SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Let's Pump the Brakes on UK Football, BBN
You know Kentucky football fan, if I would have written this wrap-up article on the Kentucky Wildcats' loss to Mississippi State 28-13 say around 8 pm Saturday night, I would have written about the things you are probably thinking about right now.
I would have written about these lowlights from the game:
--The interception UK quarterback Sawyer Smith threw on his second pass attempt of the game that MSU returned for a touchdown.
--A tough week for linebacker Kash Daniel that culminated in him missing the first quarter of the game, leaving the Cats with three defensive starters out for the start of the game.
--The three dropped passes that UK receivers had for touchdowns.
--The two missed field goals that cost the Cats valuable points at key points in the game.
--The ill-timed penalties and sacks that killed any UK momentum for most of the game.
I would have vented my frustration much like you have during and after the game. Don’t get me wrong, you have every right to be frustrated with the Cats' performance for the last six quarters.
But as I got into writing this piece, something kind of dawned on me. Maybe we need to back up and reassess where we are right now in the program. Let’s think for a minute.
Seven years ago, UK football was in a freefall. After the dismissal of coach Joker Phillips, UK hired Mark Stoops to stop the hemorrhaging and, not rebuild, but build a program in Lexington that could compete every Saturday and in the leviathan that is the SEC.
Stoops' first season, 2013, wasn’t pretty. The Cats were 2-10 (again) and 0-8 in SEC play. The UK program was just trying to survive the season. Low numbers, low talent levels, and the lack of facilities combined to make Lexington a non-destination for SEC football.
But the constant between then and now was the BBN, the long-suffering fan base starved for a winner.
So we began the trek up the mountain; no vision of the top and a great view of the bottom. We climbed anyway.
Progress began slowly. In 2014 and 2015, the Cats went 5-7. In 2016 and 2017, we climbed higher at 7-6. We were making progress. We were winning some games, even in the mighty SEC. We were recruiting and developing SEC-caliber talent. We were building facilities that drew recruits to Lexington for more than a stop-over.
Then in 2018, we reached our first hilltop. A 10-3 record, a winning record in the SEC, and a victory in a New Year’s Day bowl was ours. We hadn’t made the mountaintop, but we sure were a lot higher than anyone except the most loyal UK football fan could believe possible.
So here we are, 2-2 in 2019. The Cats should be 3-1, we all know that. But that’s like crying over spilled milk. Stuff happens.
For the first time in like, ever, we have the word expectation in the program. We expect Kentucky to perform every Saturday now. That’s great. It should be that way.
Next Saturday is another tough road game in the SEC, this time in Columbia against a South Carolina team the Cats have beaten five consecutive times. A very winnable game that the Cats definitely need to avoid a 0-3 start in conference play.
The Cats have a lot to clean up, and I feel they will. There were bright spots in Starkville, just some bad breaks and miscues that cost the Cats a victory. But the mistakes are correctable. That’s a good thing.
In conclusion, I said all of the above to say this. It’s a long season, BBN, and we’ve come a long way. There are some highs and lows ahead. UK football isn’t what it was seven years ago. The Cats will bounce back.
Let’s keep climbing together.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist from Speedwell, Tenn. You can follow him at KySportsStyle.com Magazine, A Sea of Blue, and local print media and social media.