As Kentucky football fans, we have been conditioned to heartbreak, particularly the last-second variety; regardless, tonight’s loss to Ole Miss stings.
Everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen once Ole Miss got the ball back with two minutes left. Kentucky had issues slowing down Ole Miss’ offense all day, and with a four-point lead with such little time left, what came felt like a formality. Ole Miss — a team with an interim head coach and only one conference win heading into the game — marched down the field, and with perfect, aching precision, put the cherry on top of yet another tragedy for the Kroger Field record books. Maybe it really is built on an ancient Indian burial ground.
Trust me, I could rant about this loss all night, to the point they might have to add some new four-letter words to the dictionary. I know I’m not alone.
“Obviously a very devastating loss,” Stoops said afterwards. “You know, the bottom line is we didn’t make enough plays in critical moments. They did. I was proud of our offense taking it down and putting it in the end zone there. We came up fractions off, and it’s a difficult loss.”
Given the football gods’ treatment of the Bluegrass, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that today’s loss happened on the same day a bad Florida team lost to Missouri — Missouri! — 45-16. The reminder of Kentucky’s lost opportunity hung in the air before the game and only worsened when Kentucky’s defense just couldn’t stop Ole Miss, who won the game on a truly spectacular play. I’m not even mad about that. I’m just mad about how we got there. It should have never happened.
Once again, clock management reared its ugly head. On Kentucky’s final drive, the Cats snapped the ball with 10 seconds left on the play clock on the last two plays, which may sound like nitpicking, but in the game of inches, it meant the difference between a win and a loss. Every single fan that watched that game knew there was too much time on the clock when Ole Miss got the ball. Watching what followed was enough to make you sick. How many times has a winnable game come down to the last play this season alone? Surely we’ve set some kind of sick record by now.
Don’t get me wrong; Kentucky is 6-3 and bowl eligible with three games left, which is more than we could have dreamed of a few years ago. Benny Snell has had back-to-back 175+ yard games and Stephen Johnson has shown incredible heart. CJ Conrad even had a big night. We had trickery! Did you see Lynn Bowden? Things were rolling! But, just when you thought the foot was on the throat, it wasn’t. Punch to the gut. Game over.
Perspective will come. Kentucky’s going bowling, and there are winnable games left. Even though the Florida game pretty much destroyed my spirit, I’ll rally and get off the mat. But tonight’s final minutes won’t make it easy.
After the game, a forlorn Mark Stoops put it best.
“It’s like that every game,” Stoops. “Backs against the wall, every game.”
And it’s exhausting.