Over the past three years, Kentucky fans have conditioned themselves to find the positives when it comes to football. It’s a process, right? Sure, we may have lost to such and such team, but they were more talented. Yes, that one hurt, but look at the growth! The SEC is tough, but as always, just focus on recruiting!
Tonight, my friends, I am failing to find the silver linings. Kentucky went to Starkville as a 13-point underdog, but lost by double that, 42-16. Simply put, the Cats got whipped. Dak Prescott moved the ball at will and Kentucky’s offense once again made too many errors to stay in the game. Whereas in 80% of the games in the Mark Stoops era, we’ve been able to point to some kind of positive, there’s nothing worth taking away from this loss. It was that bad.
Grab another drink and let’s go over it.
There was no answer for Dak Prescott
From the get go, it was clear the Cats could not stop Dak Prescott. Mississippi State’s senior quarterback threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns and ran 117 yards for three more. SIX touchdowns, but at times, it felt like more. Dak might as well have been throwing to his favorite receiver in the backyard, because the Cats failed to pressure him for most of the game. Dak’s offensive line deserves a lot of credit, but they should also turn around and thank UK’s defensive line, who was sluggish and inefficient. With Melvin Lewis out, it was Matt Elam’s time to shine, but he seemed blinded in the headlights. Elam finished with one tackle. Cory Johnson stepped in to help and got eight tackles, but Dak and his offensive line were too much for UK to handle.
Too many mental errors on offense
The defense had its worse showing of the year, but for all the mental errors they made, the offense didn’t do much better. It was all so promising at the beginning. Boom Williams moved the ball easily down the field and Patrick was putting the ball in the receivers’ hands; unfortunately, more often than not, they dropped it. Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson had huge drops that stalled drives in the second quarter, the latest in a series of gaffs by the offense that is quickly becoming defined more by their shortcomings than their accomplishments.
Stoops was forced to ice his own kicker
The turning point in the game? UK was down by four with the ball at the end of the second half and was poised to kick the field goal to cut the lead to one, but Mark Stoops was forced to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. Therefore, Stoops inadvertently iced his own kicker and MacGinnis missed the next attempt. From there, Mississippi State outscored Kentucky 28-6. After the game, Stoops told Tom Leach he wished he had gone for it on the play, but “if ands and buts were candy and nuts, it would be Christmas every day.”
After a Patrick Towles interception, Mississippi State scored two quick touchdowns, and even though MacGinnis kicked a field goal to give Kentucky three more points, the damage was done. 28-13 Bulldogs.
The second half was worse
Kentucky is 0-20 when trailing at halftime under Stoops, and they certainly lived up to that stat tonight. Dak continued to have his way with the Cats, who looked completely gassed. For the eternal optimist, there were slivers of hope: Mississippi State missed a field goal and Kentucky put together a decent series only to shoot itself in the foot by more dumb errors. The blame on this one goes to Ramsey Meyers, who was called for a personal foul when he punched a player. If that wasn’t bad enough, Kentucky dug itself out of that hole just in time for Jordan Swindle to get called for holding. MacGinnis got Kentucky its last three points on that drive, but judging by Kentucky’s effort and demeanor, the game was over.
The most telling sign Stoops thought the game was over?
Drew Barker went in
Barker went in with seven minutes and change left. The Barker supporters cheered with glee until the redshirt freshman threw a pick on his fourth play from scrimmage. Whatever quarterback controversy existed was quickly quashed. After the game, Stoops said it was good to see Drew get some time, but there wasn’t any hint of a quarterback change. Hate on Patrick all you want, but his play wasn’t even close to UK’s biggest issue tonight.
If pressed, there are three positives from this game
- Chris Westry picked off Dak Prescott in the second half, Dak’s first interception of the season. I don’t think Westry knew it at the time, but he kept Andre Woodson’s SEC record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception safe at 325. Good job, young one!
- The young guys got some play at the end. Sihiem King showed flashes of brilliance, racking up 31 yards on 3 carries late in the fourth quarter. Alexander Montgomery also looked good. This was all against Mississippi State’s second string, so take it for what it’s worth. I’m stretching here.
- Possibly UK’s toughest test of the season is over with. Hopefully they will bury it and move on.
Where do we go from here?
That’s the question every UK fan is asking right now. Most will joke “basketball season,” but the loyal fans amongst us have the right to be perplexed by tonight’s performance. While there has been undeniable progress under Stoops — recruiting, facilities, record — the program still manages to shoot itself in the foot time and time again, a troubling pattern the program just can’t shake. In two of its three losses, Kentucky had a legitimate shot to win, but failed to capitalize. Program-defining upsets were on the tee for the taking. Tonight? Kentucky just crapped the bed.
At the time, the wins over South Carolina and Missouri felt great, but looking back, were they? South Carolina is so bad Spurrier left and Missouri just lost to Vanderbilt. The same can be said for any “marquee win” during the Stoops era. Suddenly, that game at Vandy on November 14th isn’t looking like a gimme. Given their effort against Alabama, I can’t even think about the Tennessee game yet.
The hard question I’m left with tonight? With mental lapses, questionable play calling, and glaring weaknesses, how much of this is “progress” and how much of it is making excuses?