Column: UK survives brutal Saturday upsets with ease

Shakeup Saturday was ruthless.

Eight Associated Press Top 25 teams lost, including three top-10 teams. Florida lost to Ole Miss 31-30 in of all places, The Swamp. Georgia, in front of 90,000-plus fans decked out in all black in Athens, Ga., got absolutely slaughtered by Alabama. Wisconsin, another top-10 team, thought it was going to escape Ann Arbor, Mich., with its first win at Michigan in over a decade. Then the Wolverines scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and walked away with an unbelievable victory.

If only Southern California had played on Saturday. The top-ranked Trojans were shocked at Oregon State on Thursday night, but apparently that was just a preview of what was to come.

Saturday, in other words, was brutal. If you played, you weren’t safe. If you played the odds in Vegas, your pockets were definitely not safe. It was just one of those days.

The good news: UK escaped Shakeup Saturday with relative ease, as it should have. The Cats took it to in-state foe Western Kentucky from the start, thrashing the former Football Championship Division (formerly Division I-AA) team 41-3.

UK did it with yet another dominating defensive performance. The Cats defensive unit surrendered just 157 yards of total offense. Only 15 of those came through the air, the lowest total since the Cats allowed three passing yards against Vanderbilt in 1994.

They also didn’t allow a touchdown for the third game of this young season. In all they’ve given up two, which account for 14 of the anemic 22 points opponents have tallied on the Cats thus far.

More good news: The running game finally showed up. UK’s quartet of running backs broke through with 188 yards on the ground Saturday night, and each found the end zone.

When they weren’t finding the end zone, UK was finally making its field goals. Redshirt freshman Ryan Tydlacka, making his first career start at place kicker for the struggling junior Lones Seiber, nailed both his field goal attempts, including one from 45 yards.

Add in quarterback Mike Hartline’s steady, albeit unspectacular performance, and you’ve got a pretty long list of things to feel good about after the first part of the season.

“I’m just pleased to get the win,” UK head coach Rich Brooks said. “The first phase of our season is complete, we’re 4-0 and we couldn’t expect, I don’t think, to be any better than that obviously.”

Now for the bad news: Although the score was 41-3 – a romp by all means – it wasn’t always pretty at times. The offense put together its most complete game so far, but it still looked sluggish at times.

Hartline overthrew E.J. Adams in the first quarter for an early interception. He almost did the same thing in the second. And when he was on target, his receivers weren’t always catching them.

And 41 points is impressive, but one of those scores came via a Derrick Locke 100-yard kickoff return. Two other drives started in Western’s territory.

More bad news: It was just Western. Not to dog on the program, but the Hilltoppers are not even two years removed from the Football Championship Subdivision. One of UK’s other wins came against Norfolk State, who actually plays in the FCS. The other two wins are nothing to write home about either.

But ultimately, the real bad news didn’t even happen from inside Commonwealth Stadium. Alabama, the team who might have highlighted Shakedown Saturday’s huge wins, man-handled the nation’s preseason No. 1 team. The Crimson Tide blitzed Georgia for 31 first-half point before holding on to a 41-30 victory.

To quote a famous saying: They’re baaaaack.

“We know Alabama is a tough team,” safety Marcus McClinton said. “Alabama is getting back to (being the) old Alabama.”

If that’s the case, and Alabama is even half as good as it looked Saturday night, then is UK good enough to even hang with the Tide?

As I’ve emphasized all year long, the Alabama game is UK’s first true test. What happens in Tuscaloosa, Ala., could swing UK’s season one way or another. The Cats have improved through their first four games, as was indicated Saturday night, but will it be enough?

“We’re going to go to a place down in Alabama that is going to be very, very difficult, obviously,” Brooks said. “Could be two undefeated teams on CBS next week, and the good news Kentucky is one of them.”

To be undefeated after Shakeup Saturday is good news indeed.