This was the kind of game that makes being a UK football fan tough. I wanted to celebrate a win and spend this post-game post making jokes about how the sideline reporter should be running in the fifth at Keeneland, the SC cheerleaders look like Harlan County linebackers and the camerawork during the game made even the Big Blue Network cringe. However in a game in which the Cats came in without their two starting corners, lost their third corner in the first half, lost their QB in the second half, allowed two 50 plus yard kickoff returns and were on the road against a team they hadnt beaten in ten years, the Cats played out of their minds for most of the game and still had a chance to win at the end. But then fate intervened as it always seems to do, and the Cats lost a heartbreaker to the Old Ball Coach on the road. You hate to blame anyone, but on a day in which Mike Hartline, Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke potentially all had their best games of the year in one sitting, the Cats coaching decisions and mental mistakes (where have we heard that before) did them in once again….it hurts.
— The call that will live in infamy in this game was the decision to not have Randall Cobb at QB on the 2 point conversion. After leading, no correct that, storming the UK football team down the field and proving himself unstoppable by the Gamecock defense, Brooks took Cobb off the QB position on the most important play of the game. In so doing, he put in Fidler (who had been sitting cold on the sideline), but still left Cobb in at WR. If Cobb was too tired (which I assume was the rationale), why leave him in the game at all? And after all that he had done, dont you want Cobb to have the ball in his hands, win or lose? That decision was perplexing to me at the time and is baffling in hindsight. It is one that will stick with Brooks and this team for a long time.
— I didnt however have much of a problem with the fake FG call. At the time, the UK offense was not moving the ball, and it looked like this might be the one time it had a chance to score. While the play looked too slow to develop, the idea wasnt a big problem for me. Plus, two plays later UK got a turnover and ended up getting points off that side of the field. It didnt work, but I dont mind the call…and it didnt cost UK the game.
— For the third time in four weeks, big penalties down the stretch killed the Cats. While down 21-20, the Cats had the ball inside the 50 and looked ready to pounce. But then on a great end-around call (you have to give credit to Joker for that one), a penalty was called on Gonzalez that was iffy at best. Then on fourth and three, the Cats go for it twice, make it both times, but neither counts…once because of an ill-advised timeout and once because of a snap infraction by the Center. If there were ever a “we cant win for losing” series, it was there and the result was a crucial missed opportunity.
— OK, how about some good. Randall Cobb was amazing. When you watch Cobb do what he did today, make long runs on kickoff returns, break tackles from the WR position and excel amazingly out of the Wildcat, you see why he is so valuable to this team. I cant believe he wasnt in on the 2 point conversion, but it doesnt change just how dynamic he was for the rest of the game.
— Also a great performance for Derrick Locke, who continues to run the ball as none of us would have imagined. Against two of the best running defenses in America, Locke has consistently moved the ball and broken huge runs at the biggest times. There is no question that Derrick Locke has his old burst back and is a bigtime back in the SEC…he now leads the conference in all-purpose yards.
— It is unfortunate that the injury occurred, as Hartline was having his best game of the season. He went 9-13 in the first half, which included two drops for almost certain touchdowns in the process. The injury looks quite severe and Brooks said that it is an MCL at best, and he will not play next week. You get the feeling that Mike is done for the year.
— There were some big mistakes as well. The dropped passes and kickoff coverage killed UK in the first half, allowing a South Carolina offense that was getting little production, to have great field position in key moments. On one kickoff return, Kentucky had eight missed tackles…that is simply unacceptable.
— Finally, CB play was a huge weakness. I firmly believe that if Trevard Lindley is in this game, Kentucky wins, maybe by a decent amount. However Randall Burden and Martavieus Neloms, simply couldnt live on an island 1 on 1 against the USC receivers. Spurrier knew that and burned them throughout the game. With Burden getting banged up and Warford/Lindley both likely out for next week, it could get ugly in the secondary.
So we are where we are. A loss that will sting and sit with the Cats for a while. Will Fidler played admirably but simply isnt an SEC level QB. So that leaves Cobb, who will surely be the choice of the fans this week. Brooks said after the game that Morgan Newton would get more reps this week but I cant imagine that they will start a Freshman on the road at Auburn for his first game. So it will likely be Cobb/Fidler for one more week. How much better that would be if they had won this game first….