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Kentucky Football: Mission Impossible

Cats fans, my name is Morris Claiborne, and I am a very bad man. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Cats fans, my name is Morris Claiborne, and I am a very bad man. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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You'll watch.  Noon will roll around, you'll be wandering around your house, doing errands or out cutting the grass.  Maybe the kids have a soccer game that morning, maybe you'll be eating eggs and toast at the kitchen table after sleeping off a hangover.  However you come to the moment, you will eventually turn on tube between 12 and 12:30 and tune to the SEC Network.  You aren't going to be happy about it, in fact you'll be shaking your head as you find the channel.  But either out of blind devotion, sheer morbid curiosity or for reasons unknown, you will at least try to watch this game. 

You'll shake your head in bewildered ambivalence because for the first time in a few years, you will watch a game a Kentucky team has literally no chance to win.  Literally. No. Chance. None. Let's put this in perspective. The Cats are currently a 30 point underdog.  When Appalachian State beat Michigan in 2007, the spread was -25.  In the history of college football, bigger underdogs have won games, but only a handful.  Let's put it another way.  Right now if you walked into a Las Vegas casino, in order to win $100 on a money line (no point spread) bet for LSU, you'd have to invest $10,000. In fact, one online oddsmaker has pulled the game off the board entirely.        


Writing this is tough for me, because the very core of my Kentucky fandom is my hope and general belief that we can win the easier games consistently then have a puncher's chance at a couple of upsets every year.  I understand this team is never going to go 10-2.  The LSUs and Floridas of the world are always going to have better talent, always be favored, and will almost always have the chips fall their way.  I don't expect perfection or even a chance to play on New Year's Day every year.  What I do want is to have a competitive team, one that can show up week to week in the SEC and not be completely overmatched.  In the end, that was the greatest accomplishment of the Rich Brooks era.  Yes, we got blown out from time to time, especially by Florida.  But when we did, it always seemed like a surprise, like the exception that proved the rule.  Every once in a while we got reminded we were still Kentucky, but we didn't live with that feeling day after day.

Now, just four games into the season, we are back to that feeling. No one will argue that this is a bad football team.  It has a couple of elite athletes who do great things play in and play out.  It has a handful of outstanding athletes who do what they are supposed to do must of the time and make some good plays.  The coaches are coaching and the players are trying.  But overall, this team just doesn't appear to be a cohesive unit with a plan, purpose, will or resolve. The Cats appear lost, particularly on offense. We do all the things the define bad football teams, failing at the basics, turning the ball over, allowing huge plays. This doesn't mean we cannot or won't play better, but there is no sense in pretending it isn't true now.

As for this weekend?  The Cats can forget about passing.  CB Morris Claiborne may be one of the best players in college football, but the second best corner on his own team.  In four games CB Tyrann Mathieu has 30 tackles (3 for a loss) an interception, four pass breakups, two fumbles forced and two recovered.  The Cats can forget about running.  LSU has 34 tackles for loss this year, which would be impressive even if they hadn't already played three ranked teams.   You know how many different players were involved in those tackles?  21.  In four games. Needless to say, our offensive line's track record matches up pretty poorly with this particular skill set of LSU.

Kentucky can forget about playing for field position in a defensive battle.  That is probably the best possible game plan, but it isn't going to work.  LSU has forced 11 turnovers in four games and, again, three of those were against top flight competition.  In the same four games, it has only three turnovers itself.  (As you know by now, Kentucky has turned the ball over 10 times in that same stretch). In Claiborne, the Tigers have one of the best kick returners in the nation.  They have allowed -11 yards on five punt returns.  Not that LSU figures to be returning kickoffs or punting much. The bottom line, we can't stay in this game merely by playing solid defense and hoping for Ryan Tydlacka will keep flipping the field. Too many things will happen we cannot control, like being defended by 11 future NFL players who like to cause turnovers and kicking balls to All American returners.

In fact, if I had to bet on which unit would score more points, Kentucky's offense or the LSU special teams and defense, I honestly don't know what I'd do. That isn't meant as a slam. It is the honest truth. 

So, yeah.  We've hit dark days for Kentucky football.  We walk into a road environment for the first time of the season facing low morale and an unwinnable game. But you know what, I'll be watching. Intently. You should too. Saturday's game will be a good indication of who still wants to play and coach football this year, and who is ready to fold the tent.  The outcome of this game may not be pretty, but the good news is that the outcome itself will not dictate how Kentucky plays the rest of the season.  How our team reacts to the outcome, however, most certainly will.