Anyone get the feeling they've seen this one before?
In what seemed to this observer a carbon copy of most of the Kentucky losses to good teams over the last, oh I dunno, 10 years, the Wildcats were roundly whipped on defense, managed a few nice offensive strikes and came away embarassed in a 59-28 defeat to archrival Louisville.
What Rich Brooks at halftime termed a poor first 20 minutes, the Cats' "defense" surrendered 31 points, put the offense in a deep hole and pretty much ended the game.
It was only through the outstanding individual play of wideout Keenan Burton, and an impressive rebound effort by Andre' Woodson, that Kentucky was able to make the score into something forgettable rather than mortifying (As in, "Well, at least they scored 4 touchdowns.")
In my pregame thread yesterday, I asked five questions. Let's take a look at how these keys to the game played out, shall we?
(1.) How will the UK defense fair against the Cardinals' vaunted offensive machine?
Hmmm. Well, I don't really speak Spanish or German, so I'll just say it in English. NOT VERY WELL! Looking thoroughly intimidated in a hostile environment, and continuing a trend that seems to have plagued the UK defense since the days of 8-track tape decks, the linebacking corps and secondary repeatedly tried to arm-tackle Heisman hopeful Michael Bush (3 TDs, 128 yards, 1 broken leg). Only a horrific broken leg kept him from leaping to the forefront of the Heisman race with a 5 or 6 touchdown evening.
I can't even remember a year when the Wildcats had a strong secondary. Maybe there is one, but for as long as I have followed the Cats, the defensive backfield has been sievelike.
One plus was that freshman stud Micah Johnson did get some PT and had 7 tackles (6 solo).
(2.) Which (if any) offensive skill player will shine for the Cats?
Turns out, the hype about Keenan Burton -- who was never offered a scholarship to Louisville -- was warranted. He broke a screen pass into a touchdown, caught a big pass on a broken play to help get another TD right before halftime and then one-upped himself with a spectacular kickoff return for a score.
After some early jitters in which he looked overwhelmed, Woodson settled in and did an admirable job with the long ball. He finished only 9-for-24 for the night and didn't complete a pass until after 20 minutes had passed in the game and the score was 31-0.
Much-hyped running back Rafael Little couldn't get going, amassing only 21 yards.
(3.) Will Rich Brooks be able to rally his troops and give them the chip-on-shoulder attitude they'll need all season?
The rest of the season will certainly tell, but his guys looked scared, skittish and outmanned in the opening quarter of this one. Having some guts helped ease the pain -- Dickie Lyons was impressive in spurts -- but this one was over after a quarter.
(4.) How will Brian Brohm return to game action after last season's knee injury?
Brohm looked solid all night, and never shied from contact. His 254 yards doesn't wow anyone, but he did lead the Cardinals to almost 60 points (!!) against a supposed Division I team.
(5.) Will the Wildcats be intimidated?
I think this question was best answered by the 31 points posted by Louisville -- a BCS-caliber team -- in the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats offensive line was so weak in the opening quarter, it's hard to fault Woodson, Little and backup/slasher Curtis Pulley too much since each was being rushed, hit or pressured five yards into the backfield on nearly every play.
Frankly, I think what upsets most Kentucky fans most is that this loss looks so similar to so many others in the Brooks era and beyond -- completely outclassed.
I'm not going to throw in the towel yet. Hell, there's four or five winnable games on the schedule (Thanks, Mitch!). But one thing has plagued Brooks' teams from the onset three-plus years ago: they look scared.
Brooks had this to say about the intimidation factor:
Isn't overcoming that his job?
Given the weak protection offered by the front line, and knowing that the only chance they have -- again -- to win is to score in bunches and get the ball to Burton, perhaps the Cats should resort to a spread offense, especially against quality teams.
This loss was ugly, and on national television. It showed very little progress from last year, and if the Cats want to make strides, quite simply, they need to play way over their heads.
All in all, a dispiriting start to the 2006 season, and one which better motivate Brooks and his staff, or they will be seeking new employment next offseason.