If the script of UK’s Week one was unusual (take commanding 35-10 lead, fall apart completely), the script for Week two was much more familiar.
UF 45, Kentucky 7.
It isn’t the losing to Florida that places Mark Stoops’s job on decidedly shaky ground. That streak has reached 30 in a row, and the first 26 were amassed without his help. It’s the fact that the same Gator team that UK took to overtime in the Swamp in 2014, and lost by five points to in 2015 absolutely boat-raced UK. Drew Barker completed two passes for 10 yards. He threw three more passes to Florida defenders. The defense was gashed time and again for big plays, and offered only token resistance. If Jim McElwain had wanted to run up the score, he could’ve approached the kind of numbers that Steve Spurrier used to pile up on Bill Curry.
Mark Stoops came into Kentucky at a time when the SEC East was competitive. Old horses like Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia weren’t what they had been. Missouri won the division twice, and South Carolina won it once. Vanderbilt put up a winning SEC record—something UK last did in 1977. But now, the gap is probably widening again between the haves and have nots. And despite four allegedly good recruiting classes, the product Kentucky places on the field looks more like the days of Curry or Joker Phillips than the days of Rich Brooks, never mind Bear Bryant.
WHERE WE ARE
There were very few things to like in Kentucky’s effort at Florida. Grant McKinniss punted the ball reasonably well. Jordan Jones both played a relatively competent game, and blasted his teammates for quitting—at this point, I’m not sure which means more to Big Blue Nation. Boom Williams had a few decent runs, although as Kentucky fell further and further behind, that mattered less and less.
Florida racked up over 500 yards, making the second time in two games that UK was so assaulted. Kentucky had 149 yards of total offense, which is the lowest total in a game back to a 54-3 embarrassment Joker Phillips’ team suffered at the hands of South Carolina in 2011.
WHO THEY ARE
Next up is New Mexico State, a weakened member of the Sun Belt Conference. The Aggies last played in a bowl in 1960, and last had a winning season in 2002. Coach Doug Martin, who played quarterback at UK, is 8-31 in his fourth season. The Aggies have a talented back in junior Larry Rose, who was Sun Belt offensive player of the year in 2015 with 1651 rushing yards. Rose hasn’t played yet in 2016 due to injury. QB Tyler Rogers has thrown for 411 yards in two games this year, and linebacker has 39 tackles in two games, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
State allowed 45, 39, and 45 points per game over the last three years, so they are certainly not a defensive juggernaut. UK is favored by around 19 points in the Vegas point spread.
WHAT TO EXPECT
This is a MUST win, preferably in impressive fashion. Mark Stoops can still right the ship, but time is tight. Kentucky is a better team than New Mexico State, but can’t afford another lackluster effort like the one on Saturday. UK should be able to run or throw at will, and the defense has a chance to finally hold somebody to under 500 yards of offense.
There are plenty of folks jumping off the Mark Stoops bandwagon. If this isn’t a blowout win, there may not be anybody left on except Mitch Barnhart and the fiddler who is playing Stoops’s last tune. But it says here that it will be a blowout.
UK 42, New Mexico State 17
AROUND THE CONFERENCE
My current power rankings.
Texas A&M (2-0)
Ole Miss (1-1)
Mississippi State (1-1)
South Carolina (1-1)
Got my mojo back in week two with a solid 10-2 week, putting me at 19-6 for the season. Tougher stuff on tap for week three.
My picks for the weekend:
Alabama 38, Ole Miss 24
LSU 17, Mississippi State 10
Texas A&M 34, Auburn 17
Arkansas 42, Texas State 10
Tennessee 42, Ohio 7
Georgia 35, Missouri 20
Florida 45, North Texas 7
Kentucky 42, New Mexico State 17
Georgia Tech 24, Vanderbilt 14
East Carolina 22, South Carolina 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.