JOE COX: Pigskin Wildcats Still Have Realistic Shot To Finish 7-5 Even After Two Consecutive Blowou
In the year that Yogi Berra passed away, it was somehow appropriate, if entirely unwelcome, that UK delivered déjà vu all over again on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium. Tennessee thumped Kentucky 52-21, in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the score. If, like yours truly, your memory includes 48-0, 52-0, 56-10, 59-21, and 50-16 results in this series, you can be forgiven for thinking you’d seen it all before.
You can be forgiven for thinking you’d seen Tennessee’s offense bust off big play after big play on a Kentucky defense that tackled like children in a greased pig catching contest. You can be forgiven for thinking you’d seen Kentucky’s linemen fail to block for even two seconds, or UK receivers drop passes, or the UK quarterback throw a screen pass into the belly of a UT linebacker.
You can even be forgiven for thinking you’d seen UK’s kick coverage team get mauled for two scores in a few minutes in the third quarter.
You see, you probably have seen it before. The 2015 era of Kentucky football’s quest to muddle up the distinction between the haves and the have nots of college football is turning very, very sour. Kentucky was outmanned, outcoached, and outfought again. And I admit, for the first time, I have real doubts about the ultimate result of the Mark Stoops era.
But as quickly as the doubts popped up, they could be put to rest. UK is 4-4, as I had predicted before the season. They have four winnable games left. And probably three loseable ones, for that matter. Patrick Towles and Josh Forrest called a players’ only meeting, aired grievances, and attempted to light a fire to save the season.
Next up is Georgia, which is becoming a dumpster fire of a team. Following that, a road game at Vanderbilt has become the biggest matchup of UK’s season. A safe home game against Charlotte will then be followed by a home matchup with a Louisville team that is blowing nobody away.
Georgia is by far the most talented of these squads, but it wouldn’t be insane to say UK could still finish 8-4. 7-5 is probably more realistic, and would go a long way to pumping more air back into the balloon of UK football. 6-6 is still progress, and a bowl game, even if it’s the Toilet Bowl, would be a welcome improvement. But there’s a lot of football left. And it has to be better than the last two weeks. Much better.
Mikel Horton picked up 109 yards on 14 carries in relief of the injured Boom Williams. Some of it was earned well after the UT defense had mailed the game in, but it was still a very solid performance. UK needs more of the same, particularly if Williams is limited or unable to play moving ahead.
Cory Johnson was in on three tackles, but did manage a 77 yard fumble return for a score. It gave UK a rare burst of momentum, and plays like those could swing future games.
Marcus McWilson had ten tackles, sacked UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and generally was the best of an absolutely awful secondary.
Two straight years of not having an actual special teams coach has made the UK units into a group that Fred G. Sanford should coach. This has to be addressed in the offseason. UK can’t afford to ignore a third of the game.
For that matter, the entire coaching staff was shaky. Dawson’s offense garnered zero momentum. The defense looks confused and tentative in a way that a defensive coach’s team shouldn’t late in year three. And bottom line, Stoops did not have Kentucky ready to play.
The loss also falls on the players. Other than a handful of players who were adequate, basically the entire team laid an egg. The quarterback made poor decisions, the receivers dropped balls, the line didn’t block, the defensive line gave no pass rush, the linebacker were slow and tentative, and the secondary got torched and didn’t tackle. Special teams weren’t very special. I’m not going to beat a dead horse to death again, but it was bad all around.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
1. LSU (7-0) I still think they’re playing better all around football than Alabama right now. 2. Alabama (7-1) I still can’t wait for LSU/Bama. 3. Ole Miss (7-2) Overrated, but could still ruin the whole party. 4. Florida (7-1) Somehow the best in the East. 5. Tennessee (4-4) When they finish 8-4, you can look smart. 6. Mississippi State (6-2) Dan Mullen is the most underrated coach in the SEC, and maybe in all of college football. 7. Texas A&M (6-2) They won, but I’m not overly impressed. 8. Arkansas (4-4) A better team than most people think. 9. Georgia (5-3) Meh. 10. Auburn (4-4) Very meh. 11. Kentucky (4-4) Has to rise about being meh. 12. South Carolina (3-5) At least, they’re still fighting. 13. Vanderbilt (3-5) Got killed, but they still play defense. 14. Missouri (4-4) zzzzzz
WHERE ARE WE GOING
The Tennessee/Georgia game a few weeks ago changed the trajectories of two careers. If UT loses that game, they go something like 6-6, and I’m not sure if Butch Jones survives. Instead, Georgia lost it and after they laid a huge egg against Florida, people are calling for Mark Richt’s job.
The team is down to its third QB, someone called Faton Bauta, who UK will no doubt make into Brett Favre on Saturday. Their top two running backs are both hurt, and again, I have no doubt that the third back will summon the spirit of Herschel Walker come Saturday. Malcolm Mitchell is a fine receiver, who will keep Chris Westry busy.
Defensively, Georgia is solid, but unspectacular. They hold opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. They don’t rush the passer exceptionally well, with only 15 sacks in eight games. They’ve also picked off only six passes, and are minus 3 in turnovers for the season.
It’s tempting to think that UK will right the ship here. But honestly, Georgia has much more to play for in the short term, and is always tough to beat at home. I hope to see UK being competitive, playing more aggressive, and looking like they’re on the same page. But after the last two weeks, I’m not expecting miracle. Even after this game, UK may well win seven. But I don’t think this weekend is one of them.
Georgia 35, Kentucky 14
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
It was a 6-0 week of predictions, so I improved to 54-17 for the year. This week’s guesstimates:
Mississippi State 38, Missouri 7 Florida 31, Vandy 10 Georgia 35, Kentucky 14 Ole Miss 38, Arkansas 28 Tennessee 45, South Carolina 21 Texas A&M 35, Auburn 24 LSU 18, Alabama 17
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, and the newest one "The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List" with Ryan Clark, is on sale now. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org