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Gut Punched: Cats lose to the Gators… again.

I find no joy in writing this post. To be completely up front and honest, this article crosses the objective journalistic line and leans toward the former player in me. Wearing many hats is tiring. I’m tired. I’m sick. No, I’m mad. Kentucky was the better team on Saturday but did not win the football game. Inexcusably, two uncovered Gator receivers were gifted a pair of scores. Kentucky also penalized and bad snapped itself into a corner. It left points and a win on the field. When UK forced the first turnover of the night it didn’t go for the knockout punch but instead went away from the play action pass which resulted in a three and out. Multiple trips to the Gator 40-yard line didn’t produce points. Drive and potentially game ending tackles were missed. Two Stephen Johnson red-zone sacks pushed Austin MacGinnis’s first failed attempt to 48-yards instead of a chip shot. With all that and much more; UK was an unscrupulous holding call on Nick Haynes away from ending the streak. Florida won in the Swamp on a no-call clock play and in Lexington on a holding call that should have never been called in that situation. Hint, no reality; there’s a callable holding penalty on every single football play in every single game. Football happens. I guess. Credit Florida for the win. But, the game should have never been in question.

Yet, there were signs that support the claim that UK was the better football team which makes this loss take on a feel of cruelty more than the embarrassment of a 65-0 pasting. Again, this team played their guts out. A Stephen Johnson led third quarter drive that resulted in a 21-14 lead was textbook. Kentucky is at its best when utilizing its top player which happens to be the quarterback. Johnson’s influence and second half role decreased until the final drive of the game.

Saturday produced a one-point loss that could have very easily been a two score victory. The last coach to beat Florida was Jerry Claiborne and he commonly referred that train of thought as “the ole ‘iffin’ game.” Celebrations could still have been going on in Lexington but the Cats failed to Finish and lost to Florida for the 31st consecutive time.

During the week players and coaches spoke matter-of-fact about Saturday’s contest being the next game on the schedule and hinting that the stage would not be too big. It turned out to be overwhelming at times for the normally steady Cats. It wavered when it needed to maintain its course. A packed to capacity crowd did its part. The BBN deserved the W. I’m sorry. So did current and former players. I’m sorry again. The crowd was deserving of a lifetime victory against an opponent that was a mere logo resemblance of the Top 5 squads that the home-standing BBN grew accustom to seeing every other year.

10 points separated the Cats and Gators with 15:00 remaining in regulation. The scoreboard read Kentucky 24, Florida 14. The Gators scored two touchdowns in the final period, the Wildcats were limited to just three possessions and netted a field goal. Ball game. We could go into detail of the how; but what’s the point with emotions raw and the sting of defeat resonating throughout every fiber of our existence? We’ll get to that after I gather the courage to watch the game tape on Sunday night.

Execution, attention to detail, penalties, coaching culpabilities, and other lapses were obvious; especially at the game’s most critical moments. But so were effort, grit, determination, and fight within a Kentucky team that fought for sixty minutes. Can’t tell you how proud that I am of their effort and “want to.” The talent gap between the two programs is now a stalemate. But, at the end of the night the scoreboard still read Florida 28, Kentucky 27.

Even though it was assisted with a pair of Christmas gift touchdowns; Florida showed the resolve and perseverance of a team that happens to be the back-to-back SEC East Champions. Jim McElwain must be credited. However, if this UF wins the East in 2017 the division needs to fold and permanently concede superiority to its western counterparts.

Mark Stoops took responsibility for the aforementioned defensive errors that led to two inconceivable and uncontested UF touchdowns. He will be questioned again on Monday at his weekly press conference and I’m certain many times after that. I saw him after the game. The weight of the loss was uncomfortably visible.

Saturday wasn’t the first time that a Kentucky coach was scrutinized for specific situations that impacted a game’s outcome. Jerry Claiborne got raked over the coals in 1987 for running Mark Higgs on four consecutive unsuccessful plays at the goal line in a home loss to Tennessee. That was hard to see. Rich Brooks was grilled in 2009 when Randall Cobb wasn’t utilized in the red-zone against the Volunteers. Again, not fun to watch as the disappointment in Brooks’ eyes was disconcerting. Remember the Bluegrass Miracle? The Cats were up 30-27 over LSU and in prevent defense when a Tiger receiver got deeper than the deepest? What did the four coaches have in common? They took ownership of their missteps. I’m not defending Saturday’s mishaps. Just providing historical perspective.

