I’ve seen a lot of Kentucky football in my life, but tonight’s collapse might be the worst of all. The Cats went into the fourth quarter with a 27-14 lead, and just when you felt like it was too good to be true, it was. Slowly but surely, the Cats fell apart. Florida’s backup quarterback did what backup quarterbacks do to Kentucky: picked the Cats apart and exposed the flaws. Hope hung on in forms of big plays, but more often than not, Kentucky shot itself in the foot. As the fourth quarter dragged on, it felt like a slow march towards the inevitable: another loss to Florida. Thirty-one in a row. Just when you thought Sisphyus was going to stay at the top of the hill with that boulder, the football gods kicked it back down.
The Stoops Era has given us so many breakthroughs: a four-year winning streak over South Carolina; big wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt; the improbable upset of Louisville; the program’s first bowl game since 2010. However, it’s also given us a litany of costly coaching errors to look back and wonder, “What if?” Tonight’s were the most egregious. Twice, Kentucky left a Florida wide receiver wide open on a touchdown. Both times, it came out of a timeout, meaning the coaches should have had plenty of time to spot the error and call a timeout. They didn’t.
Fourteen points later, Mark Stoops knew he had no one else to blame and shouldered responsibility in the postgame press conference. Yes, there were other mistakes — the missed field goals, the holding penalty on Nick Haynes on what would have been a first down to set Austin MacGinnis perfectly for the game-winning kick — but if you’re like me, that fourth quarter was excruciating because you knew exactly what was going to happen. It was like being forced to watch a horror movie with your eyes open. With the SEC Network forcing us to relive history after every commercial break, it’s no wonder the actual ghosts of UK Football didn’t rise up from the field and finish it themselves.
Heartbreaking losses lead to hyperbole, so excuse my next rant. Perhaps it’s our cursed nature, but didn’t tonight feel a little too big for us? Kentucky was the better team. The atmosphere was the best it ever was, the offense was rolling, and for once, bless our hearts, we thought we had a chance of exorcising some 30-year-old demons. Unfortunately, the moment got too big and the team shot itself in the foot. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The mistakes suck. The penalties suck. The result sucks. But the worst part of it for me is the dread I felt in the fourth quarter. No matter what fantastic thing Stephen Johnson or Benny Snell or Josh Allen did tonight, it will be remembered as Kentucky’s 31st loss to Florida. Florida was not the best team on the field. The Cats showed time and time again they were better than the Gators, but whether it be emotion, fate, or downright luck, it didn’t matter. The boulder has rolled down the hill, and here we are.