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By LEE ANN HERRING-OLVEDO
Under a full harvest moon on Saturday, Commonwealth Stadium had a different aroma in the air as the Cats took on No. 6 South Carolina. As the game kicked off, the expectations for this young Cats team were far from high, especially knowing what the ole South Carolina ball coach had up his sleeve. However, as the game picked up pace this young team surprised the hell out of a lot of disbelievers in the first half. After the injury to Maxwell Smith early in the game, the Cats had to go all in with the youth of this team to take the reins for Kentucky.
I’m sure more than a few fans in the Big Blue Nation were at the edge of their seats to see just what the true freshman QB from Alabama would prove to be for this Kentucky team. Jalen Whitlow found himself in the same position to move this team forward that Maxwell Smith did only a year ago as a true freshman taking the lead. It seemed almost prophetic when Whitlow was in for Smith and quickly found him sacked in his first play. A feeling that we at Kentucky know too well is not to buy too much into the hype of any player; at least on the football field until they show us what they can really do.
While it didn’t show right then and there, the Kentucky defense would prove to will Whitlow in to work and to make it pay off in the first half. After the Cats D was able to make several stops on the Gamecocks, Whiltlow and the offense looked far from youthful. They were able to produce some memorable drives for scores to give them the early lead several times through the course of the first half.
As the first half closed, there were enough playmakers from both sides of the ball on the Kentucky defense and offense that had everyone in the stadium in disbelief; from blocked punts, to scoring drives, to fumble recoveries. This is the team that seemed unrecognizable, and for once they were locked and loaded and giving the No. 6 team in the country a scare. Whether or not Steve Spurrier was playing possum or not in this half, this Kentucky team came out of nowhere in most people’s eyes. But, for me, this is the team I knew was always there since I started writing about this team.
Then it hit me. Then, at that moment there was finally something tangible to show after all the pieces I had written about the talent and ability of this team. Yes, as a sports writer I have the access to write and share what most fans don’t get to see on a daily basis. As a reader you then have to go on my trust and believe that I am not just writing to raise support for this team, and to create an illusion of greatness.
For one moment, the believers and non-believers actually witnessed Kentucky magic. It’s a youthful emergence that can and will make this team compete in the SEC, if given the chance to do it a new way.
Carl Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
For once, Kentucky looked like a team with fire and passion. Whatever spell was cast for the first half is what we need to continue to go with down the road, and we could really surprise some people. The most important thing to take away from this game is also found in the inabilities of the program. No matter how well we did the first half, the Kentucky team we know all too well seemed to show back up in the second half. South Carolina railroaded us and shut us down mentally and physically, period.
Now, what to do about it is simply to continue to give that team we saw in the first half against S.C. the means to keep pressing on and gaining experience. That begins with creating a belief that the only way to endure, is to play from within. They must use that anger, desire and desperation to win every single quarter, both mentally and physically.
This young team does not scare me. On the contrary they proved to me and I hope to a lot of others on the fence that they can play in the big show, if given the opportunity. Kentucky is more locked and loaded than we think. We have to work on that mental game so we aren’t shut down by mistakes and failures, but rather use it to fuel our intensity; and I guarantee you that magic we got a glance of will return to the commonwealth and on the road.