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Kentucky Football: Will the Cats ever win in November?

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Well, November was ugly. Losses to Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisville. While Missouri and Louisville were fairly close, Georgia and Tennessee were blowouts. The fact is November has been kind to Kentucky only on rare occasions. The game against Louisville is more historically typical: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The BBN was teased into believing this was a good football team after playing a bad (at the time) Florida fairly well in the overtime loss and also after playing a very competitive game against Mississippi State.

Short memories don't serve us well. We were indignant that the SEC sports media in the preseason said Kentucky's offensive line would be the worst in the SEC. Many scoffed at that. It seems to me that the SEC media knew what they were talking about.

It is easy to blame the coaching staff, yet it is the players who play on the field. If they don't execute, it is always blamed on coaching. Maybe they don't execute because they aren't talented enough. Maybe they don't execute because the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage may be bigger or may be stronger, or both.  The lack of talent and depth seem to always show up in the second half of the season, but especially in November.

Kentucky coaches have had the following career records and November records:

Paul "Bear" Bryant (1946-1953): Career 60-23-5 (71.0%), November 21-7-3 (67.7%)

Blanton Collier (1954-1961): Career 41-36-3 (53.1%), November 21-5-3 (75.0%)

Charlie Bradshaw (1962-1968): Career 25-41-4 (38.6%), November 10-14-1 (40.0%)

John Ray (1969-1972): Career 10-33-0 (23.3%), November 2-12-0 (14.3%)

Fran Curci (1973-1981): Career 47-51-2 (48.0%), November 20-13-0 (60.6%)

Jerry Claiborne (1982-1989): Career 41-46-3 (47.2%), November 10-18-0 (35.7%)

Bill Curry (1990-1996): Career 26-52-0 (33.3%), November 6-16-0 (27.3%)

Hal Mumme (1997-2000): Career 20-26-0 (43.5%), November 4-8-0 (33.3%)

Guy Morris (2001-2002): Career 9-14-0 (39.1%), November 3-5-0 (37.5%)

Rich Brooks (2003-2009): Career 39-47-0 (45.3%), November 10-16-0 (38.5%)

Joker Phillips (2010-2012): Career 13-24-0 (35.1%), November 5-5-0 (50.0%)

Mark Stoops (2013 - ): Career 7-17-0 (29.2%), November 1-8-0 (11.1%)

Bryant, Collier and Curci are the only coaches to win more than they lost in November and Bryant and Collier are the only coaches who had winning records during their tenure as Kentucky coaches.  Since 1881, Kentucky's over-all record stands at 587-599-44 through this season. That's a win percentage of 47.7%. Before Rich Brooks was hired, Kentucky's all time record was 567-558 (ties don't count). That's a 51.7% win percentage.  When Brooks retired, our all time record was 528-511 (50.8%).

Kentucky's all time win percentage dropped below 50% at the end of Joker Phillips' final season in 2012. When Kentucky lost to Georgia in the eighth game of the season, Kentucky's win percentage stood at 50.0% all time. Kentucky lost Missouri 33-10 the following week and then to Vanderbilt 40-0. They finished the season with a 34-3 win over Samford and a 37-17 season ending loss to Tennessee. The last three games were in November. When Phillips left our all time win percentage was 49.9%.

Mark Stoops has won one game in November in his first two seasons. It is more a testament to what he inherited than his coaching abilities, in my opinion. Most UK fans predicted anywhere from a 3-9 season to a 5-7 season. Some, the eternal optimists, went as far as predicting a 9-3 season. The one thing I didn't hear this year was the old excuse that the fans didn't cheer loud enough as an excuse for losing. I, personally, feel blessed about that.

Against Louisville the Cats defense  seemed more intense than at any time during the season and came close to pulling out a win. They fought the whole way, but they just couldn't stop Bolin, Louisville's third string quarterback. Kentucky's defense made some big plays, but gave up 472 yards.

Although only giving up 83 net yards on the ground, Kentucky gave up three rushing touchdowns, two by Ratliff and one by Dyer. Bolin threw for another three touchdowns and went 21-31-1 for 381 yards. What's typical is the fact that the defense allowed a third string quarterback look like an all-american. We've seen that before.

Question: would the outcome have changed if Marcus McWilson caught Bolin's pass for an interception on Louisville's next to last possession?

If I recall correctly, Louisville had the ball on their own 41 yard line and it was 2nd and three. Bolin threw the ball downfield. The pass was intended for Davante Parker who either slipped or was held up (not held) by a UK DB. Bolin was apparently throwing to a spot and Marcus McWilson was in the spot with no one around him. I guess he got too excited, took his eyes off the ball and it bounced off his hands. Louisville's drive ended with their final touchdown with 2:47 left on the clock. Here's the play by play from the UK website. This is historically typical in November. Kentucky seems to find a way to lose if they're not getting blown out. Close, but no cigar. I am willing to give the freshman a pass (pun intended) because our offense, particularly the quarterback play, gave us little chance of making up for one single mistake. Just for the record, McWilson had three interceptions this year which put him in 2nd place on the team for the season.

