Many of us weren't expecting a blow-out loss on the road to Mississippi State but maybe we should have. After all, the Bulldogs have one of the best home records in the SEC over the last three seasons, Dan Mullen has never lost to Kentucky, Dak Prescott is the best quarterback in the conference, their offensive and defensive lines were bad match ups, and they won six straight against the Wildcats coming into that game.
Mississippi State might be the best team that Kentucky faces all season long, in fact I'm willing to state that as my official opinion. But the next two games the Wildcats have in front of them aren't cake walks. The Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs have plenty of talent, more so than South Carolina, Missouri, Auburn, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Eastern Kentucky.
A 4-3 record at this juncture of the season looks pretty good, but Kentucky could be 5-1, 0-6, or any combination that one can throw out there, because outside of the thrashing the 'Cats endured in Starkville, every game has hinged on one or two crucial plays. It goes to show us that the room for error is slim and the Wildcats are not good enough yet to push that margin too much.
A bowl game is very much still in play, but Kentucky has been flirting with disaster all season, and now is not to time to commit to a full-time relationship. The Mississippi State game is another reminder as to where the football team is in the scheme of things. Now they face two opponents that they have not had much recent success against.
Last Five Seasons Against Tennessee: Lost 50-16; Lost, 27-14; Lost, 37-17; Won, 10-7; Lost, 24-14
Last Five Seasons Against Georgia: Lost 63-31; Lost, 59-17; Lost, 29-24; Lost, 19-10; Lost, 44-31
The 'Cats are a combined 1-9 against Georgia and Tennessee in their last 10 meetings and the average margin of victory for the Bulldogs and the Volunteers is 19.75 points. That's about as demoralizing as it gets.
The Vols are one of those teams that are better than their record indicates having lost three games in which they had a substantial lead. And Georgia has as much talent as any team in the SEC but they have an identity crisis without all-world running back Nick Chubb in the backfield. Can they get Greyson Lambert in a position to lead this team by the time Kentucky comes to Athens in two weeks?
What the Wildcats have to avoid is getting blown out by either team. They must stay competitive in both games so that the team still has the feeling that they are getting better. Because, if we are being honest here, they are still extremely young and their emotions are volatile.
Can Kentucky win one or both games? I think so, but it isn't likely. I wouldn't be surprised if Kentucky does pull off one victory, Tennessee being the one, but I think it is doubtful that they win both games.
A more likely scenario is that Kentucky loses both and is staring at 4-5 heading to Nashville against a Vanderbilt team that can play defense with any team in the conference but has major offensive flaws. If Kentucky comes into that game after being blown out three games in a row, I wonder about the morale of this team. Younger players are getting more opportunities, particularly in the secondary if you look at the latest depth chart. How will those younger players handle the task in front of them and the results?
I still think six or seven wins is where this team will stand at the end of the regular season, but nothing is certain. Just think back to last season at this point. Kentucky was 5-1 going into the meat of their SEC schedule and dropped six straight, losing by double-digits in five out of those six games.
Yes, the 'Cats are only two wins away from a bowl, but last season they needed just one. I have faith in Mark Stoops and these Wildcats, but the road is difficult and the season may hinge on where this team is mentally and physically after these next two games. They need to compete and if they lose, they need to lose close, because the only gimme left on the schedule is Charlotte. Vanderbilt may be tougher than previously thought and the Louisville game is a coin-flip. If Kentucky can steal one from Tennessee or Georgia, then I think Mark Stoops is ahead of schedule.