UK Football

Mark Story: With Spurrier and South Carolina looming, it's 'good news-bad news' for UK football

Kentucky running back Stanley Williams, runs toward the end zone in the third quarter. The University of Kentucky hosted Louisiana-Lafayette , Saturday, Sept. 05, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky running back Stanley Williams, runs toward the end zone in the third quarter. The University of Kentucky hosted Louisiana-Lafayette , Saturday, Sept. 05, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

For a team that put 40 points on the scoreboard and won its season opener, the Kentucky Wildcats engendered a lot of mixed feelings:

GOOD: To my untrained eye, the most impressive part of Kentucky's 40-33 escape over Louisiana-Lafayette was UK's young offensive skill talent.

Running back Stanley "Boom" Williams, a sophomore, looks like Kentucky's most lethal weapon. The Monroe, Ga., product accounted for 113 of Kentucky's 178 rushing yards on two plays: a 75-yard touchdown jaunt on the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage and a 38-yard run in the third period.

Durability concerns might make it prudent to ration the carries of the 5-foot-9, 196-pounder, but Williams needs to get more than the 10 touches he had against Louisiana-Lafayette.

UK's young wideouts also looked promising. Sophomores Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone each caught touchdown passes, as did redshirt sophomore Jeff Badet. Another sophomore, Dorian Baker, had three catches and a key block on Mikel Horton's game-winning TD run. Sophomore Charles Walker, a walk-on from Louisville, had the clutch catch on UK's game-winning drive.

Young Kentucky receivers consistently made big plays — and were open for more such plays had UK thrown the ball more accurately.

BAD: Throughout the preseason, I opined that Patrick Towles could make the "big step forward" in his junior season as Kentucky quarterback that Andre' Woodson did in 2006. After Towles was so-so Saturday, I looked up how Woodson performed in the first game of his junior campaign.

In a road contest against a Louisville team that would finish 12-1 and win the Orange Bowl, Woodson was 9-for-24 for 231 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 55-28 loss.

Towles, of course, went 16-for-34 against Louisiana-Lafayette for 257 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. What was worrisome about Towles' effort is that it was the continuation of a trend. Going back to 2014, Towles has completed only 50 percent of his passes (78-for-156) over his last five games.

Even with new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's commitment to driving the ball down field, in an Air Raid offense the single most important quality for a QB is the ability to throw accurate passes. Tim Couch completed 72.3 percent of his passes in the original Air Raid in 1998; the following year, Dusty Bonner hit on 65.2 percent.

For every quarterback, there comes a moment of truth. For Towles to affirm his hold on the Kentucky starting job, how he performs in UK's next three games — at South Carolina, Florida and Missouri — is that moment.

GOOD: A program more associated with negative streaks that need to be broken, Kentucky travels to Columbia, S.C., on Saturday looking to protect one of college football's more unlikely winning streaks. As ESPN's Brett McMurphy pointed out Sunday on Twitter, Kentucky has won the second game on its schedule 17 years in a row.

Most of that has been the result of soft scheduling. Of those 17 straight victories, seven have come against teams from the FCS (or teams in transition from the FCS to the FBS), six have come against the Mid-American Conference and one each came against the Sun Belt Conference (Western Kentucky) and the old Western Athletic Conference (UTEP).

There were also wins over Louisville (2009) and Indiana (2004).

The last time Kentucky lost its second game was in a scenario very similar to what it will face Saturday at SEC foe South Carolina. In Hal Mumme's second game as UK head coach in 1997, Tim Couch and the Cats lost a league road game at Mississippi State 35-27.

How delicious is it that Steve Spurrier must try to snap a long Kentucky winning streak?

BAD: Kentucky will also be looking to end an embarrassing losing streak Saturday in Columbia. UK has not won a true road game since the Cats were victorious at Louisville in the 2010 season opener. The Wildcats have not won a game outside of Lexington since beating Western Kentucky in 2011's first game at Nashville's LP Field.

So, at South Carolina, the Cats will be looking to end a 21-game losing streak in true road games, stop a 22-game skid in games outside Commonwealth Stadium — and give third-year Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops his first road win.