Kentucky jumped out to a 21-point lead.
I didn’t think UK would win the football game.
The first half ended with the Wildcats leading 24-7.
I didn’t think UK would win the football game.
It’s been one of those seasons. After 30 minutes of score board dominance, where did the doubt come from? Guilt crept in by having little hope for a Kentucky win when all signs pointed to the Governor’s Cup taking up residence in the Nutter Center.
Following a 12-game body of work for observation, the following are engrained preconceptions that led to final score reservations:
— There was a complete lack of on-field leadership and team chemistry. For certain underclassmen, there was a comprehensive failure in followship. This imbalanced combination equaled a 5-7 record. Once Melvin Lewis was lost to an unfortunate injury, not a resemblance of on-field management existed. However, the offense is where the intolerable — and at times, unwatchable — leadership meltdown occurred.
In the second half and even before Louisville began to score at will, several offensive players showed the body language of an ailing patient moments prior to a root canal. There is a difference between the false bravado coming out of the tunnel and the gut-check realization when plays must be made. Unfortunately, this team was better exiting the locker room in a cloud of smoke than making a catch on 3rd and 7. It danced better before the game and between plays than it tackled opposing running quarterbacks.
— Immaturity. During critical game junctures, the Cats played and acted like adolescents in a man’s league. Hanging heads, not finishing plays, complaining about quarterbacks or playing time, catches/carries, and so forth. By the end of Saturday’s game, a disturbing internal question resonated: “Is this team likable?” I can’t honestly answer that inquiry. Not generalizing the entire 100-man roster, but a handful of counted-upon characters displayed appalling selfish actions.
— After starting 4-1 and somewhere on the schedule between EKU and Auburn, this team misplaced its fortitude. Courage to fight back and resiliency to counter adversity disappeared; in their absence surfaced erroneous and misguided self-importance. Again, mostly on offense.
— Other than the opening drive, Kentucky’s inept offense was manhandled by an above average defense that wasn’t as good as its performance indicated. Virginia scored 31 on it. Pitt ran up 42 in the first half for goodness sake. Following the disheartening loss of Boom Williams and JoJo Kemp, UK’s offensive compass lost its true North, South, East, and West. The identity-less unit wandered like a rudderless ship sailing along with dropped passes, errant throws, questionable play calls, missed blocks and penalties of the undisciplined nature.
— Patrick Towles was not Kentucky’s offensive problem. Pat was merely the fall guy. Offensive woes ran much deeper than quarterback play. Up front, the offensive line was overwhelmed. An overabundance of holding calls prevented the second half from becoming a quarterback sack parade. The OL has been a point of concern from Louisiana to Louisville with brief flashes of positivity against South Carolina and Missouri. Its flaws were embarrassingly exposed in the 3rd and 4th quarter. In addition to the front five, UK’s receivers lacked. Its talent was evident in September, but it conspicuously lost its way somewhere on the road between EKU and Auburn.
— Locker room divide: Older players vs. younger ones. Patrick Towles supporters against those that wanted Drew Barker. These unconfirmed rumors and leaked murmurings became nauseating and devastatingly tiresome. I’d argue that this team was divided into two categories: 1. Likable. 2. Unlikable. Typing those words hurts me to the core. While understanding ramifications, it had to be said. There were not enough battlers like Josh Forrest, Farrington Huguennin, Chris Westry, Jon Toth, Khalid Henderson and unnamed others that played their absolute guts out on every snap throughout the disappointing season regardless of score or situation.
The BBN doesn’t expect to win every game; however, it does demand indisputable high effort, passion, and a give-a-darn mentality from its participants. Instead of embracing the underdog role in the second half of the season, this team shrunk in moments against superiority.
— Halftime adjustments were made by Louisville. Kentucky grossly failed in this venture. Louisville’s true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson can be used as an example. On a wet and soggy day, one would imagine that the opponent’s top rusher (Jackson) would be the offensive feature in the second half. The read option would be the prominent play call. Following intermission, he ran it and ran it well. The Cardinal quarterback finished the game with 17 rushing attempts for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The closest Cardinal in rushing statistics was RB Brandon Radcliff with 66 yards on 14 carries. I’m not a coach nor do I pretend to understand the game on a professional level, but I would assume that Petrino made the decision to win or lose the game with Lamar Jackson running the football.
— After halftime, Kentucky’s offense exited the locker room lacking urgency and a plan. Inexplicably, defeated body language became commonplace after the first series of the third quarter. It didn’t improve, nor did production. The Cats lacked tempo, execution, or a strategy to answer the Cardinals’ 31-point onslaught. One scoring drive may have been enough of a deterrent to force Louisville into certain passing scenarios. On UK’s last offensive series, Patrick Towles finally led the Cats to the red zone with a little over two minutes left in the game. An interception followed. Game over. Cup travelled back west on I-64.
SEC football teams should be prepared for attrition, especially at an injury-prone position like running back. Understandably, losing both Boom Williams and JoJo Kemp lessened UK’s explosiveness; however, UK commenced a three-and-out procession that repeatedly and quickly gave the football back to Louisville and Lamar Jackson. It was a recipe for disaster. Catastrophe came in the form of 31 unanswered second half points.
Mark Stoops must evaluate his football program in its entirety. From coordinators to assistant coaches, practice schedules to calisthenics, the Kentucky Football program is in need of an overhaul; what that looks like lies within the mind of Mark Stoops.
At no point in 40 years of fandom have I witnessed a team worsen more so than the 2015 Wildcats. From a 4-1 start to a 5-7 finish, week by week, Kentucky lessened its on-field prowess while facing the friendliest schedule in decades. College football is unforgiving. While the Cats are home for the holidays, its opponents will enjoy 15 additional days of bowl practice as well as an extra game. While UK is Christmas vacationing, future foes are strengthening. For returning players, that should sting. I’m not convinced that it does. I hope I’m wrong.
From now until National Signing Day, Stoops and staff will be in living rooms convincing teenager prospects that progress is being made. 2015 was stagnant at best.
In closing, thank you for reading. I honestly am honored and surprised you do so. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible, but disappointment and frustration led to hard truths and realities being discussed. This post was incredibly hard to write. Uncomfortable and disappointing would be more descriptive. Objectivity and fandom mix like oil and water. As a lifelong UK fan, nothing would please more than for Mark Stoops and this football program to succeed.
It’s been a blast, and we’ll continue through National Signing Day and beyond. I’d like to thank Matt Jones and the entire KSR organization for the privilege to write and talk about football.