Now that it’s been a couple of days since the Georgia Bulldogs beat the Kentucky Wildcats like a rented mule, I want to add a few more remarks to my previously harsh assessment of the Wildcats effort. I still think Kentucky was awful in that game, but in the heat of the moment, I think my remarks lacked a little context that probably should be considered.
This was one of Georgia’s better games of the season, and they were hitting on all cylinders offensively. It’s hard to beat a team when they are playing like that, and I guess I had hoped Kentucky’s history of competitiveness with Georgia in Commonwealth Stadium would continue. Of course, that’s a fairly silly notion, if you think about it. Neither the Georgia nor Kentucky keep their players for more than four years, and "history" doesn’t really mean anything at all in the context of playing teams close. As Mark Stoops pointed out in his pre-Tennessee remarks, Georgia was a really bad matchup for Kentucky. Their offense was strong where UK’s defense was weak, and they simply have better players at most positions than Kentucky’s defenders. In other words, it was a mismatch.
Add to that the fact that Georgia seemed to be executing very sharply and made almost no mistakes, and you have a recipe for a blowout. What disgusted me was the fact that Georgia scored a touchdown on nearly every possession. You cannot be competitive with a team that does that unless you have an equally potent mismatch, and execute just as sharply. Neither of those things were true for Kentucky.
Probably the thing that set me off the most was special teams play. That, I do think, is the one thing that cannot be overlooked or "forgiven," in the context of this football team. Kentucky’s special teams during SEC play have been spectacularly bad, particularly kickoff and punt coverage. That is a very fundamental part of football that will occasionally result in a big play, but Kentucky has made a mess of special teams in three straight games that contributed mightily to their losses. In fact, but for a punt return fumble and a blown onside kick in the Mississippi State game, Kentucky might have had a chance to win. It’s doubtful the 14 special teams points against Georgia did much more than make the margin bigger, but without the opening kickoff return for a touchdown, it’s possible that UK could have gotten off to a better start. We’ll never know.
Also in his pre-Tennessee remarks, Mark Stoops acknowledge special teams play, and even pointed specific criticism at J.D Harmon for not doing what he was supposed to do repeatedly. It’s easy to blame one guy, but the truth is, the whole squad was awful. He also acknowledged "breathing down [special team’s coach Craig Naivar’s] neck." Good. If I were him, I’d be doing more than breathing, and I have a feeling Stoops is as well.
The bottom line is, however, Kentucky is now showing where it is in the hierarchy of the SEC, and in all honesty, it’s still ahead of where many of us feared it would be. We have a chance yet to make a bowl appearance, and even if we don’t, I am not at all displeased with winning more games in the SEC alone this year than our total wins in either of the last two seasons. The difference is how much farther we are ahead of schedule — at 5-7, we’re a little ahead. at 6-6, we’re significantly ahead.
Kentucky is playing with house money, and right now, the house is winning. That’s not surprising given the level of competition. But even if we wind up with nothing to show for our good start other than another losing season, climbing out of the futility of the last two years was always going to be difficult, and we’re now being reminded of just how difficult; and perhaps, even probably, not for the last time before the final contest.