Tampa Bay Sports Day

LOOKING BACK: ‘Cats Win in the Trenches for Schlarman, Paschal

GAINESVILLE – John Schlarman, Kentucky’s offensive line coach bravely battling cancer, was in the middle of the action.

Holding high the game ball Mark Stoops had just presented to him following Kentucky’s streak-busting win over Florida, Schlarman let out a triumphant yell. Every person whose face was visible in the postgame locker room was smiling. Others raised their arms in celebration.

They all knew what it meant to Schlarman, coaching in spite of everything he is facing.

“To see him again this week go through six hours of chemo and pop up and be right at practice, he didn’t miss a beat,” Stoops said. “He’s a strong man and he’s going through a lot and I was grateful to be able to give him (the game ball).”

In spite of all Schlarman – who failed to beat Florida in four tries as a player at UK – is going through, he was still there every step of the way as UK prepared for a game at Florida the Wildcats would win, 27-16. Considering the way the game went, few had more to do with the outcome than Schlarman.

“You could go down and talk about so many different parts of the team, but I think the physicality of our offensive line,” Stoops said. “It was really a joyous occasion in there. I awarded John Schlarman the game ball for the way that offensive line and the tight ends blocked. We rushed the ball for 300 yards at Florida. That’s a pretty good number.”

Not to nitpick, but the number was actually 303.

It’s not a particularly common occurrence, seeing an opponent go into the Swamp and dominate in the trenches, but that’s exactly what the Wildcats did. UK averaged 7.4 yards per carry behind the Schlarman-led offensive line, with Benny Snell Jr. (175 yards) and Terry Wilson (105) each topping the century mark.

“We want to be more balanced and we will be more balanced, but my deal is don’t let them off the ropes,” Stoops said. “If you’re running like that, they were getting tired, it puts a lot of pressure on a defense.”

Florida’s defense was unable to withstand the pressure, most notably on a 10-play, 90-yard drive on which UK scored the game’s go-ahead touchdown. The Cats attempted just one pass on the drive – an incompletion – as Snell, Wilson and A.J. Rose combined to slice through the Gator defense. That set up UK’s next drive, when Wilson passed for 84 yards, including a perfectly thrown 54-yard touchdown to Lynn Bowden.

“I just feel like I got my feet under me,” said Wilson, who overcame two first-half turnovers to win his first SEC start. “I learned that I gotta have a white piece of paper and play the next play. Can’t dwell on the last play.”

UK’s lead and stout defense combined to turn Florida into a mostly one-dimensional team. That allowed the Cats to come after Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks, with Josh Allen ending the game with a sack and forced fumble returned by Davonte Robinson for a touchdown.

“We just knew coming into this game that if we come out and do our job, we can play with anybody and we can beat anybody,” Daniel said. “So we come out and do our job—the mistakes that we made and the points that we gave them, we gave it to them. We beat ourselves there.”

Even in savoring victory, the Cats couldn’t help but think about what they can improve. That’s an attitude inspired in part by the example of Schlarman and the other game-ball recipient forced to watch at home. That other game ball is destined for Josh Paschal, the sophomore defensive lineman battling malignant melanoma.

“That’s the world,” Snell said. “That’s the world right there. … This one was for those guys. That fight, they’re forever in our hearts. Us being able to come out with a victory and we have problems like that throughout the team, it just means the most. We keep those guys in our heart and the win was for them.”