Kentucky football: My 10 most memorable moments from the 2020 season
Kentucky’s 2020 season was a difficult one — sometimes for reasons common to all of college football and much of society at large, and sometimes for very difficult ones. The season goes into the record books at 5-6, but that’s not to say it didn’t contain its fair share of joyful, memorable, or sometimes plain bittersweet moments. Here are 10 moments from Kentucky’s 2020 season I’ll remember.
10. Wait for the end zone
Senior running back A.J. Rose had a very up and down season, never more apparent than on his big-time run against Ole Miss that rapidly turned from a highlight to a lowlight. Wait for the end zone, A.J.
9. Max Duffy’s shuffle
It wasn’t a great year for Duffy, who in all fairness had nowhere to go but down after winning the Ray Guy Award for the 2019 season. Still, the outstanding Aussie had his moments, like sidestepping a punt rusher and cooling booming a 41-yard punt under heavy duress.
8. Josh Paschal’s pick 5-and-a-half
At nearly 300 pounds, Paschal made it an interesting 76-yard return with an interception in Kentucky’s first win of the season — over Mississippi State. Sadly, he came up just shy of the pick-6, thus my dubbing it a pick-5 1/2. It was good to see Paschal make a full return from a 2018 cancer battle, and his big play was a significant part of shutting out Mike Leach’s offense.
7. To the house in Knoxville (Part 1)
Kentucky’s last win in Knoxville had been in 1984, but 2020 changed that in one fell swoop. LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph had an interesting season in Lexington, but one of the highpoints was his game-changing pick-6 against the Vols, 1 of 4 INTs he managed on the season. All the momentum in Knoxville suddenly shifted with Joseph’s big play.
6. Bully ball from Chris Rodriguez
Benny Snell left UK after 2018, but Chris Rodriguez claimed the role of his heir apparent in 2020, rushing for 785 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 9 games. Rodriguez had Snell’s battering-ram style and added many big plays over the course of the 2020 season, none longer than this 79-yard trek against South Carolina in UK’s 4th win of the season.
5. Representing No. 22
Kentucky linebacker Chris Oats was sidelined with a medical issue before the 2020 season began. Oats’ condition is serious enough that his focus has not been returning to football so much as trying to return to daily life. A series of Wildcats wore his No. 22 jersey in the 2020 season, and seeing Oats loved and honored by his teammates was a touching reminder of connections even bigger than the game.
4. A 3rd consecutive bowl win
Despite a 4-6 regular season, Kentucky was a mild favorite over No. 23 NC State in the Gator Bowl, and behind a day of big plays, particularly in the ground game, the Wildcats picked up a bowl victory for the 3rd consecutive season. That matches the program record, set from 2006-08.
3. Rocky-topping Tennessee
It was the Vols’ second pick-6 that sealed a memorable day in Knoxville, but Jamin Davis’s rumbling, bumbling, stumbling 85-yard score is also a reminder that Davis started the season as a solid returnee, and finished it as an All-SEC caliber linebacker with 102 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 interceptions — none more fun than this one.
2. The game ball
Knoxville was the last place that offensive line coach John Schlarman was able to coach on the sidelines for the Kentucky Wildcats. He was awarded the game ball after the win — a final memory appropriate for a guy whose life was poured out drop by drop while doing what he loved.
1. The empty spot
In the first game after Coach Schlarman’s passing at age 45, Kentucky honored him by lining up a man shy against Vanderbilt, with the missing player being a guard as Schlarman was at Kentucky in the late 1990s. Having Landon Young then report for the next play wearing Schlarman’s No. 65 was just another moment of poignancy for a leader who was gone far too soon, and who will be sorely missed.