I can imagine the talking points now:
- It could have been worse.
- The refs won the game.
- The defense let the team down.
- Fire Rich Brooks!
All are correct in their own way, and yet all are equally wrong. The Wildcats played their best game against a top-25 team in what seems like ages (to me, at least) and yet came up 19 points short to Florida, 26-7.
The turning point? After punking the Gators with a 66-yard drive to take a 7-6 lead less than two minutes before halftime, the UK defense surrendered quicker than you can say "Maginot Line" and the subsequent Gators touchdown gave Florida a lead it would not relinquish.
Kentucky football history is full of so-called moral victories, near wins (but not wins) that proved only that Kentucky wasn't as bad as previously thought. So forgive this writer if he isn't ebuillient over losing again to Florida (the 20th straight defeat to the SEC "rival").
But there were promising signs, nonetheless. The UK defense never truly broke, despite surrendering 26 points. In past years, that Gators rush, with the UK offense floundering, might have thrown in the towel and allowed the Gators to make a loss into an embarassment. But it didn't. It played strong, keeping the game within at least reasonable distance.
The Kentucky offense was the culprit this time around, failing to move the ball into Florida territory in the second half. All credit goes to the Florida defense, which made the necessary adjustments to Joker Phillips' play-calling, while the UK offense could not do the same.
For his part, Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson was sensational in the early going, completing 13 straight passes at one point before the Florida clamp-down began. It was clear that the absence of Rafael Little, who missed the game due to injury, was problematic for Woodson, who eventuall succombed to the UF pass rush and penetration.
Woodson finished the game 26-for-37 for 210 yards with a touchdown with no interceptions. Woodson was unable to overcome six sacks.
Finally, the role of the referees in Saturday's UK loss was disappointing. I hate even knowing the refs are there, much less blaming them for any loss. But there were a few key plays in which either the home crowd or divine intervention interceded, and never for the Wildcats. While the questionable spike call to end the first half was pathetically handled but predictable, a more glaring call was a 3rd and 4 no-call offsides by the Gators at the Florida 45 yard line. Not only did the subsequent automatic first down not materialize, the refs managed to call a penalty against Kentucky, some sort of "sideline interference" call.
If you'll pardon the outburst, it was a horseshit call.
But the refs weren't the ones who gave Florida 78 yards in 1:20 to close the half, Mike Archer's defense did. And that proved decisive. Would Kentucky have been able to hold on or make a better showing had they gone into halftime leading? Impossible to know.
All we do know is that Kentucky is 2-2 (1-1 SEC), and has 2-2 Central Michigan coming to Commonwealth Stadium next week. The Cats didn't get blown out in Gainesville, and they didn't win either. Maybe if nothing else, UK fans can begin to deal with reality as it relates to the football program rather than hypotheticals and moral victories. That, in itself, would be a welcome change.