SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Is Kentucky Football Turning The Corner?
“It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong, and I am that big man.”
--Michael Scott, “The Office”
Look. I’ll admit it. Like many of you, I had written off Kentucky Wildcat football for the year. After the second half debacle against Southern Miss, the complete beat down at Florida, and skating by an inferior opponent in New Mexico State, I was ready for basketball. I was.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Those Wildcats I had written off. The head coach I had fired in my opinion. They dug out of an impossible hole to win five of their last six, win three games in a row in the SEC for the first time since 1999, and barring a monumental upset against currently winless Austin Peay (0-8), guaranteed themselves their first bowl bid since 2010.
So begs the question; Are the Kentucky Wildcats beginning to turn the corner as a successful football program?
After careful consideration, I lean toward the opinion that they indeed are. Here are my five takeaways that color this:
1. The Cats are running the football like an SEC program. With the lethal combination of Boom Williams, Benjamin Snell Jr., and a SEC-sized and strong offensive line, Kentucky is averaging approximately 280 yards a game rushing. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has engineered an offensive punch running the ball not seen around the program possibly ever. That’s huge, especially in the power running traditions of the SEC.
2. The defense has made a complete turnaround. Since Stoops got into the defense side of the ball before the New Mexico State game, the Cats have steadily improved across the board defensively. They have cut their yards allowed from over 500 per game to around 250. They’re poised. They’re organized. They’re attacking.
3. The Cats are making winning plays. For so long, Kentucky could be counted on to make 2-3 plays a game that would absolutely cost them a victory. This has improved. The bonehead plays seem to have subsided, but turnovers are still an issue, particularly fumbles. This needs to improve as the Cats continue to climb the ladder.
4. The football facilities have improved. Give credit to athletic director Mitch Barnhart, the university has sunk the money in to improve, remodel, and build wonderful facilities in and around Commonwealth Stadium. This had to be done to raise the profile of the program. Kudos.
5. Kentucky has the right coach for the job. I’ll say this. Mark Stoops and his staff can coach. Stoops has stayed the course and kept the faith when all was felt to be lost. He held the team together when even the most die-hard Cat fan was trying to find a way off the wagon. If the Cats at least split their last 4 games, Stoops should be considered for SEC Coach of the Year.
Shane Shackleford is a retired teacher and coach who resides in Speedwell, Tenn., with his wife Elizabeth and their three dogs Molly, Bear, and Lady. You can follow him on his blog