Coach Stoops:

“They played unbelievably hard tonight — and played winning football. And I really appreciate them and the way they put themselves in a position all week to win the football game. And there’s quite a few plays in games and you never know which ones are going to decide the football game. And there’s probably one of 12 plays in there that changed the game. And it’s very disappointing that we didn’t come up with those plays. The breakdown in communication defensively on the two plays are really a sore spot because they stick out and it takes away from the great passion and energy that the team, that our team played with. We played winning football. We have to get those things fixed and I accept responsibility for those and we’ll get those plays fixed and do a better job. So, again, I thank the fans. The atmosphere was phenomenal. Greatly appreciate their support and energy, and I know our players did as well.”

So, what’s next?

This answer will not be popular, and that’s ok. But there’s nothing else to say or do than for the Cats to pick themselves up off the mat and prepare for Eastern Michigan. What’s the other option? Quit? Turn in equipment and fold the program? Your emotional answer may be yes and trust me; I feel your pain. For goodness sakes, my freshman class started this God forsaken streak of reptile ineptitude. Saturday was personal.

But quitting or folding shop is not a viable or realistic option. Disappointed? Absolutely. But, how many said a split against Carolina and Florida would be a precursor for a successful first half of the season? Florida can’t beat Kentucky on two consecutive Saturdays. Meaning; Saturday’s heart break loss can’t lead into an upset defeat to EMU. Mark Stoops and his Wildcats have still gone 10-5 over its last fifteen games. It may not feel like it at the time you read this post but there have been undeniable improvements within the Kentucky Football program. That’s no comfort; again I understand. But, there’s a great deal of football left in a twelve game season. But dog-gone-it Saturday’s loss stings. A lot.

Truth is that the healing process for the players will start once the Eastern Michigan game plan is unveiled. Young folks are far more resilient than weathered fans (like me) that have witnessed far too many near misses. Heck, the mood I’m in I’d go as far as publically apologizing for the 1989 and 90 losses which happened under my watch and several decades ago. I’m sorry.

Fans were crushed. But none hurt as badly as the players that wore the chrome helmets on Saturday. Sunday will be miserable for players and coaches alike. It’s now nearing 5:30am on Sunday morning and I remain despondent. Monday meetings will be nauseating. Regardless, forward motion must take place and the true character of this team will be on display when it takes the field next Saturday against Eastern Michigan.

I think it’s established that you and I are not happy with the loss but let’s read from those that actually played in the game. These Cats were hurting for each other. They played their guts out. They were also brokenhearted for not delivering a win they so badly wanted for the fans. Yes, that matters. A lot. Regardless of time or history, players universally seek fan approval. They urgently wanted to see the BBN celebrate, smile, and leave Kroger Field with a sense of satisfaction. Disappointment and shock were obvious 300-pound weights on the shoulders of all involved with the program in the postgame locker room. Charles Walker best summed up the only forward path this team can take.

Charles Walker on how long it will take to get over something like this:

“With football you have to have a quick memory. Just like in a game, you drop a ball, they are going to come right back to you and you have to catch it. It’s different every time. We’ll see. Definitely a tough loss. We’ll use this as motivation. Watch the film, get better, get corrected, forget about it and play the next game.”

Nick Haynes on penalty at the end of the game:

“I was surprised. I didn’t think it was a hold but I guess he thought something else. That’s all I can say about that really.”

Haynes on who stepped up in locker room after game:

“It was really all of us. That was a hard one to lose. But we have a bunch of seniors and leaders here and we’ll be ready to go as quick as tomorrow. We’re a hungry team and we’ll be back better than ever.”

Stephen Johnson on if he could tell from the start that Kentucky was physical enough to play with Florida:

“Absolutely. Everything we had game planned was going the right way. We had a few mistakes, especially on my part. A few throws I shouldn’t have made. But we just have to get all of that fixed on Monday.”

Eli Brown on how frustrating it was to leave guys open on two different plays:

“It’s communication. You get so riled up and you feel like you have the game in your hand and just something just slips up. Like I said, it’s communication. It was all closed in. We didn’t even see the other man move out. I guess they were breaking a huddle and moved somebody real quick where we didn’t see it, so they kept getting us with that. Every touchdown they had was a miss assignment. They didn’t earn one touchdown they had. One guy was wide open; the other guy was wide open. The long run, the guy jumped the gap and busted open something. They didn’t deserve anything. None of those touchdowns they had. It’s upsetting, but like I said, we got to go back and practice and fix our mistakes.”

