Well, if you said “it can’t get any worse than this” after the opening loss to Southern Miss, you were incorrect.
I have seen some terrible football over the years, but Florida’s annihilation of UK in week 2 was as bad of a Wildcat performance as I have ever witnessed. UK didn’t just lose — they failed to even compete on any level. It was humiliating, embarrassing, and troubling. This season is in the danger zone, and if Stoops and Company do not figure something out quickly it will be over before it really even begins…it may already be over. I know UK has a gimme game against New Mexico State next week, but Chester could be the only person in BBN who will care about that game after Saturday’s performance. The coaches and team must find a way to re-group, but we basically have already thrown our Hail Mary with the player’s only meeting after week 1. This just feels like a train running off the rails. So what exactly went wrong over the last six quarters of football? It’s really quite simple…nearly everything!
The statistics are too horrifying to look up, so let’s approximate — the Cats have given up around 1,000 yards of offense and about 80 points over the last six quarters, and that is with Florida taking their foot off the gas in the 4th quarter Saturday. The defense has been put in some terrifying situations by the offense’s lack of production — on the field WAY too much, bad field position, etc. But the bottom line is we aren’t resisting opposing offenses at all. We made Florida’s journeyman QB look like an All-American field general, and have made every opposing running back look like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson. We are not as elite in the secondary as we thought, and our front seven – Jordan Jones excluded, he’s been awesome – has played even worse than we imagined.
We are playing a lot of young defensive players, so mistakes are to be expected. But this is the fourth year with DJ Eliot running the show, so he and his coaching staff should have a much better handle on leading this defense. Yet we consistently look lost out there, and when things go wrong no one seems to have any ideas for how to solve the problems. If the defense, coaches and players alike, do not improve dramatically and quickly, we will end the year as the worst statistical defense in school history. Even if the offense were to turn it around, UK can’t keep giving up 500+ yards a week and expect to beat anybody.
Loyalty is an admirable trait in a person, but there is such a thing as being too loyal to your assistant coaches — just ask Tubby Smith. I believe Mark Stoops should take over running the defense from this point on. And if he is already running the defense behind the scenes, he needs to let it be known. Stoops is a defensive guy with a successful track record. The fans need to know that he is doing everything he can to right the ship, including taking full responsibility for improving the porous defense. If he ends up losing his job, Stoops needs to at least go down swinging. Take the reins, Coach, and at least then you’ll know you gave it all you had if things don’t end well.
Again, check the stats at the door, as the eye test reveals more than enough issues to talk about. Drew Barker has been even worse the last six quarters than he was good the first two of the season. I NEVER thought I’d see a game of football on any level where a QB1 had more interceptions than completed passes. There were tons of reasons for him to be rattled in the Swamp, but I’ve never saw a more panicked signal caller in my life. Your QB has to be your team leader, the one who rallies the troops when things aren’t going your way. I don’t think Barker was even looking his teammates in the eye by half time on Saturday.
Barker certainly wasn’t alone in playing poorly. Where is this power running game everyone talked all offseason about? Eddie Gran was supposed to feed his backs the ball in bunches. Boom actually had some success in the first half against UF, particularly on first down. UK was in far too many 2nd and longs because we went away from Boom on first down. This team, once again, appears to have no offensive identity. I expected purpose and a plan on offense, but there has been little evidence of either, especially when the crap hits the fan. When the Cats need a drive and/or a score, we appear to have nothing to turn to. This is alarming.
Finally, let’s talk about O Line play. The supposed strength of the team has been a disaster. This superior interior line has thus far proved to be a myth, and the tackles have struggled even more. No offense will be more productive than its O Line, and this unit is the primary reason we’ve only scored 7 points in the last 6 quarters. I have tried to give Coach Schlarman the benefit of the doubt because he is a UK guy and the players seem to like him, but he has not got it done so far in his time in Lexington. Talent is no longer an excuse, as the team has more O Line talent than any I can remember. The offense and all of its skill players will remain stuck in neutral unless the line begins to perform at a much higher level in both the running and passing game.
One Bright Spot
If there was a bright spot from the Florida beatdown, it was the improvement for punter Grant McKinniss. His average upped by about 8 yards a kick in his second game, and hang time was much improved. UF’s very dangerous return man Calloway was kept under wraps because of the work on special teams. The coverage unit on kickoffs remains strong. And while we aren’t getting any explosion plays out of the return game, they aren’t doing anything stupid. So special teams has been mediocre, and somehow that has managed to be as good as it gets for the 2016 Kentucky Wildcats to this point.
When you do not perform at even a marginal level on offense or defense, 72-7 over six quarters is apparently what happens. I’ll be honest, this season has started considerably worse than I thought was even possible. This is a whole new level of ineptness for Kentucky football. Can this team turn it around and make this a respectable season? Absolutely. They have the talent and enough winnable games left on the schedule to still win 4-6 games. But will they turn it around? It is hard to see it happening at this point. This situation is starting to feel toxic. Losses like the one in Gainesville will do that to a program. Winning is the only cure at this point. This team needs to DOMINATE New Mexico State just to stop the bleeding. I think the Cats definitely win this week, but the season will hang in the balance in week 4 when South Carolina comes to town. That game will be the difference between a 5+ win season and a 2-3 win season. Leaders need to emerge on that sideline, and they need to emerge now. Gut check time, Wildcats…if there is anything left in the tank at this point now would be a good time to access it.