UK, Johnson made plays towards winning culture in victory over Mississippi State


Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson in action during the game against Mississippi State on Saturday, October 22, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Quinn Foster | Staff

Anthony Crawford

It’s fair to say that if you win a game by a play, you could have just as easily lost by a play.

And there’s no shortage of plays that come to mind that could be pointed at as reasons why UK could have been on the opposite side of its 40-38 victory against Mississippi State.

From all the errant passes by Stephen Johnson in the first half, to all the drops on the decent passes he was able to get off, to the failed two-point conversion after UK’s first touchdown. And all the way to the missed field goal at the very beginning of the game from Mr. Big Shot himself Austin MacGinnis.

There were plenty of more plays or reasons why this team shouldn’t have come out on top, but none of them mattered when MacGinnis made right by drilling the 51-yard field goal attempt as time expired to give the Cats the game. And none of those plays were going through the team’s head when they refused to stay down because of the adversity that had struck them.

UK has started to develop a habit, but it is one that the coaching staff have been working tirelessly to instill since head coach Mark Stoops arrived at UK.

The winning culture that has been preached and sold to the Big Blue Nation for years without prevail, is starting to take shape.

UK has won three-straight home SEC games, all being decided in the final moments of the game. Resiliency and toughness were the words Stoops used to describe it after the game, and those continue to be values that define this team.

Looking at the season as a whole, UK shouldn’t be in this position. The Cats currently sit in sole possession of second place in the SEC East and a half game out of first place, which is unimaginable when considering how the season started.

Things have started to break right for UK and it was apparent in many plays beside just the ball being kicked through the uprights on that last play.

The turn-around from Johnson in the game is one that may define UK’s season going forward. For much of the first half, he looked exactly like he did prior to the bye week, as the guy that stood between UK being a great offense team or being a team that turns over the ball so much that UK seemingly can play its way out of a game at a moment’s notice.

Related: MacGinnis kicks Cats to victory in thriller over MSU

Johnson’s 101 yards— inflated by 53 yards by two quick plays to Ryan Timmons close to the end of the half— on 9-for-22 passing was not going to be enough to get it done for UK to come out with a win, and even warranted some calls for backup Gunnar Hoak to replace him.

Then he completely flipped a switch to start the second half going 5-for-5 for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter alone and turning the game into a shootout that UK carried the momentum in.

“I think he made some big-time plays,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of Johnson. “The little flea-flicker deal where he through where they had a blitz and our guys protected as well as they could. He made a huge throw there. The comeback — he really did — I thought in that third quarter he really grew as a quarterback.”

But adversity, for UK especially, often strikes right when things are going right and it did again as a fumble from Johnson inside the Mississippi State 10 yard-line turned into a scoop-and-score for the Bulldogs keeping them in the game at 34-31 instead of the drive churning out a two-possession lead.

UK responded with two field goals, but Mississippi State broke through for a touchdown to set up an all-or-nothing drive for UK with 1:09 left.

The Cats of old has had opportunities and bowl eligibility has been sacrificed as a result of falling short. Heartbreaking losses to Florida and Auburn last season are great examples.

But this wasn’t those UK teams. And MacGinnis’ kick showed it.