The University of Kentucky football team lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks 24-7 in front of a raucous crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina on Saturday night. The loss dropped the Wildcats to 2-3 on the season (the first such record since 2016) and 0-3 in the SEC. For the second straight week, head coach took his Wildcats on the road in the SEC and for the second straight week, the Wildcats looked woefully outmatched. Against South Carolina, Kentucky finished with 212 total yards (gave up 387), gaining 97 yards passing on 13-34 attempts. The third down conversion woes plagued the Cats again as they finished 2-15 on third down conversions. The defense played stout, the game was still in doubt when South Carolina led 10-0 at the half, but the offensive ineptitude kept the unit on the field for too long (Gamecocks won the time of possession battle 33:50-26:10).
The question for Stoops and his staff: Where do we go from here?
The Big Blue Nation had to expect that there would be a drop off after last year’s magical season. Saying goodbye to Benny Snell, Jr. and Josh Allen (and the rest of the former defensive Cats now playing in the NFL) was going to leave some big shoes to fill for the 2019 Wildcats to fill. Recruiting has steadily improved since Stoops’ arrival in Lexington. Many people, myself included, thought that while the team would certainly not reach the 10-win plateau again, the team could realistically win 7-8 games. I thought that was reasonable as Kentucky has never followed up a 10-win season with a winning record, so that would be progress. With the Cats now on a 3 game losing streak, those additional 4 wins to become bowl eligible appear to be much harder to find on the remaining schedule.
Taking a deep breath and reflecting, it’s clear that losing quarterback Terry Wilson was a bigger blow to the offense than a lot of the BBN initially thought. Wilson was injured and hurting through most of 2018 and still had things to work on in 2019, but being 12-3 as a starter showed that he was bringing something to the table for Kentucky. And with Snell, the school’s alltime leading rusher, departed, it was clear that Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran were going to put more on his plate. And then Wilson got hurt, lost for the season. And for the second time in a few seasons, the coaching staff has had to scramble with their plan B quarterback. As good as Sawyer Smith looked for the first three quarters against Florida, he’s looked equally as bad since (11-32 for 90 yards and 1 INT vs SC). Although it’s abundantly clear that he’s nowhere close to healthy, if Kentucky doesn’t get better production from the quarterback position, the offense is going to continue to sputter.
As the football team heads into the bye week, banged up and searching for some answers, it’s time to remind the BBN that a lot of things can be true at once. Sports, like life, are rarely black and white. Firstly, the play calling has got to change. I’m no Xs and Os guy, but as Corey Price (on Twitter @coreyp08 ) points out, since 2000 when Kentucky has 40 or more passing attempts in a game, the Cats are 8-41 (.163 winning percentage). When the Cats have 40 or more rushing attempts, the Cats are 48-21 (.696 winning percentage). Snell or not, Gran and Stoops have got to get back to running the ball. Having Sawyer Smith throwing nearly 80 times in two weeks is coaching malpractice. Secondly, the players lost off last year’s team probably have left bigger roster holes than anyone readily admitted to. We know about all-everything Allen. But losing Mike Edwards and Lonnie Johnson and the entire starting defensive backfield hasn’t helped. And with a defensive secondary that is talented, yet inexperienced, has forced the defense into some tough situations and the last three opponents have exploited those situations.
Since 2000, Kentucky has had at least 40 passing attempts in a game 49 times. Their record in those 49 games: 8-41 (.163). Since 2000, Kentucky has had at least 40 rushing attempts in a game 69 (nice) times. Their record in those 69 (nice) games: 48-21 (.696).
— Corey Price (@coreyp08) September 23, 2019
Mark Stoops and his staff has seven more games this season to prove to the BBN, college football pundits and, most importantly, to the players and recruits that 2018 wasn’t a fluke of a season. His resume, to this point, has been remarkable as he’s improved or maintain his win total every year in Lexington, culminating with last year’s Citrus Bowl victory. I feel that Stoops has been coaching for his job every game for the last five seasons as it seems that every week is a must win for him to prove his worth as a coach. I’m not on that bandwagon at all. However, even the realists among us can admit that 10-win seasons aren’t going to come around that often, but I thought (hoped) that Kentucky was beyond the stage of being embarrassed by mediocre SEC teams. South Carolina isn’t good. Mississippi State got drilled by Auburn on Saturday. Kentucky isn’t getting embarrassed by the Bamas or the Georgias, but by lower level SEC teams.
There’s a lot of soul searching that Stoops and his staff and the team need to do during the bye week. Getting Sawyer Smith healthy has to be a priority. So is finding an identity for this team, on both sides of the ball. The season isn’t lost, but if they don’t choose the right path at the Crossroads, the season could be lost.