“Negativity is cannibalistic. The more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it grows.”
After Saturday, BBN is fuming, toxic, and looking for answers from a coach who more often than not didn’t appear to have any after a devastating 45-7 defeat. Too many times Kentucky’s head coach has uttered “we’ve got to do a better job at ____” or “we need to go back to work” without yielding any palpable ounce of improvement. Things have gotten rather negative in a matter of 15 days since the 2016 season kicked off.
Sure, things were deplorable when Stoops arrived in Lexington. But having been one of the few hundred BBNers to be at Stoops introductory press conference, I distinctly remember him saying, “We have everything we need to be successful here.” He and Mitch Barnhart even insinuated the program might be playing for SEC Championships down the line.
The program immediately got a shot in the arm when Stoops got the job. Heavily sought after recruits started to commit, funding was approved to upgrade CWS and football facility, and UK seemed to have a staff that yearned to make a name for itself. Hope and optimism could easily be felt around the commonwealth.
However, after three years, two games, twelve wins and 25 losses, the situation has soured and all hope that Kentucky fans had has disintegrated. Even the eternal optimists are starting to turn. Many are now contemplating giving Stoops $12M to not coach the Cats anymore, but let’s not go there.
Getting riled up or playing the blame game will not produce any satisfactory results. Trust me. Negativity can only feed on negativity. Let’s stay positive!
UK wasted a opportunity against Southern Mississippi. This we know. But, the Cats were fully expected to suffer a loss in Gainesville. So, the Cats are only one game behind schedule in terms of capturing six victories from it’s “winnable” opponents. With New Mexico State and South Carolina visiting CWS the next two weekends, UK can enter October at .500. UK is currently a 19-point favorite for Saturday against the Aggies and should take care of business. The Cats have beaten “better” South Carolina teams the past two seasons. Playing at home should facilitate the situation.
Though the trip to Tuscaloosa will most likely end in embarrassment, the Cats will follow that with its easiest stretch of the season. First, Vandy comes to town in what most likely will be a rockfight. Though improved, Vandy will try to limit big plays and keep the score low, but UK has the superior athletes and speed to can bust one open against the ‘Dores. Mississippi St, who already lost a shocker to Southern Alabama at home, will be next before the Cats travel to Columbia, MO to play the Tigers who are led by rookie head coach Barry Odom. This will be Kentucky’s most important stretch and they must be advantageous. If they can go 3-0 after playing ‘Bama, they will only need to beat a FCS team to go bowling.
But if the Cats go 2-2 in October, they will need to beat two of the following Georgia, Tennessee, Austin Peay and Louisville. Austin Peay is the easiest game remaining on the schedule. The other three opponents will be massive challenges as all three are ranked at the moment. Due to Josh Dobbs and Lamar Jackson being mobile QBs, Georgia might be UK’s best chance to win, but that isn’t saying much. Those three games to end October will make or break UK’s season.
Boom Williams still is one of the most electric runners in the SEC. Despite hints at a run-heavy approach this offseason, UK has yet to top the 100 yard mark, but don’t blame Williams. Though the junior running back only has 25 attempts, he averages 6.4 yards/rush good for third in the conference among runners with at least 20 carries (He is first among those with a min. of 25).
UK is tied second-worst in the country with Ole Miss for time of possession totals. One way to improve that atrocity is to run the ball in greater volume. I fully expect UK to ground it out more, especially against a weaker, smaller opponent on Saturday. Though there is a cap to the number of touches Boom will get due to durability and injury concerns, giving him 12 or 13 carries a game is not enough.
Jordan Jones has been a pleasant surprise at linebacker. The sophomore currently leads the SEC in tackles. He reminds me so much of Wesley Woodyard. He’s a little undersized, but has grit and instincts that allow him to track carriers sideline to sideline. Jones’ biggest impact, however, might occur off the field. Jones was noticeably upset as a good number of his teammates “quit” once things started going south against Florida and wasn’t afraid to let media members know it in the locker room. Having a fiery leader will be essential moving forward. Now is the time to hold teammates accountable and curb the bad habits before things truly get irreversible. Despite not having the best game, he never slowed down. UK needs more of that from its defense.
Despite being near the bottom of the country in a good number of key metrics, UK has been doing some things well as a team thus far. Though the sample size is small, UK is in the top30 in four areas that will be essential if it wants to fight its way to six wins. First, UK is tied for 10th in the NCAA in fewest penalties per contest averaging four.
Clean teams tend to win more games, especially close ones, compared to undisciplined squads. It is that simple. The more penalties, the lower the margin for error is. Furthermore, the Cats are 25th in kickoff coverage and 30th in punt coverage. Winning the hidden yardage battle with special teams and penalties will be crucial for this team. As cliche as it is, football is indeed a game of inches. Limiting big returns by opposing special teams could allow the Cats to keep close and maybe steal a game or two.
Though UK’s aerial assault declared “Mayday” this past week, UK is still one of the most potent offenses when a pass is completed. Again, it is a small sample size, but UK is 6th in yards/completion. The Cats have plenty of playmakers who can take it the distance anytime they touch the ball. Despite the lukewarm results on the scoreboard, this fact cannot be forgotten especially against foes like South Carolina, Vandy, and Missouri.
Stoops has done a good job at bringing talent to Lexington, but UK is still a young team. Over 15 underclassmen have started or seen significant playing time the first two weeks. Mistakes have been made, but this is expected from inexperienced players. Though Stoops might not be around long enough to see them graduate, they should give whoever follows Stoops an excellent starting roster. At the very least, we can look forward to them growing into contributors as they grow and learn.
In 2006, it took a 49-0 clubbing to spark the program’s most recent run of success under Rich Brooks. After that fateful day in Death Valley, Brooks’s record was 27-18 and he coached UK to four straight bowl births. Maybe the Florida loss can light a fire instead of being a wet blanket.