Even the most pessimistic of 'Cat fans didn't see this one coming. It's not only the margin of defeat that is so shocking (58 points), but more so the manner in which Kentucky lost; blocked punts, blocked field goal attempts, and interceptions returned for touchdowns. Special teams coach Steve Ortmayer must have aged 10 years in a matter of three hours. Of course UK's nationally ranked defense contributed to the loss; cornerbacks beat for touchdowns, allowing 5.2 yards per rush (they didn't seal the edges), and mindless personal foul penalties.
Ortmayer had this to say about his unit's performance:
"It's poor preparation by us, a poor plan by me, and poor demand of the plan by me."
At least he took responsibility for the pitiful special teams play.
Don't get me started on the offense. Other than Randall Cobb and Moncell Allen, they all pretty much stunk; Hartline looked like a deer, not in the headlights, but a deer tied to the hood of a pickup truck. You get my point.
Rich Brooks chimed in with these words on the letdown:
"I didn't think I'd be up here after a game where we had things go as badly as this. Obviously, I did a poor job of preparing the team schematically and mentally in every phase." Brooks continued, "The mental breakdowns after having two punts blocked cascaded on us, and I didn't do a good job of getting it stopped or fixed."
I expected nothing less from Brooks.
When a team loses by 58 points, there just aren't too many positives to write about. And since I can only handle the above quick rehash of the 'The Swamp Romp,' let's take a look at the larger, more meaningful picture. I realize in times like these that can be a difficult proposition, but for the purposes of the next few minutes, let's try.
If a three hour football game can be described as a moment (as in a moment in time), then UK's loss to Florida is a moment defined by embarrassment, and ineptitude; a total breakdown of execution by the players and coaches. It's the snowball effect; one bad thing happens, followed by another and another. And before one can say "mulligan please", the game is over, and SportsCenter is running a crawl all day and night that screams, "Florida - 65 UK - 3" -- Just as a friendly reminder.
UK's football history is littered with such moments, so much so, that some years have included more embarrassing moments than good. Actually, that's been true for many years, especially over the last three decades.
But the moment is over, and it's time to move on. The question that remains to be answered is how will this moment be remembered in January? Will it be remembered as the low point in an abysmal season, or the turning point in a winning season?
Redefining the Moment
Not long ago, October 14, 2006 to be exact, Rich Brooks took a 3-3 UK squad to Death Valley and were unceremoniously spanked by LSU 49-0, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score. The loss dropped the 'Cats to 3-4 with games against Georgia and Tennessee remaining on the schedule. The prognosis for the rest of the season was bleak. But something happened on the way to another losing season, something changed in the week immediately after the 'Death Valley Disaster.'
That team, which finished 8-5, decided to recommit themselves to playing winning football. They knew they had too much talent to lose in such a disturbing manner; they knew they were better than how they performed against LSU. That team finished the season by winning five of their final six contests. They redefined the moment that was the LSU game. Instead of hiding from the embarrassment, they let the embarrassment feed them for the final six weeks. The LSU game became the turning point in their season, and has propelled UK to an overall record of 18-9 since that painful night.
This team is capable of doing the same thing, and the reason I feel that way is because they are better than what they showed Saturday. There is too much talent in that locker room for them to perform so poorly. More importantly, there is too much pride in that locker room for them to take the beating and meekly crawl home. I think the players are angry, angry with themselves. I think the coaches are angry, angry with themselves.
Anger in a football team can lead to what happened in 2006, and many of the current players were on the roster in '06 for the "Turnaround:" DeMoreo Ford, Dicky Lyons, Mike Hartline (he was a redshirt), Alfonso Smith, Maurice Grinter, Garry Williams, Myron Pryor, Corey Peters, Trevard Lindley, David Jones, Marcus McClinton, Braxton Kelley, the list goes on and on. They witnessed the change, they witnessed the re-dedication, they witnessed 5-1. But can they lead this team from the brink, back onto solid ground?
The first step in recognizing that one needs to change is accepting responsibility for the failure. If Jeremy Jarmon is any indication, then the players are pointing their fingers at the man in the mirror:
"We had a complete collapse offensively, defensively, and special teams-wise. All of this lies on us. The coaches are going to come in here and talk about, 'it's their fault,' but that's not the case. We knew what we had to do and just didn't do it. We went over a lot of special-teams stuff as far as blocking punts and field goals, and we came out here and made the same damn mistakes we made last week and the week before that."
Let it feed ya, Jeremy.
2 - 2
That's all UK needs to do to finish the regular season with seven wins. Beat two of these four: Georgia, Vandy, Tennessee, or Mississippi State. That's all it takes for this season to be considered a wild success ... record-wise at least. Most publications picked UK to finish 3-9 or 4-8. Very few had Kentucky winning more than five games.
So for all the anti-Brooks, anti-Joker jokers out there ... put a sock in it. Frankly, if Brooks and his staff haven't earned your respect and admiration at this point, then my advice is to do some research and see for yourselves how historically significant these times are for the UK football program.
For one, I appreciate what has happened with the Kentucky football program enough to endure the valleys, as long as I know I have a fighter's chance of reaching the mountaintop.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!