Disappointment is a common companion for UK Wildcats fans. But last Saturday night, at Commonwealth Stadium, when UK jumped to a 35-10 lead, with Drew Barker nearly passing for 300 yards in the first half, all of that seemed a million miles away.
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles, mostly on the strength of 296 rushing yards, stormed back to a 44-35 win before a stunned crowd in Lexington. Kentucky football makes its supporters think they have seen everything before, but this was a surprise, and not a welcome one.
Mark Stoops’s fourth season is off to a terrible start, and unless the ship can be righted in the next month, it could be his last in Lexington. This Saturday brings a huge chance at redemption as Kentucky goes into the Swamp to play the Florida Gators, owners of a 29-game winning streak in the series. Last time around, UK played well at Florida, and took a tough 36-30 overtime loss. Mark Stoops balked at calling this game a must-win, but winning it would go a long way in righting the wrongs within the program.
WHERE WE ARE Game ball from last week to Drew Barker, who did have a trio of second-half turnovers, but posted a 15 of 24, 323-yard, 4 TD, 1 interception line in Week one. Those sorts of numbers will generally spell victory for UK.
Linebacker Jordan Jones and cornerback J.D. Harmon also get game balls. Jones had 19 tackles in his started debut at linebacker and Harmon, while he missed on some plays, made two interceptions off the bench in the game. Sadly, the defense gave up 520 yards, so it wasn’t enough.
Homework goes to the defensive front, which were just gashed repeatedly with USM runners Ito Smith and George Payne each topping 100 yards, with most of the damage coming after the intermission. If Kentucky can’t straighten up its front, it’ll be a long season. The offensive line had its troubles too, allowing Barker to get sacked three times and finishing out at just 3.8 yards per carry. Improved consistency is needed there.
WHO THEY ARE Florida is a talented, but offensively challenged team, that didn’t particularly impress in a 24-7 win over UMass in Week one. The game was 10-7 into the fourth quarter, and was unimpressive enough that AP voters dropped Florida from No. 25 to the 26th spot in their poll. What the Gators did well was defend, as they held the Minutemen to under 200 yards of total offense, and a sickly 1.3 yards per carry. And that was without all-SEC CB Jalen “Teez” Tabor, who was suspended for the game. Florida rushed for just 3.7 yards per carry on UMass, but after seeing Kentucky’s game film, will look to improve on that. New QB Luke DelRio was a solid 29 for 44 for 256 yards and two scores in his Gator debut. Talented Juco kicker Eddy Piniero was 3-for-3 on field goals in his first game, connecting from 40, 48, and 49 yards.
WHAT TO EXPECT The good folks in Vegas have the Gators as a 17-point favorite. There is no question that Florida has a top-flight defense and should have enough weapons on offense to beat UK fairly easily. But the Gators have a reputation for not always showing up, and particularly on offense, their execution is fairly shaky. If Kentucky can must some offense and keep from just getting gashed to death on the ground defensively, this is anybody’s game.
I look for a much better effort from Kentucky, but unfortunately, the same result.
Florida 31, UK 21
AROUND THE CONFERENCE My current power rankings, or powerless rankings, based on a brutal Week 1:
1. Alabama (1-0) 2. Texas A&M (1-0) 3. Georgia (1-0) 4. Ole Miss (0-1) 5. LSU (0-1) 6. Tennessee (1-0) 7. Florida (1-0) 8. Auburn (0-1) 9. Arkansas (1-0) 10. South Carolina (1-0) 11. Missouri (0-1) 12. Kentucky (0-1) 13. Vanderbilt (0-1) 14. Mississippi State (0-1)
I was 9-4 in Week one, which wasn’t as bad as it seemed, given how topsy-turvy the league was. This week’s predictions should be pretty easy, because other than a couple of competitive non-conference games and two SEC games, it’s cupcake city.
My picks for the weekend: Alabama 55, WKU 17 Texas A&M 63, Prairie View A&M 3 Georgia 59, Nicholls State 0 Ole Miss 63, Wofford 0 LSU 38, Jacksonville State 24 Tennessee 38, Virginia Tech 17 Florida 31, Kentucky 21 Auburn 34, Arkansas State 7 TCU 38, Arkansas 30 Missouri 31, Eastern Michigan 7 Mississippi State 17, South Carolina 16 MTSU 24, Vandy 21
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books, with his most recent, Almost Perfect, to be released in February 2017. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.