If you turn back your clocks and calendars to last Saturday around 3:29 p.m., you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting time to be a member of the Big Blue Nation.
The Kentucky Wildcats were set to kick off against No. 6 Georgia for a spot in the SEC Championship game with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. SEC Nation was in attendance, CBS chose the top-ten matchup for their primetime slot, and Kroger Field had been sold out for weeks.
Lexington was absolutely rocking, and even with the odds stacked against us, it felt like Kentucky football had finally earned the respect they deserved as one of the top teams in the SEC. For the first time in who knows how long, the Big Blue Nation had a reason to dream big. Really big.
After competing hard for about a quarter and a half, Kentucky crumbled under pressure and fell to the Bulldogs 34-17. SEC Championship and Playoff dreams were crushed in an instant.
Fast forward to Tuesday night on the hardwood, where the Kentucky Wildcat basketball team was set to tip off their season against No. 4 Duke and their highly-touted recruiting class in the Champions Classic. Fans still had the opportunity to turn their disappointment in the football team to excitement surrounding what was deemed one of the deepest and most talented groups of the John Calipari era. Some even said this team could flirt with 40-0, as the depth drew comparisons to the historic 2014-15 unit.
On the national stage, the Wildcats embarrassed themselves with missed shot after missed shot and little-to-no effort on the defensive end. They fell to the Blue Devils by a final score of 118-84, and even that ugly 34-point deficit doesn’t begin to describe how much of a beatdown it truly was. Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis had impressive scoring performances, but it was a travesty everywhere else.
Two massive chances on the big stage, both blown in ugly fashion.
Still, though, fans knew the Kentucky football team had an opportunity to finish the regular season 10-2. All they had to do was take care of business in Knoxville against Tennessee, and the rest would take care of itself. The big-time dreams were crushed, but there was still major optimism to be had.
On the basketball side of things, we felt a spark would be lit underneath the Wildcats and they’d come out full speed ahead against a potential NCAA Tournament team in Southern Illinois. I even apologized for some of Kentucky’s beatdowns dealt during the 2014-15 season in hopes of flipping some mojo back our way.
Instead, Kentucky came out sluggish on both ends of the floor yet again, going up just 31-28 at halftime. After the intermission, the Cats actually found themselves down by as many as seven points before they found a way to slowly climb back to finalize a 71-59 victory. Like the Duke game, we had impressive performances up top with Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, and horrendous efforts on the bottom with PJ Washington, Ashton Hagans, and Tyler Herro.
The talented team with incredible chemistry we saw in the Bahamas was nowhere to be found. Attention flipped back to football, at least temporarily.
And then here we are with… whatever that was against the (now) 5-5 Tennessee Volunteers.
The Wildcat offense went out there and (literally) dropped the ball at Neyland Stadium, falling to the Volunteers 24-7. Eddie Gran’s group managed just 262 total yards (77 rushing) and a putrid seven points against a below-average defense. They turned the ball over three times, punted seven times, and missed two field goals. They were allergic to putting themselves in position to score, let alone actually putting points on the board.
After weeks of putting on a show and proving that they are one of the best in college football, the Kentucky defense finally broke. The big plays they had avoided for so long finally came. The miscues piled up. Injuries finally came back to haunt the unit. The offense that was so dominant and efficient to start the year had slowly become one of the worst in the nation, and after making up for some of that lack of production week after week, the defense couldn’t hold on any longer.
Blame it on Mark Stoops’ inability to make adjustments, Eddie Gran’s stubbornness and predictability, Terry Wilson’s indecisiveness, the offensive line not even making the trip to Knoxville, the receivers being unable to do what they were signed here to do, or Benny Snell’s obvious step down over the last few weeks. Whatever. You can blame whoever you want, but the point remains that the overall offensive product is a major reason Kentucky’s potentially historic season will now be seen as a “what could have been” one. Make no mistake about it, an extreme makeover for the unit is necessary going forward.
Instead of potentially heading out west to play in the Fiesta Bowl or earning a spot in the Peach Bowl, the Cats have officially dropped down on the totem pole in the eyes of the bowl selection committees. And it happened because they couldn’t get anything going against mediocre Tennessee team.
Sadness. Disappointment. Frustration. You name the negative emotion, the Big Blue Nation felt it tonight.
Finishing the season 9-3 with a potential spot in the Citrus Bowl would still be a massive accomplishment, especially for a Kentucky football program that hasn’t won nine games in the regular season since 1977. Middle Tennessee is absolutely beatable and Louisville is a dumpster fire. Just show up, meet expectations, and they’re both likely victories.
On the other side, Kentucky basketball team still has the opportunity to put it all together and make a run for yet another Final Four under Coach Cal. It’s obvious the pieces are there for something special, the cohesion just isn’t. If there’s one coach you can trust to get a basketball program right by March, it’s John Calipari.
But goodness, what a nightmare week. And it’s okay to acknowledge that it has freaking sucked.
Football and basketball gods, whatever we did, please forgive us.