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Mississippi State at Kentucky -- The Aftermath

Well, the Cats really threw in a clunker there.  I was at the track, but both the UK and U of L games were on two of the many indoor screens I had to choose from, so I was able to bet the Breeders Cup and watch the game all while eating lots of really good food.  Not a bad gig.  After writing this, I'll be heading to a Sara Evans concert.

I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised at the outcome, but I am very surprised at the unacceptable effort the team put forward today.  Rich Brooks took the blame on the post-game show, but a coach can only do so much to get a team ready, and they have to do the rest.  Seems like many on the team forgot the second part of "the deal" -- teacher promises to teach, and student promises to learn.

With this game, Kentucky fans have been reminded of a couple of things we have been able to forget or ignore over the season up until today.  One is that the talent at virtually every school with the exception of Vanderbilt, top to bottom, is better than at Kentucky.  Brooks is working diligently to address this problem, but better recruiting really shows up in depth, and Mississippi State is deeper, especially defensively and on the lines.

Two, Kentucky was too dinged up and worn from back-to-back physical battles with LSU and Florida, and it showed today.  Derrick Locke was injured on a freak play (fortunately it looks minor), and Kentucky had to play the still recovering Alfonso Smith and true freshman Moncell Allen.  Not only that, but Keenan Burton, our go-to receiver, was injured and unable to play.  Although UK did have Ricky Lumpkin returning from injury, he clearly wasn't up to par.

The Bulldogs dominated our lines on both side of the ball almost completely.  This was partially due to the wear and tear of the season, but quite frankly, MSU just came ready to play and the Wildcats, for whatever reason, didn't.  Even André Woodson, our fearless leader, was throwing the ball apparently at random, missing wide-open receivers by surprising margins and throwing footballs into every imaginable coverage, leading to three interceptions.  Apparently, the rest of the team decided that watching Woodson chuck his Heisman chances directly into the dumpster was cause for a celebration of untimely fumbles and turnovers.

Even at South Carolina, we didn't see this Kentucky team play such completely hapless football.  That isn't to take anything away from Mississippi State -- they played their best football of the year.  They played classic, SEC ball-control offense, keeping our defense on the field for long stretches of the first half.  They were efficient on offense, turning the ball over only a single time on an excellent strip by a Kentucky player from behind.  MSU's defense was equally impressive, especially their secondary, which made big tackle after big tackle, and did an outstanding job of covering our receivers for most of the game.  The line consistently forced Woodson to move, and sacked him several times.

I really didn't believe this UK team would play such a poor game today, and I admit to being surprised.  But on reflection, you could see it building up -- injuries to key players piling up, players dinged up physically and emotionally from two extremely tough games, and an MSU team that came off a drubbing in Morgantown with little other than a bruised ego.  A little voice in the back of my mind kept whispering "This could be one we lose", but I refused to believe it.  But the cumulative effect of tough football, lack of depth, many injuries in critical positions and a determined MSU football team playing their best football of the season was simply too much to overcome.

So with this game, Kentucky returns to a mid-pack SEC team.  Our pipe-dreams of somehow landing in Atlanta are now dashed to bits, most likely along with our hopes of playing in a BCS bowl.  Of course, those were a bit pie-in-the-sky anyway, but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I was embracing them just a bit.

But I'm not ready to give up on the Cats, because they still have much to accomplish.  Win 2 out of the next 3, and the Cats exceed last year's regular season record in spite of the much tougher schedule.  Win one out of the next 3 and match it.  Run the table, and a BCS bowl becomes an outside possibility.

So I'm not giving up.  The team badly needs a break to heal and prepare, and now it's here.  I would have rather been 7-2 than 6-3, but MSU drubbed us like we smack-talked their mothers.  Losing two in a row sucks, but the Wildcats have earned their defeats the old-fashioned way -- by playing inferior football.  Let's hope two weeks is enough time to turn the ship back around.

Congratulations to the Bulldogs on a strong performance.  They are an improving team, and this has to really inspire their fans that Croom is moving them in the right direction.

For the Wildcats, the next two weeks motivation will be the bitter taste of two defeats in a row, at Commonwealth Stadium.  Ouch.