For Kentucky to be successful in the SEC, they are going to have to have a winning record in November, or at least break even. For Kentucky to get six wins, November doesn't really matter all that much, but November is the month when bowl committees are in the process of deciding who they want to invite. Most of the bowls connected to the SEC make their selection by contract with the conference. Conference rank therefore matters which makes November all the more important for Kentucky. Picking up one or two SEC wins in November could seal the deal for Kentucky's bowl opportunities.

So, this season is over. It's done. It was what it was. If you look at next year's schedule, our November games consist of away games at Georgia (11/07) and Vanderbilt (11/14). The Cats end the season with home games against Charlotte and Louisville. It should be noted that Tennessee comes to Lexington on October 31st.

Kentucky will have a new offensive coordinator next year and who that will be is anyone's guess. If the offensive scheme changes, it could be troublesome especially with the offensive line. Kentucky has recruited linemen who fit Neal Brown's scheme. I don't think the coaching change will affect the skill positions other than possibly quarterback where we have Patrick Towles, Reece Phillips and Maxwell  Smith returning. Drew Barker will be in the mix as his red shirt comes off. I expect the competition to be furious in the Spring.  At least, I hope so.

On the OL, Kentucky returns (OG) Zach West, (OG) Nick Haynes, (C) Jon Toth, (C) Zach Meyers, (G) Ramsey Meyers, (G) Cole Mosier, (T) Jordan Swindle, and (T) Kyle Meadows. Red shirts who will compete for positions are (OG) David Baumer, (OG) Ian Gibson, (C) Dylan Greenburg, Jervontius Stallings*, Jarrett LaRubbio*, Nick Richardson*,  and Josh Krok*. The * indicates freshmen red shirts who are listed on the roster as offensive linemen.  Positions will be determined in the Spring. So far, Kentucky has commitments from the following offensive linemen: Logan Stenberg (Madison, AL), Levon Livingston (Washington, DC), Mason Wolfe (Henderson, KY), Larry Wells (Kenton, OH), and George Asafo-Adjei (West Chester, OH). Some of the names you've not heard of are walk-ons and transfers. Most likely, one or two of the incoming freshmen might see action next year, but most will red shirt in the on-going attempt of building depth for the future.

Regardless of who plays on the line next year, they don't necessarily have to get bigger, but they absolutely must get stronger after being pushed around by the SEC defensive lines we faced this year.

The same could be said for our defensive line. Far too often opposing running backs got into the secondary and we lost our best DL to graduation (Douglas) and we lost our best at DE (Dupree and Smith). The DL also needs to get stronger, but not necessarily bigger. For example, Matt Elam still needs to shed a few pounds  and turn it into muscle.

On the DL, Kentucky returns (DE) Farrington Huguenin, (DT) Melvin Lewis, (DT) Matt Elam, (DT) Cory Johnson, (DT) Regie Meant, (DE/LB) Jason Hatcher, and (DE/LB) Jabari Johnson. Red shirts come off of (DE) Denzil Ware, (DT) Adrian Middleton, (DT) Jacob Hyde, (DT) Zane Williams, and (DE) Tymere Dubose. We also, hopefully, will get red shirt freshman (DE) Lloyd Tubman if his legal problems are resolved favorably.  Incoming freshmen are (DE) Jason Strowbridge (Deerfield Beach, FL) and (DE/DT) Kengera  Daniel (Raleigh, NC). Daniel seems to be ready to play without redshirting. Since kentucky's 2015 recruiting class isn't full yet, I expect to pick up a couple of more defensive tackles.

I've not included tight ends on the offense or linebackers in my analysis, and I could go into our secondary. I haven't done so because I believe games are won or lost in the trenches. If we can't protect our quarterbacks or open holes for our running backs we're in trouble like this year. And, if we can't get a pass rush or hold up the opposing runners long enough for our linebackers to make a play, we're in trouble like this year.

Next year, I will define success as getting six wins and a bowl game. I'm not going to surmise where those wins come from, but three should come against Louisiana-Lafayette (September), EKU (October), and Charlotte (November). What I would love to see would be two victories each month. Can we beat Florida or Missouri at home, or South Carolina on the road in September? Can we beat Auburn or Tennessee at home or Mississippi State on the road in October? Can we beat Georgia or Vanderbilt on the road, or beat Louisville at home in November?

I have three final questions for you.

1, Can Kentucky win on the road next year?

2. Can Kentucky pick up a win in November?

3. Do you think that Big Blue Madness affects our football team in any way?