Brown on what steps they have to take to improve the communication:

“More hand signals. Looking at each other, when the place is rocking, you want to win the game so bad and you give it your all and then it just slips right past. It takes the air out of us. It sucks real bad. Like I said, we just have to come back and be ready.”

What does all this mean?

Don’t let anyone tell you how to fan. It’s perfectly understandable to be disappointed or just plain mad. I was. I am.

This week will be flush with influencers all but daring you to give up on this team and coaches. With a mind of my own, I will certainly will not. Each game offers unique opportunities to learn, improve, and redirect. Unfortunately, lessons from UK’s loss to Florida will go down in Wildcat lore. The Cats are 3-1. It plays Eastern Michigan next Saturday.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

26 Comments for Gut Punched: Cats lose to the Gators… again.

  1. BigBlueBass
    1:27 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    Proud of the hustle !! Disappointed in the coaching

  2. KYcats11
    1:29 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    Bless your heart if you can find the courage to watch that game again.

    • steve simpson
      2:06 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      Gut wrenching but I’ll be there next game. That’s what we do.

    • KYcats11
      2:12 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      Oh I’ll be there next game too, just can’t watch a single second of that Florida game. To think that the kick fell 5 yards short, if we don’t even try to run the ball macginniss would have made it.

  3. Howdy Doody
    1:45 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    31-0….nothing to be crowing about. ANOTHER case of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

  4. classof68
    2:16 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    Hey Freddie – check the stats and explain how UK was the better team. Everything looks pretty even to me. And they out rushed us. Time of possession, etc. etc, – all pretty even. And in a big part of the game – COACHING – we got plastered. You have fallen into the same trap as most UK FB fans. Because we had a chance to beat them and played them fairly even – we were the better team. We lost the game because we lost the momentum, and we all know why that happened. Can you imagine Petrino losing that game with a 13 point lead in the 4th quarter? I’m not advocating we should have gotten him. Just using him as an example how Stoops is a big scardy cat. That should be their new name: the Scardy Cats.

    • ricko52
      9:01 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      Come on Freddie this was the biggest coaching screw up we have ever seen ,it was ridiculous, the Fla wide receiver is standing in front of our bench,Stoops maybe a good D coach but he is no head coach this was inexcusable 2 uncovered receivers for td’s,what a joke. We always get the shaft from the officials absolute discussing call would never have been called against Fla and we all know it. Johnson had been moving the ball with play action and pas and Gran wants to run every play. Hollywood couldn’t think this stuff up. Call me fair weather or what ever but after 55yrs of this I am DONE!

    • AwesomeBillFromDawsonville
      9:08 am September 25, 2017 Permalink

      Go then.

  5. bluecrowe
    2:23 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    All this talk about the next one is ridiculous. The whole point is to win this one! Against Florida, at home, under the lights, and in a sold out stadium. Another directional school next week is meaningless. The following week against the worst team ever assembled is achingly even more so. This was the only game which mattered, they had them and literally gave it away. None of these quotes from the players or coaches matters at all. This game in many ways was the season. It was the worst Florida team in years and we were at home with the better team. The situation was gift wrapped for us. There is simply no excuse. They should not have to learn from such egregious mistakes after years under Stoops. It is embarrassing.

  6. AdamN
    2:33 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    UK wins a few games and how quickly a lot of “fans” forget the hole we were/are trying to climb out of. Win a few games and all of a sudden they act like we’re Alabama or something. Remember just a few years ago we were consistently dead last in the SEC. Now Stoops has us within just a game or two of 1st place in the East division. Bandwagon fans will say this is a down year for the SEC East, but in seasons past, even in a down year we were still the worst team in the SEC, and that was just a few seasons ago. I am a fan because this is my hometown team. I live within walking distance of the stadium. I was going to all the games when we won just 1 or 2 games a season. I am NOT a fan because of how many championships they win. Loyalty is dead nowadays. Stoops has us heading in the right direction, but we are not to the finish line yet. This is still KY football. Try not to forget where we came from.

    • classof68
      5:28 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      Adam – it’s the remembering where we came from that’s the problem. Get back to me when you’ve watched the CATs (your alma mater) lose every possible way for over 6 decades. How can UK spend so much money on facilities and not on a big name coach? Stoops is a paradox because he has no head coaching experience. The guy will go against the big names like Ohio State and Bama and not back down. Yet he’s a big scardy cat when the game starts. No gonads at all.

