Commonwealth Stadium was a massive snow globe for parts of the second half of Kentucky’s easy 58-10 victory over Charlotte on Saturday night.
The cold and the blowing snow chased away most of what was left of a sparse crowd on a cold night.
“I appreciate the fans that were there today,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “I know it was a dismal day playing again at 7:30 again in bad weather most of the day and cold, and greatly appreciate the fans that were there.”
Next week we need everybody in those seats, and we need it filled and to come root for this team because we're going to put everything into it.
Mark Stoops, UK football coach
He hopes there will be even more in the stands next week with a bowl game on the line for the Cats, who take on rival Louisville.
“I hope it's electric next Saturday,” Stoops said.
“Next week we need everybody in those seats, and we need it filled and to come root for this team because we're going to put everything into it. But it will be a very important week, and it will be a great atmosphere here next week, I'm sure.”
Kentucky did its part to up the excitement factor going into the rivalry game next week, earning its fifth win of the season in convincing fashion behind 415 yards on the ground and career highs for Jojo Kemp (165 yards, three touchdowns) and Boom Williams (140 yards and two scores).
“It was very important to win that way in a good fashion, because we just need to improve,” Stoops continued. “And our team needed that. Our players needed that.”
The post-game locker room had a much different feel this week than the past few weeks when the Cats have been mired in a five-game losing streak.
“We haven’t won a game in a long time,” senior linebacker Josh Forrest said. “It felt good to sing the school song, the things like that we do after a win. Definitely needed the win.”
Knowing that they’re just one good game at home from getting to the program’s first bowl game since 2010 had players already antsy.
“It’s a very special moment for us and we’re up for the challenge,” Williams said. “We want to send our seniors out on the right note. We know the feeling we had last year and we don’t want to have that feeling again.”
Williams said he was hopeful that the UK players can learn from last year, losing the final game of the season at Louisville.
“It should be a good game and we're up for the challenge, and we're looking forward to this opportunity here at home in front of our fans,” the sophomore running back said.
It was a big night for Kentucky senior defensive players, with C.J. Johnson managing an acrobatic interception.
“I didn’t think he was going to throw it like that,” the defensive tackle said. “I really just wanted to one-hand it, but that didn’t work out. I don’t know. I just knew once I hit it that I wanted to pick it off. That’s all.”
When asked if he was planning to ask for a chance to play some offense with hands like that, Johnson laughed.
“No,” he smiled “I told Coach (Derrick) Ansley I’m trying to play DB a little bit back there. Safety. Strong safety though.”
And then there was senior lineman Farrington Huguenin, who had a career best 10 tackles the week before versus Vanderbilt, getting his first career sack and then part of another one.
He admitted he was a little worried he’d get through his entire career without ever taking down a quarterback.
“You work so hard.And I’ve been back there and hit him and then he threw the ball, and it was always like I came up short,” Huguenin said of previous near misses on sacks. “It’s definitely a relief to get one.”
Butler’s big night
A nagging groin injury that’s been bugging kicker Austin MacGinnis for the past few weeks kept him out of the game against Charlotte on Saturday again.
“He was not good most of the week,” Stoops said. “It's come down to a game-time decision and even through some of our games it's been hit and miss with him. Depending upon how his groin was feeling. And he didn't feel good today. He couldn't go today.”
In his place, walk-on redshirt freshman Miles Butler had a big game, going 3-for-3 on his first career field goal tries, including a new career long of 46 yards that he hit in the first half.
“I kicked it just like an extra point really, just put it through the middle,” he said. “I looked up and got a little nervous, the clock winding down and had to hustle it up. Other than that, just same as every other kick.”
Butler also was able to get his first touchback of the season.
“Definitely gave me some confidence,” he said. “Any game experience they let me get. Every week’s giving me a little confidence week by week.”
Stoops seemed to have plenty of confidence in his backup kicker, even if MacGinnis can’t go next week.
“Miles did a heck of a job,” Stoops said. “He did a heck of a job. He really was consistent. He made every kick.”
News and notes
Kentucky had to go up against the elements for the first time this season, with 38-degree temperatures and gusty winds. The rain that drenched the stadium in the hours leading up to the game dissipated by game time. At the half, though, a hard blowing snow hit the stadium.
The Charlotte game, at 38 degrees, was UK’s coldest so far this season. The previous low was 50 degrees against EKU.
The previous low for a Cats kickoff this season was 50 degrees versus Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 3.
Other than the crowd, and a ball blown off the tee on a kickoff, the weather didn’t seem to have much effect on either team.
The announced crowd of 56,195 was the smallest of the 2015 season. The previous low was 58,008 against Missouri.