NASHVILLE — In so many ways, the ups and downs of Franklin County High School graduate and University of Kentucky freshman Ryan Timmons mirrored the play of his Wildcat teammates Saturday night in a disappointing 35-26 loss to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Timmons caught one pass early, for 6 yards; dropped another pass that he should have secured, and then experienced the good, the bad and the ugly all in one electrifying long run just past the midway point of the fourth quarter.
Just under the seven-minute mark in the game, with the Hilltoppers up 35-20, Timmons took a handoff from quarterback Maxwell Smith and raced 33 yards to the WKU 28, potentially putting the Wildcats in position to make Western sweat for reasons other than the muggy weather.
But WKU standout safety Jonathan Dowling got a piece of the football as Timmons struggled for extra yardage, and then pulled the ball from Timmons’ grasp. Dowling fell on the ball.
The Wildcats weren’t dead – Smith led them down the field and scored on a terrific 34-yard pass to Demarco Robinson with 1:37 left to cut the deficit to 35-26. But Joe Mansour then inexplicably missed the extra point, sealing this for Western in the season opener for both teams.
Timmons was astonishingly mature after the game – clearly disappointed, yes, but mature.
Asked about his fumble, Timmons replied: “My number was called, and I tried to do a little extra to try to help my team make a play. It was my fault. We work on ball security every day during practice, so it was my fault. I tried to get extra yards.”
The good news is head coach Mark Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and Timmons all appear to be excited about what the future holds for the former Flyer.
“It looked like Ryan did a few good things,” Stoops said. “He had that one drop where he didn’t get his head around quick enough on the out and the ball came at him pretty quick. And that turnover hurt us. But, he’ll be okay. He’ll be a good player.”
“I think it’s growing pains,” Brown said of Timmons. “When you are going to throw out there a young kid, you have an idea what’s going to happen. Some of it is going to be good, and some of it is going to be bad.
“I thought he was really good with the ball in his hands, as I thought he would be.”
“I felt like I could have made more plays,” Timmons said.
Timmons said he felt comfortable in this relatively big time environment – his first college game, in front of some 47,000 fans, in the first game for Stoops, the assistant coaches and a lot of Timmons’ teammates.
“It was a big crowd, a different team (from high school) and different fans, but after I got that one play, I was fine,” Timmons said, referring to a pass near the sideline early in the game that netted Timmons and the Wildcats 6 yards. “I just have to try to be more consistent for this team.”
Asked if he’s looking forward to the future as a Wildcat, coming off this showing, Timmons said: “I’m very excited. I don’t like losing at all. I don’t lose much, so I take this as motivation. Hopefully I can give this team more energy and start working to win.
“It hurts. It hurts not just to lose to Western, but to lose to any team. We didn’t play the best we could tonight, but we just have to learn from it and get better. We have a lot of season to come.”
Here’s hoping the Kentucky fan base takes this in the mature fashion that Timmons is. I doubt that’ll be the case, but it’d be nice.
Stoops’ team has terrific potential. A handful of the players leftover from the Joker Phillips’ regime are improved, and Timmons and some of the other freshmen are going to be exciting players. Someday. For now, so much of it is all new for Kentucky.
All we can probably safely say for certain now is that the UK seniors are not going to go bowling in their final go-around. The schedule is too tough for that, with a relative breather coming up Saturday at home against Miami (Ohio) and then a murderer’s row of Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama.
I would argue there’s no reason for long-term concern about Stoops and his staff. This was one game. One. Fifteen spring practices and four weeks of fall practice aren’t going to undo all that went wrong under Phillips, with the biggest problem being lousy recruiting.
Speaking of, my one piece of advice for Stoops and his staff would be this: “You have plenty of skills guys either in the fold now or about to be...get on the recruiting trail and sign some linemen capable of playing at this level. You sure don’t have many now...”
As much as we all want a fix overnight, it isn’t going to happen. But if the fans give up after one game, and worse, if the players let down, then by the end of this campaign, UK will look like a Joker Phillips team. And that would be a shame.
“We did some good things tonight, but we didn’t play good as a team,” Stoops said. “But we’ll get back to work. It’s my job and our job to get them to play better, and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Not that it was all bad for Kentucky Saturday night. The defense played better after a disastrous quarter and a half, and the offense sputtered as Brown tried to mix in a lot of young parts. But there were more good plays for Kentucky on both sides than I saw in any one game a year ago.
Whitlow stared at quarterback and was just 10 of 15 passing for 79 yards, but he ran seven times for 81 yards. Smith looked very good in late relief at quarterback, completing 8 of 13 for 125 yards.
Robinson, a junior, led a promising receivers corps with five catches for 69 yards, with the one touchdown.
The other UK scores came on field goals of 22- and 30-yards by Mansour, a touchdown run of 19 yards by Whitlow and a TD plunge from five-yards out by senior back Jonathan George.
To see more photos from the game click here