After today's game, I am beyond frustrated and disappointed. Those terms are complete understatements to how members of the Big Blue Nation feel following Kentucky's 38-24 loss to the Louisville Cardinals.
After opening up a 21-0 lead early in the game, Kentucky was outscored 38-3 the rest of the game. After Kyle Bolin was taken out and Lamar Jackson put in, Jackson ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns (a UofL school record) and threw for an additional 130 and one touchdown.
The offense sputtered, with Drew Barker missing passes, an inability to consistently run the ball following injuries to Stanley "Boom" Williams and Jojo Kemp, receivers dropping passes, and the offensive line unable to protect the quarterback.
The defense played well early, intercepting two passes from Bolin (one returned for a touchdown) but after Jackson entered the game, the defense imploded. They were unable to defend the UofL rushing attack with Jackson and gave up big plays. To the defense's credit, they weren't able to rest for very long due to offensive inefficiency.
Now, with a 5-7 finish and most likely another season without a bowl appearance, it is time for Kentucky to do some reflecting on this past season. A season that started with such promise after a 4-1 start (including two SEC wins) but fell apart in the second half of the season, going 1-6 with the lone win against Division I newcomer Charlotte.
Mark Stoops should not be fired yet. Some fans have called for that, but I believe that is misguided. I believe a new coach should be given 4-5 years to determine their merit. Next season, however, Stoops will be a bit on the hot seat and has to show improvement if he wants to feel secure about keeping his job. Another 5-7 season would have many calling for him to lose his job.
Shannon Dawson has to go. I really was not a fan of the Dawson hire when it was announced. I thought Kentucky needed someone who had some experience as a play-caller (Dana Holgorsen called plays at West Virginia, where Dawson was the offensive coordinator). Dawson has shown this year that he is new to play-calling and has made questionable calls at pivotal points in nearly every game, but he seems to avoid taking responsibility in several instances for his mistakes. Remember the classic, "Well you all would've liked it if it worked"? OF COURSE WE WOULD, BUT IT DIDN'T WORK. I'm not impressed by Shannon Dawson, and I think he should be let go.
DJ Eliot has to go too. I admit, I thought Eliot had a lot of promise, but following today's game, I think he has to be let go this offseason. He is a more likely cut than Dawson, in my opinion. There have been way too many defensive miscues this season and the defense has just looked out of sorts way too many times this season. Remember the "three players in the box" strategy against Dak Prescott? The same principle that I applied to Dawson applies to Eliot. He seems to avoid taking responsibility for messing up. Remember the trick play at the Vandy game? Eliot told the reporter that a coach in the booth had spotted the unaccounted for receiver, but nothing was done "because it's a lot of football stuff you wouldn't understand."
Mark Stoops was a solid defensive coordinator at Florida State. Part of me wonders if he might take the same path as another "defensive coordinator turned head coach" in the SEC. Derek Mason began calling defensive plays this year for Vanderbilt and they witnessed a huge jump in defensive efficiency. Is it possible Stoops could do the same? I do not know the answer to that, or if Stoops has even considered it, but something has to change.
Every position coach needs to be evaluated. Each coach needs to be evaluated and figure out who stays and who goes. Wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord has to be evaluated after a year where fans nearly expected a receiver to drop a pass instead of catch it. Same goes for offensive line coach John Schlarman. The offensive line was arguably the biggest Achilles' heel for Kentucky this season. Each coach should be evaluated and changes should be made.
I do not and will not claim to know the answers to who should be the coordinators or position coaches. All I know is that the Kentucky Wildcats are treading on dangerous ground. Fans are becoming frustrated, boosters are frustrated, players have to be frustrated, and what looked like promising recruiting classes have the potential to start falling part. What looked like such a promising year derailed quickly and severely.
Now, it is time for Kentucky to make some changes for the team, the fans, the alumni, recruits, and the program as a whole. Something has to change, and if it doesn't, it could spell bad times for the program.