Rowland: Why you should feel good after UK's narrow win against EMU

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

Following Kentucky's 24-20 win against Eastern Michigan a lot of fans were upset with the Wildcats' performance.

It certainly wasn't pretty, but ugly doesn't matter. The win does.

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Kentucky is now 4-1, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference. After next Saturday the Wildcats should be 5-1, 2-1 in the league. Missouri will show up at Kroger Field ready to play and with something to prove, but make no mistake about it. It would be an upset if the Tigers beat the Cats. They're bad.

So the point is this. Kentucky is winning games even if they aren't earning style points or looking sexy in the process.

It wasn't pretty against Southern Miss.

It wasn't pretty against Eastern Kentucky.

It actually did look good against South Carolina and even for most of the game against Florida.

But against Eastern Michigan there was a regression, so to speak, back to the ugly.

By this point it's clear that Kentucky plays down to the level of its competition. That's not a knock on Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are well-coached, sound and probably capable of hanging around with a lot of Power 5 teams. That's what happens when you have a solid defense, a good coach and a fifth-year quarterback (who was a four-star recruit years ago).

If you expected Kentucky to destroy Eastern Michigan, that's on you. The potential for a sluggish letdown performance should have been obvious. Kentucky was so close to breaking that three-decade streak against Florida and instead they had to come off another deflating loss in a mid-afternoon game against a MAC opponent that doesn't shoot itself in the foot. Letdown City. A recipe for sluggish, ugly football if there ever was one.

The important thing is Kentucky is 4-1. They should be 5-0, but that doesn't matter now.

At the end of the season the only way anyone talks about Kentucky-Eastern Michigan is if Kentucky loses to Eastern Michigan. Given the "trap" set up, this was just a game you wanted to win.

I took quite a bit of grief on the site for saying Kentucky would probably play sluggish, for saying Brogan Roback was on par with Stephen Johnson, and for giving the Eagles' defensive line an edge over Kentucky's. In hindsight, I feel a bit vindicated on every point. That's not to toot my own horn, here, although that always feels good. It's to say that there was no reason to believe this would be a blowout.

Kentucky is in a better position than all but two SEC East teams. Only Georgia and Florida are set up better. Both are undefeated in the SEC. Tennessee is a dumpster fire, Vanderbilt was embarrassed by Alabama (no shame there) and the wheels came off in the Swamp, South Carolina is 1-2 in the league (with Kentucky holding the tiebreaker head-to-head) and Missouri is worse than Tennessee and among the worst Power 5 teams in the country.

Look at the West.

Texas A&M has rebounded after an epic debacle against UCLA to start the season but they had a tougher time beating South Carolina minus Deebo Samuel and at home than Kentucky did when the Gamecocks had Deebo and were playing at home.

Arkansas was drilled at home by TCU and lost to that same ho-hum A&M squad. Mississippi State has been humbled the last two weeks 31-3 against Georgia and 49-10 against Auburn. LSU just lost to Troy at home and Ole Miss' problems on the field are almost as bad as their problems off it.

In short, you can still make the case that Kentucky is the fifth best SEC team right now. You could even make the case they aren't out of the picture in the East race (although Georgia looks tough). And if you think Kentucky is better than Florida in spite of the loss, they could be top four.

The point of the first half of the season is to make it to the second half of the season with meaningful games to play. That's where the Cats are.

Yes, the offensive line is major concern. Yes, the entire offense has to play a lot better. But when is the last time Kentucky had a defense and a special teams unit playing at this level coupled with a quarterback who is Top 10 in some national rating measures?

Enjoy the wins, angst during them if you must, but if you choose to focus on the negative then you're taking things for granted that Kentucky football fans haven't often been able to.

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