Last night was a painful one for Big Blue Nation; it was a night where everyone showed up and everyone felt it was going to end in a special night, only to leave disheartened.
Commonwealth Stadium was charged up and sold out while fans had visions of turning Atlanta into Cat-lanta, the football version.
Those same charged up card carrying members of Big Blue Nation saw a winnable game and a 5th SEC win firmly in sight, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.
Mark Stoops took himself squarely off the hot seat after the last three weeks so the game was not labeled a must-win for him, but the game was clearly an opportunity to vault the program into a Rich Brooks-esque category.
All of those factors manifested themselves into a palpable moment where the fan base wanted a win so badly that anything else was going to be tough to swallow.
However, I will tell you what happened last night; Kentucky fell forward (NOT a moral victory) like a good running back.
In any season, you would love to win every single game, but in the likely event you lose a game what is the one thing you want to see happen?
You want your team to grow from the loss and be able to use it in a positive manner going forward.
Before you say anything, I get it... 'same old Kentucky', and 'you've seen this movie before'. We made some bonehead decisions; our receivers inexplicably dropped balls and even handed Georgia the ball on two occasions leading to a very 'Kentucky' loss. I get it.
You can say the loss was 'sooo Kentucky', and make a strong argument for it. However, make sure you give recognition for *not* losing the 'Kentucky' way the prior 3 weeks. We did not blow the Mississippi State game or the Vandy game. We won a game on the road while dominating it... all things that buck the trend.
In "Confessions of a Winning Poker Player," Jack King said, "Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career."
Unfortunately, I think Kentucky Football Fans (myself included) tend to perceive the good things that happen to our program as fleeting modicums of payback from the decades of the ball being pulled away from our inner Charlie Brown.
Yet, in the same chain of thinking, be able to eloquently describe the pain caused from a game 8 years ago that was squandered away with hardly a consideration to the moments that say otherwise.
The important thing to realize is that while Kentucky lost a game it could have and probably should have won... the bigger picture is one that shows the program has moved forward.
BEING ABLE TO BUILD ON ADVERSITY
Take a look at Kentucky's losses this season and you will see what I mean about falling forward.
- Southern Miss - implosion, nothing to build on, burn the tape
- Florida - Domination, nothing to learn other than doubting everyone and everything going forward
- Alabama - Alabama handled us the way they wanted. It could have been real ugly, Bama allowed it to be semi-ugly. We did learn that we had some physicality though
Last night's loss is one that could actually give value going forward and the players do not walk away feeling like they are back at square one. Georgia is a HIGHLY talented team and I would imagine the film session is going to be eye opening and useful, unlike the others.
Now, do not get me wrong here I am not waxing poetic about a 'moral victory', I do not believe in moral victories. You either win the game or you lose the game and ideally, you want to win them all. BUT... if you are going to lose, make it count and learn from it so it helps you next week.
Last night was not only a winnable game; it is a game where just a few easy plays made on our end means a win. Kentucky did take a loss from the jaws of victory in splendidly frustrating fashion. It is certainly understandable to be frustrated, ticked off, and mad... for a day or two anyway.
However, the team is going to watch film, breakdown mistakes, and go to work to beat a spiraling team in Knoxville. In some ways, the Vols are more beatable than Georgia is:
- No Nick Chubb or Sony Michel
- They are decimated with injuries
- Butch Jones is looking more like UT's version of BillyGillispie than they would like
- Noon kickoff is always good for a possible road upset
- Their QB Josh Dobbs is a lot like ours (good at the RPO, not so good at throwing accuracy), but their OC is trying to turn him into a pocket passer
Unfortunately, the Vols are not coming to Lexington to make it a significantly more winnable game, but they are susceptible.
In conclusion, things are never as good as you think or as bad as you think. The 'Cats are playing with essentially house money at this point for the final three games. Kentucky is going to finish at least 6-6 and go to a bowl. They are NOT going to Atlanta, and they are going to be significant underdogs against UT and UL.
There are really no constraints on the team for these three games, no reason to be tense or worrying about blowing a game to a team we should beat. I am excited to see what the next three games bring and where the 'Cats get to go for bowl season. In addition, if the 'Cats lose to UT and UL; it will be frustrating, but not a step back.
The program has already taken the step forward it needed to this year; anything above 6-6 (4-4) is the cherry on the sundae. So, let's get frustrated about losses like last night, but realize every day is brightening the program's future just a little bit more.