I don’t want this post to get confused. This is not a Declaration that the phrase is dead, because I don’t want any bad mojo to come our way next week. I repeat, this is NOT a declaration; this is merely a question: Is “that’s so Kentucky Football finally” dead?
Since 1951, Kentucky football fans, some of the most passionate fans in the country, have experienced more heartbreak than any other program in the country. Year after year, of heartbreaking last-second losses. The bluegrass miracle. Falling in four overtimes to Tennesee in 2007 with that image of Andre Woodson lying on his back in the end zone that still haunts me. 31-long years of losses, some coming down to the last drive, to Florida.
Big losses in front of a sold-out Commonwealth Stadium like Auburn on a Thursday, or that time Cam Newton drove the eventual National Champions into field goal range, only to seal our fate as time expired in 2010. Having a chance to take down the number one team in the country, just to have Mississippi State return an onside kick for a touchdown.
Years of miserable seasons, where the only people in the stands were long-suffering, never missed a game, season ticket holders and youth football teams who decided to take a field trip to a game. The 2012 Vanderbilt game, Tennesee and Missouri in 2013. And as the furthest team up north in the SEC, sitting in all those ghost town games freezing our asses off.
Years of countless debacles. Not giving the ball to Randall Cobb against Tennesee. Running a draw with no timeouts on 2nd down at midfield against Auburn in 2015. Blowing a 21-point lead to Louisville on Senior Day. Starting a season 5-1, just to lose six straight and miss a bowl game. Dorian Baker dropping the ball against Florida in 2015, to leaving the receiver open twice in 2017, and losing week one to Southern Mississippi.
You get the point. “That’s so Kentucky football” has lived up to its name. Sure, the Cats have had some bright spots over the years such as beating LSU and Louisville in ’07, beating Georgia in ’06, Tim Couch to Craig Yeast, but the bad has outweighed the good.
This season, especially after last night, has me asking myself; is it time to retire the daunting phrase?
In the last two seasons, Kentucky has flat out dominated teams and has won in some of the most improbable fashions through immense adversity. These are the games that have given Kentucky football a new meaning.
Kentucky beats Eastern Michigan 24-20
When you change the culture, you gotta start somewhere right? While most people see an SEC team struggle against Eastern Michigan and scoff, this game was when I began to notice old Kentucky football start to wear off. I grant you, Kentucky should have beaten Eastern Michigan by more than four, but the Eagles had an elite quarterback playing for them on this day in Brogan Roback.
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but Kentucky got it done when the defense had to step up on the final possession to seal the deal against Eastern Michigan. This game came down to a hail mary that we’ve seen other teams succeed on in the past, but this time new Kentucky football won a gritty contest at the wire against a pretty talented college quarterback.
Kentucky beats Missouri 40-34
For me, last year’s matchup against the Tigers was never in question. But, Kentucky was tied 34-34 with Missouri deep in the fourth quarter and relied on Austin McGinnis’s leg twice to give Kentucky a 40-34 lead, but the Cats had to give the ball back to Drew Lock for another drive where the defense would have to stop a great quarterback.
Missouri got the ball deep into to UK’s territory at the 28-yard line for their final play with three seconds. Old Kentucky football lets them score or misses a field goal to make it to where Missouri would only need three points to tie. But, new Kentucky football prevailed once again as Lock’s pass would fall incomplete as time expired.
Kentucky beats Tennesee 29-26
Kentucky was leaps and bounds a better team than Tennesee was last year. When the 3-4 Vols marched into Lexington last year, Kentucky was coming off their worst loss of the season in a 45-7 beatdown in Starkville. Trying to become bowl eligible and win a bounce-back game this is where old Kentucky football loses a game they’re supposed to win. But, new Kentucky football found a way to win the end.
With four turnovers and an injured quarterback, there’s no way Kentucky football could beat Tennessee right? But, new Kentucky football prevailed through the heart and heroics of Stephen Johnson and pulled it out at the very end. Not to mention, Tennesee caught a hail mary on the four-yard line. If it was old Kentucky football, Tennesee gets that ball four yards further to crush our souls at the end.
Kentucky beats Florida 27-16
In 2018, Kentucky has moved forward from fending off teams that they should defeat, to beating teams in improbable fashion.
We all know how this game went. Kentucky hadn’t beat the Gators in 31 years, and the Cats had a 12% chance to beat the Gators before the game, according to ESPN. But, new Kentucky football thoroughly dominated the Gators in every facet of the game.
Still, the game came down to the wire. A dropped Mike Edwards interception, and the Gators were getting the ball back only down five made every fan nervous. “Here we go again”, we thought. We could just see the Gators walking out of the Swamp with another narrow victory over the Cats. But, it happened. Josh Allen strip sacks Felipe Franks, and Kentucky was finally victorious.
If it was old Kentucky football, that fumble is overturned, and Florida takes it down the field for a win, or in the confusion one of the Gators picks it up for a house call. But, once again, new Kentucky football prevailed, and it felt like the curse was the weakest we have ever seen it.
Kentucky beats Missouri 15-14
The most improbable victory on the list is the most recent one. The one that made me believe that the culture has indeed changed in Lexington. I knew the culture changed a few years ago, but I was always on edge waiting for something to go wrong. I kept pinching myself that Kentucky is a legit team in 2018, but after last night, all doubt has left my mind.
Kentucky football “Kentucky footballed” another team. Missouri dominated that game yesterday, even carrying a two-possession lead with 5:13 left in the game. After the missed fourth down conversion near the goal line with seven minutes left, ESPN’s win probability had Missouri sitting at 96.5%. But, Kentucky’s defense stood tall and made the big plays when they needed to be made, especially on that final 87-yard drive when Kentucky walked off the field with a win.
So many times Kentucky football fans have seen their beloved Wildcats out-play a team, just to have it snatched away from us with zero’s on the clock, and to have a game where Kentucky played their worst game of the season, on the road, as seven-point underdogs, down two possession with under six minutes to go is unfathomable. Old Kentucky football doesn’t even stay close in that game, but the script has flipped.
These five games are prime examples that show that when it comes down to the wire, Kentucky has found a way to win these football games. Something Kentucky football fans aren’t used to.
As I stated earlier, I’m not declaring that the phrase is dead. We may experience a heartbreak next week, who knows, and even then I’m not sold the phrase that’s so Kentucky football would still mean the same just because Georgia is so good. But, the display of resiliency under Mark Stoops has me questioning, does “That’s so Kentucky football” finally have a new meaning?