Saturday didn’t get off to a great start for me. I watched the Sun rise over the quiet, barren run-ways of the Louisville International Airport. I wasn’t departing or landing in an airplane, I was loading one (with care and love), full of UPS packages filled with anything and everything you could think of with the intent they reach their rightful owner in Buffalo, New York. You see, the wing I work on at UPS picked up a late flight right at the end of the shift, and when that happens no one can leave until the plane gets loaded and departs. By the time I clocked out Saturday morning it was 7:45 a.m. which is abnormally late for a Friday night shift. Typically, following a night as bad this one I would’ve left work in a sour mood, tired, cursing American consumers for their necessity of “Next-Day” delivery. But this day was different. I left work rather giddy, totally un-phased by the misfortunes my work day had presented me. Nothing could get me down because I knew later that day, the Cats were playing. And I was going.
I had plans of meeting up with a buddy of mine in Louisville around noon and from there carpooling to Lexington to tailgate. This never happened. I slept through my alarm and the two hour nap I planned to take became a three hour nap. I woke up to ten missed calls and several messages from my buddy asking where I was. Needless to say, he left me behind and I don’t blame him. What had already started as a bad Saturday had now gotten worse. Still, I wouldn’t let it affect my mood, not with a day of tailgating and a Cat’s victory ahead of me.
From there, things started looking up. I arrived in Lexington to the buzz of a cloudless game day atmosphere with Wildcat Friends visible in all directions. UK flags flying high, classic rock echoing from nearby tailgate spots, frat bros tossing the pigskin with poor throwing fundamentals. It was perfect. I had all but forgotten about my dreadful morning. To add to what was shaping up to be a near flawless day, the Cat’s started out the first half looking like world beaters. It seemed as if Mark Stoops and UK football had finally turned the corner. Then, well…UK football happened.
Kentucky, like me at work many hours prior, had their Saturday plans interrupted. They had intentions of clocking out and starting their season 1-0, instead they received their own form of a UPS late outbound flight or, in this case, the second half.
By now, everyone knows how the rest of the game played out. It was one of the most demoralizing losses I have ever witnessed as a UK fan and the worst half of football I’ve ever seen. Kentucky ran 14 plays in the second half, not quarter, but half. I’m not sure we could do that again if we were trying. After a pretty spectacular first half, it was as if someone flicked a light switch and left the Cats to play the rest of the game in the dark. Not even like a dimly lit alley kind of dark, more like deep reaches of the sea, dark, where eyeless shrimp attract their prey using bio-luminescence. It was ugly and left many fans, including myself, extremely frustrated and rightfully so.
I was crushed and deflated. This game was something for me to look forward to on a day that got off to a disappointing start and seeing us squander it away in the fashion we did was disheartening.
Teams give up big leads and lose games all the time, it happens, but UK fans have now seen this happen multiple times in almost identical fashion. I love Mark Stoops and have rooted for him to succeed since his first press conference the day he was hired. He has brought enthusiasm to UK football that has never been seen before by bringing in elite talent and spearheading efforts to upgrade the program’s facilities. However, at some point he has to do what he was ultimately hired for. Win and go to a bowl. Now in his fourth year it seems as though the mistakes from prior years are still being made. This, in my opinion, is what’s at the root of fan’s frustrations and as likable as Stoops may be, he must now start being held accountable.
I won’t criticize Stoops’ when it comes to the X’s and O’s aspect of the game, because I have an underdeveloped football brain. However, any common fan can watch the team play and notice a lack of discipline especially when in the face of adversity. There seems to be a disconnect between the players’ idea of themselves and reality. On Saturday we had guys pounding their chest after tackling Southern Miss 8-yards down the field. I’m all for celebrations, but celebrating after getting beat on a defensive assignment is not a good look. Stoops’ has brought in talent the program has never seen before but getting commitments is just half the battle, I’m afraid. Bringing in such talented players to a program like Kentucky can and has lead to accountability issues and I think it is evident with the program now. You see it in the body language of the players when facing tough in-game situations. They give off a, “I’m too good to have to be dealing with this crap right now,” kind of vibe. The fact is, if they were at another program and demonstrated that kind of discipline, or lack thereof, they would be benched. Unfortunately, Kentucky football doesn’t have that kind of luxury at the moment to do so.
All of this, ultimately, has led to an individualistic nature surrounding the program. It has gotten relatively cliche to say the program lacks an identity but it is 100% true. They simply don’t consistently play as a cohesive unit and won’t succeed until the players accept the responsibilities they have as teammates.
Stoops is certainly in a hard position to be in, yes, but he is the head coach and must be held accountable for the actions and mentality of his football team. Stoops clearly has been very unsuccessful in his efforts in managing this problem as his teams have all struggled when dealing with adversity. Whether it be squandering away big leads in games, or not being able to close out that sixth win to get to a bowl. It’s his job to solve this riddle and if he can’t, then someone else needs to be given a shot.
Saturday sucked, for me personally and UK football fans across the state. The best we can hope is for Mark Stoops and his team to dig deep and take care of business. I’d really rather not relive Saturday because that was no fun. I hate losing…and airplanes.