JOE COX: Thoughts on Stoops-Harmon Controversy; UK-UT Game Looks Competitive on Paper
By Joe Cox
The biggest enemy for UK coach Mark Stoops isn’t Alabama, Georgia, Florida, or Tennessee. It isn’t even defeat. It’s hopelessness. Saturday’s 63-31 loss at the hands of Georgia dropped the Cats to 5-5. But more than that, a layer of hopelessness descended on Commonwealth Stadium for the first time in 2014. Days like last Saturday remind us that while Mark Stoops is making progress in rebuilding Kentucky football, that the progress is glacial at times -- and that the rest of the SEC isn’t going willingly away. Kentucky has two remaining chances to pull mild upsets and complete the season with a bowl bid. But the bottom line is that two more games must not become two more exercises in hopelessness. At this phase, Stoops’s primary goal is less wins, and more remaining competitive and keeping the focus moving forward. Let’s hope for at least that much on Saturday… and maybe for more. UPSIDES Stanley “Boom” Williams managed 100 yards rushing on the Bulldogs, and showed his big play ability with a 56-yard score. Kentucky seems to get better results by settling on one or two primary ball carriers, instead of rotating four. Playmakers are still at a premium and Boom is definitely one of those. Demarco Robinson caught five more passes, and has generally emerged as the senior leader that the receiver corps badly needed. Young guys like Bone, Baker, and Timmons could do a lot worse than to study from a guy who has been through pretty much everything at UK. Austin MacGinnis knocked home his 14th field goal of the season. UK’s single season record of 19 could be within range, particularly if that Cats can earn a bowl bid. DOWNSIDES Defense, defense, defense. UK literally did not stop Georgia all day. Every time UGA had the ball, it scored a touchdown or the clock ran out. Georgia averaged 7.8 yards per carry on the ground and threw only three incomplete passes all day. Part of it was that Georgia played well. Part of it was that Kentucky’s defense was atrocious. Ryan Timmons has been demoted from starting, and for a guy whose career has been so wildly up and down, it’s been a long time coming. Nobody can deny that the young man has all the speed and talent in the world. However, his concentration and his hands have both proven suspect. A half-hearted stab at a Towles pass which became a third quarter UGA interception ended Kentucky’s chances — and probably much of Timmons’s playing time. Hopefully, he can tighten up, because the skill set is there. The heart has to join it. While we’re calling people out, Mark Stoops’s press conference denunciation of special teams ace J.D. Harmon was uncalled for and unprofessional. Yes, I just called out a player above. But here’s the difference. I’m not his coach. I’m not part of his team. Of the many things I learned from Rich Brooks, one was that a successful COLLEGE coach doesn’t publicly call out players. J.D. Harmon didn’t just sign a contract extension with a hefty raise. If Harmon isn’t responding, then bench him. But the buck stops (figuratively and literally) with the head coach. For the people who don’t see what the big deal is with Stoops’ verbal takedown, imagine if somebody asked a UK player about a play in the game and he said, “Well, Coach Stoops really just called a dumb play there. Everybody knew that one wasn’t going to work, and I don’t know what he’s thinking, but you know, we tried to run it. We’ve got to get him focused and ready to go.” The players don’t do that. The coaches shouldn’t either. WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS 1. Mississippi State (9-0) Alabama beckons. It’s about to get real for the Bulldogs. 2. Alabama (8-1) They out-Les Milesed the original Les Miles. A lucky, lucky win. But luck is when opportunity meets preparation, and the Tide looked much more prepared than the Tigers on Saturday night. 3. Ole Miss (7-2) Yes, a two loss team could get into the playoff. Don’t sleep on the Rebels. 4. Auburn (7-2) See Ole Miss above. It’s a hard road and I don’t think they do it. But don’t bet against Auburn either. 5. LSU (7-3) Sooooo close. But yet so far. Rest of the season promises to be interesting. 6. Texas A&M (7-3) I feel like they should move up, but I can’t put them above these other teams. 7. Georgia (7-2) See Texas A&M above. There’s some real parity at 4-7 now. All good teams. 8. Missouri (7-2) As I said last week: I still don’t think this team is any good. Meh. 9. Arkansas (4-5) Still the worst schedule in college football. 10. Florida (5-3) Still in contention for the East, as odd as that sounds. Watch it happen. 11. Tennessee (4-5) UK isn’t the only team whose bowl hopes are on the line on Saturday. 12. Kentucky (5-5) Hope is key. Will there be reason to hope for an upset? 13. South Carolina (4-5) Staring a non-bowl season in the eye. 14. Vanderbilt (3-7) WHERE ARE WE GOING When you say Kentucky and Tennessee, you don’t think of a game for fifth place in the SEC East. But that’s probably what you’ve got. Tennessee has struggled under a brutal schedule, but appeared to right the ship with a dramatic win over South Carolina. Of course, that’s the same South Carolina that UK beat, so I’m not sure exactly how much weight that should carry. Tennessee feels good about QB Joshua Dobbs. He took over the QB job early in the Alabama game and injected a shot of vitality into a slumbering UT offense. Dobbs is a dual-threat guy. In two games, he’s thrown for 493 yards and run for 241. The good news is that outside of Dobbs, there’s little for UT to be excited about offensively. They have averaged a meager 3.4 yards per carry. Their top receiver has just 401 yards on the season. UT’s quarterbacks have been sacked 32 times. The line can be exploited, although Dobbs’s ability to run staunches that, at least somewhat. Defensively, UT is solid. They are dead even on turnover margin. Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt have combined for thirteen sacks this season and remain legitimate threats to get to the quarterback. A.J. Johnson is one of the top tackling linebackers in football, and is always around the ball. In the kicking game, Aaron Medley is 12 of 13 inside 40 yards, but only one of five from longer range. Tennessee has very good kickoff coverage. Like all other phases, the Vols are solid on special teams. On paper, this game looks like a toss-up. The Kentucky offense is more potent than Tennessee’s, but the defense is suspect. However, they don’t play games on paper. They’ll play this one in Neyland Stadium. That makes all the difference. UT 31, UK 24 MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS A 5-1 week moves the season count to 63-13. I was pretty accurate on Ole Miss’s thumping and Florida’s solid but unspectacular win at Vandy. My only miss was Auburn failing to handle the A&M passing game. This week should be entertaining. Week 12 Predictions: Florida 31, South Carolina 20 Alabama 38, Mississippi State 28 Tennessee 31, Kentucky 24 Georgia 29, Auburn 28 Texas A&M 42, Missouri 21 LSU 27, Arkansas 24 Joe Cox is contributing editor for Kysportsstyle360.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written three books involving UK sports -- 100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Fightin’ Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville (both with Ryan Clark), and Voice of the Wildcats: Claude Sullivan and the Rise of Modern Sportscasting (with Alan Sullivan). Cox is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.