showed they were right (a rarity for officials on this particular Saturday).
If Richardson doesn't clear the goal line, and if the official doesn't get that call exactly right, Alabama is trailing 8-7, and has to kick the ball back to a Kentucky offense that had experienced surprising success through much of the first quarter.
Didn't happen. Instead, Richardson burst off tackle on second down for five yards to allow a little breathing room, then Greg McElroy found Colin Peek down the middle for a big first down. Nine plays later, 'Bama was in the opposing end zone — McElroy to Peek again — and led 14-6.
Two plays later, this happened:
By the time Courtney Upshaw crossed the goal line, the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.
— Biggest crowd pop of the day: Kentucky introducing its basketball team one by one during a TV timeout. They did it in the most confusing way possible, too: they introduced them as "14 of Kentucky's biggest football fans," then brought them out one-by-one calling them by their first names. Very odd.
— I didn't watch much of the replay, so I'm not sure how evident it was on TV, but it seemed like the wind played a large role in our passing game, especially in the first half. On a couple of deep throws, McElroy appeared to have his man open, but the ball appeared to be taking off with the wind at his back. And going into it made medium-distance field goals nearly impossible.
— Which, obviously, raises the obvious question (as posed by Todd): why were we screwing around throwing the ball in the first half? Why not pound Kentucky's smallish front with our big guys and see if they can stop us? Is that too easy? I'm confused.
— Defensively, Kentucky's success was a little disconcerting, particularly given the number of tackles we missed. The hallmark of Nick Saban's defenses through much of these first two-and-a-half seasons has been that our guys a) don't blow assignments and b) don't miss tackles.
Having said that, though, the defense never gave up the go-ahead points in a 7-6 game, even though UK started consecutive drives at midfield. And we were good enough defensively to force four Wildcat turnovers, including one incredible interception in which Rolando McClain tipped the ball up into the air like a basketball player, in order to give Eryk Anders a chance to come down with it. Pretty amazing stuff.
— After the game, Peter & I walked downtown — a good 25 minutes or so — and snuck into Rupp Arena. Now I want to go back.
— One more funny story and then we're through: Saturday night we wandered over to Buffalo Wild Wings on South Broadway, the better to watch the vast assortment of games being played in the late slot. A handful of locals — who were drinking and taking turns punching an electronic bag that registered their punching power engaged us after we sat down, wanting to know if we'd really driven "all the way from Alabama" and what we thought about the whole experience. One of them seemed more angry with us than anything for "hanging out in f*cking Lexington" for the night, finally asking us if we were staying at the Embassy Suites.
"No," I told him. "The Holiday Inn."
"Man," he said. "I knew y'all were a bunch of cheap m-----f-----s."
Hard to argue with him there.
And with that, a fond farewell to Kentucky week. We'll start preparing for Ole Miss tomorrow.