    • AdamN
      6:26 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      No big name coach wants to come here. If you had a choice of going to Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, etc… or take on a rebuilding effort in one of the toughest conferences in the country… which one would you choose? That’s why we don’t get a big name coach. If Stoops continues on the path he’s on, we may get a big name coach after him.

  7. cheekdaddy
    3:00 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    All this talk about hiring a new coach is ludicrous! Coach Stoops is here to stay. A change right now would be the worst decision in NCAA football history!

    • classof68
      3:09 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      If he doesn’t change his ways he will be gone in 3 years. I said the same thing about Joker, and he was gone 3 years after I said it on this website. We are not going to spend all that money to upgrade facilities, but not the results. If that happens, both Stoops and Barnhart will be gone.

    • AdamN
      3:29 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      First bowl game in 7 years is no results?! What are you talking about bro?

    • classof68
      4:54 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      Adam – give me a break. With all the bowls out there it’s hard not to get a bowl invite unless you are a very inferior program. You should raise your standards and expectations.

    • AdamN
      5:05 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      You sound like one of those fans I was referring to in my comment above.

  8. MadHatter
    3:33 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    This was the worst Florida team I can remember and we still lost. Idk if we’ll ever beat them. This really sucks..
    It just wasn’t meant to be, obviously. Two UNCOVERED receivers coming out of timeouts is proof of that. Idk guys, this ones gonna hurt for a longggg time.

  9. PickinPaul
    4:36 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    Apologies for mistakes are just that but the lesson is never learned without punishment. I’m guessing Coach Stoops truly is sorry for his coaching mistakes last night. However, his talk is cheap and no one is ever too old to learn lessons the hard way. Maybe I’ve missed it but I haven’t heard a word from the defensive coordinator, has anyone else? What were they doing in the booth last night? Partying?

    No, firing may not be the answer but I can tell you what is truly justified, necessary and fair. Suspensions of 2 games each (1 for each mammoth screw up) without pay for both Stoops and House certainly is in order. These guys make a lot of money to win ball games, not to look like the unprofessional, disorganized personnel they certainly were last night. They’re paid a boat load of money to set an example and they damn sure didn’t last night. A suspension and hit to their salary ought to embarrass them enough and make them think long and hard about whether they’re actually suited to be a head coach and coordinator. Further, if Mr. Barnhart doesn’t address this situation with a stern hand, there’s going to be some internal trouble. An example must made and it must be strongly demonstrated that this is unacceptable.

    • classof68
      5:02 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

      Dream on Paul. The stubborn red head is not going to get the red ass from good ole Mitch. Mitch don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It almost killed him to be forced to fire Joker. Now he’s so invested in Stoops he will probably ride him all the way to ruin. I look for him to give Stoopy another big ole raise for almost beating the Gators.

  10. DennyC
    6:21 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    6-6. . . Lower tier bowl. . . And this is progress UK Fans should be happy with in YEAR FIVE!?!?!?!?! Come’on Freddie !!! Smh. . .

  11. kyboys
    7:57 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    What happened to going for the “juggler” when you have them down? No response from OC after interception except wildcat. Would Erben Myer do that? Mike leach do that? The ole ball coach do that?

  12. Wmorber2153
    9:23 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    Weak play calling. What worries me are the top recruits watching this game. Eddie Gran called an amazing game until crunch time then took the ball away from johnson and played not to lose. A recipe for the disaster we all witnessed. We should have buried the gators in the second half. Im sick. Absolutely sick

  13. steve simpson
    10:10 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    Ok I use my real name I have nothing to hide. I believe in stoops and I believe in this team. I also just suffered through this gut wrenching loss. Ok now tell me how we aren’t better than we were before stoops Arrived? He works his ass off. He is learning on the job as a first time head coach and he has brought in the best talent we’ve had since I can remember. I love my CATS and I’ll be there when we do win THAT game.

  14. MadHatter
    10:46 pm September 24, 2017 Permalink

    You guys are completely nuts if you honestly believe Stoops should be fired.

  15. stoopstroops
    9:49 am September 25, 2017 Permalink

    I WILL be there this week for EMU and every other home game this year. I CAN NOT nor should I tell you how to be a “fan”. I CAN tell you that if you give up on this team at 3-1 with the best talent we have ever had, then you are just simply NOT a “fan” at all.