Kentucky season review

This looked to be the year that Kentucky became more than just a basketball school. A 5-1 start, including a pair of SEC wins, and the Wildcats were primed to reach their first bowl game in four years. There was even talk they could make a run at the East. Then it all came crashing down with a six-game losing streak to finish the season. There’s still optimism in Lexington with Mark Stoops in charge, but the bowl game will have to wait.

Best win: The win over Vanderbilt was pivotal because it was Kentucky’s first conference win in nearly three years, but nothing can top the wild comeback victory against South Carolina the very next week. The Wildcats, who trailed 38-24 early in the fourth quarter, scored three touchdowns in the final eight minutes to pull ahead. The game-winning score came on a pick-6 by defensive end Alvin “Bud” Dupree. The defense got another interception from Ashley Lowery in the final minutes to seal the win. Of note, Jojo Kemp rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

Worst loss: Kentucky’s first SEC win could have and probably should have come earlier in the season at the Swamp. The Wildcats played well, better than anybody expected, but came up short in a triple-overtime loss to Florida. In the first overtime, the Gators converted a fourth-and-goal to tie the game and send it to a second overtime. If Kentucky gets a stop there, the streak is over and the players are headed home with a victory. Instead, it turned out to be a gut-wrenching defeat and one that ultimately cost them a chance at playing in a bowl game.

Player of the year: There has not been a more productive player at Kentucky over the last three seasons. But this honor is for 2014 only, and Dupree did not disappoint in his final season with the Wildcats. The All-SEC defensive end finished with 74 tackles and was among the conference leaders in tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (7.5). He also forced two fumbles, blocked a kick and had five quarterback hurries. The most impressive part was that Dupree played his best games on the biggest stage. He recorded sacks against Mississippi State and Missouri, and he had three tackles for loss and a sack in the season finale at Louisville.

Breakout player: He was inconsistent. He missed two games. But when Stanley “Boom” Williams got the ball in his hands, he was electric. The freshman started slow, easing his way into the running back rotation behind Kemp and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, but by the end of the season, he had essentially taken over the position. He rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown against Georgia, and he went for a career-high 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Governor’s Cup three weeks later. Williams finished the season ahead of both Kemp and Heard with 488 yards rushing, and he’ll likely be No. 1 on the depth chart this spring.

Play of the year: It might not have been the biggest game, but Javess Blue’s one-handed touchdown catch against Louisiana-Monroe was SportsCenter Top 10 material. With a defender on his back, Blue extended his hand to tip the ball to himself, and he used the same hand to somehow pin the ball against his shoulder before he went out of bounds.

2015 outlook: This team got over the hump, winning its first SEC game under Stoops, but the second-year coach will be looking for his Wildcats to take the next step in 2015. The offense returns eight starters including quarterback Patrick Towles, who threw for 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season as the starter. And the defense, though it will miss Dupree and fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, the majority of the starters will be back. There will also be reinforcements next season as Kentucky has another top 25 recruiting class currently in the fold. As for the schedule, it sets up nicely with five of the first six games at home in the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats start 4-2 or even duplicate this year’s 5-1 start. But they have to learn how to finish. If they can do that, then a bowl game is just the beginning.