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Picking Up The Pieces

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 10:  Josh Clemons needs some room to get down like we know he can.
LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 10: Josh Clemons needs some room to get down like we know he can.

A moment comes for me about once every two years that brings joy to my heart.  I will be doing my real job, practicing law, taking the deposition of an adverse party.  A deposition is nothing but a sworn interview that gets recorded and often features lawyers yelling at one another over things only tangentally related to the questions being asked.  The key point is that the lawyers get to ask the questions.  Well, every so often I'll ask a question and someone will try to be smart and say, "What do you think?".  Without fail, I put down my pen, lower my voice, look at the person, shake my head and say, "Oh, Mr. ________, you don't want to know what I think."

Well, that is where I am with Kentucky Football at this point.  You don't want to know what I think so I am going to keep it to myself.  If I articulated all the thoughts that swirled around my head for the last few days, it would make for an entertaining column.  I would just have a hard time backing down from it later. 

Here is why I don't want to shoot my mouth off.  It is so important to me that the Cats rebound this year that I don't want to help let the negativity creep in. The fact is, and I truly believe this, the season is still more than salvagable. Whether it will be salvaged is another matter.

Even during the bowl streak, Kentucky almost always loses one game it was supposed to win .  The first Music City Bowl year, 2006, is likely the only exception.  In 2007 and 2009, Kentucky got to seven wins despite losing at home to Mississippi State.  In 2008, the Cats went into the Vandy game at 6-4 having narrowly lost to Georgia and laid an egg, losing 24-17.  Last year was the debacle against Ole Miss.  I don't recall what the line on that game was, but no one will convince me we had any business losing it.

So what makes this week's loss to Louisville different?  Only two things.  One, it happened near the beginning of the year, meaning that we have no more margin for error to make a bowl.  Second, because of the two games before it, Saturday didn't feel so much like a anomaly as it did proof that we are a bad football team.  As a fan, in order to stay engaged the rest of the season, we need to look at what could happen from here rather than just what we expect to happen based on the first three games.

A realistic goal for the Cats this season: get to the November 26th home date against Tennessee with five wins and a chance to end The Streak and get bowl eligible in one fell swoop.   If that is where we sit when I wake up that Saturday, the season will have held my interest to that point and I'll be satisfied.  Doing so will most likely require wins against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Jacksonville State, not exactly murderer's row.  If one of those is a slip up, UK could still have a puncher's chance against Mississippi State.

The goal is realistic.  Lost in all of the horror that was Saturday night was the fact that UK found a second receiver in E.J. Fields, and got contributions from the tight end position in the passing game. Moreover, UK's defense is still pretty good.  I predicted before the game that we could not give up more than 20 points and win.  This proved to be correct.  UK got beat over the top a few times but other than that played very well.  Without casting aspersions on anyone in particular, I will say that of all the summer defections, Kentucky may miss Jerrell Priester the most.  I think he could have contributed at corner and on special teams. 

Kentucky's kicking game hasbeen near perfect with the exception of one missed field goalthat bounced off an upright.  If we get into a close game with Vandy or Ole MIss, that could be the difference.     

Of course, all that's left is the $64,000 question.  Can the Cats'offense improve or is it going to continue to be, candidly, worse than I could have ever imagined?  A lot of things can change/improve.  The offensive line has to.  It has been abysmal (I may have used that adjective in every column this season) to date.  The play is hard to figure because we are working with most of the same guys who played last year.  The running back situation will improve when Raymond Sanders returns to the lineup in a couple of weeks.  I still believe that the Cats have a good stable of backs.  When a runner is stopped behind the line of scrimmage, it is hard not to point the finger at the line.  One key for the Cats will be to not lose anyone else in this three game stretch where we will surely be pounded repeatedly.  Again, that comes back to the offensive line. 

Newton played better on Saturday, but is still spraying the ball some and is still running for his life too often.  He needs to get better at extending plays while rolling out and his receivers need to do a better job of altering their routes to bail him out.  And his line, well, they need to block someone.  On Saturday, Newton seemed to respond well to the no huddle offense.  The reason for this seems obvious to me.  He is a bright kid who is also a good athlete.  Sometimes on the field, Newton seems to think too much rather than just letting his athletic instincts take over.  The no huddle takes some of that away, and makes the offense more a matter of pitch and catch, run to the open spot.  Time pressure does the same thing.  On the last drive of the first half, Newton didn't have time to think, he had to get us in the end zone.  He did.

Ultimately, the coaching staff is going to have to find a way to shake the offense out of its doldrums. Duringthe Curry era and the early Brooks year, our coaches stuck doggedly to doing things that weren't working, and we rewarded with boos and losses.  As much room as there is for improvement, I don't see it coming if we don't try to do something different. 

Finally, the Cats have a luxury in some ways, with three upcoming games that they have very little chance to win. Win one, and suddenly things are completely back on track.  Lose all three, and no one is likely to be more upset than they already are.  Its time to work on some things, and see what might work when the more reasonable portion of the schedule comes calling.  One thing is for sure, in the eyes of the Big Blue Nation, there is nowhere to go but up.