From Bad to Worse to…?

The power went out in my neighborhood during the heavy storms, about 6:45 Saturday evening, shutting down the Kentucky-Florida telecast. But the power had gone out for the Cats about three hours earlier.

Post-game, after the 45-7 loss that was not as close as the score suggests, players and coaches were quick to take the blame (except for linebacker Jordan Jones, who hinted awkwardly that his teammates might have given up. Sorry, I’m all for full media access, but isn’t it time to eliminate the athlete interviews after a game in which tired, emotional players – untutored in the glare of media exposure – say way too little, except when they say way too much?).

Big Blue Nation is more than willing to agree with Mark Stoops or Eddie Gran that “it all starts with me.” But much of that dissatisfaction will surely seep over onto Drew Barker.

When a quarterback performs poorly, the first instinct is always to blame him. But there are so many other things that might be at play. Is the offensive line not protecting him? Are the receivers running the wrong routes? Are the running backs failing to pick up their blocks? Are the coaches failing to call the right plays? Or not making the necessary adjustments? (Like, are we playing without a tight end?)

Then there’s the defense. (Did I not notice D.J. Eliot stepping up to accept responsibility like his counterparts did?) With a few exceptions, nobody’s making any plays. Safeties seemed continually out of position or making the wrong reads. Missed tackles led to more than one Florida first down the Gators should not have had.

So who’s to blame? I don’t know. But somebody is stinking up the field.

Kentucky is simply getting worse. The explanation has always been that the SEC is just too competitive. That no matter how well the Cats recruit, and coach, and play, Alabama and LSU, Florida and Georgia are always going to recruit, and coach, and play better.

But I was here during the Rich Brooks era, especially his last four years, 2006-09. The Cats won 30 of 53 games. They made four straight bowl appearances and won three. They beat Clemson and Florida State. They beat Ole Miss, Georgia, Auburn and Arkansas.

On October 13, 2007, they beat LSU, the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

And, by the way, Brooks’ Cats beat Louisville three straight years.

That’s not SEC-dominant by any means, but it’s certainly SEC-competitive.

I don’t know if Brooks and his staff were hotshot recruiters. I don’t remember reading about his recruiting classes getting any kind of national ranking. The teams just came out and played well.

Stoops’ recruiting classes, on the other hand, have been highly rated. His teams have won enough to tempt Big Blue Nation with rising expectations. They’ve won some big games and kept others really close. Each season, after Stoops’ first one (“those were Joker’s players”), was supposed to be THE season.

All week, into much of Saturday, I harbored a feeling that UK might sneak into Gainesville and come away with a win. The last two losses to Florida had been squeaky heartbreakers. Not that anyone was going to be satisfied with another close loss.

At least that was one worry that didn’t materialize.

There was a lot of talk before and throughout the game about Florida’s 29-year streak over Kentucky, a dominance that began in 1987. Honestly, that was the furthest thing from my mind. The dominance that began at 3:30 Saturday afternoon was compelling enough for me.

Stoops’ whole post-game mantra – the “we’re going to be back at practice Monday, just like every other week” and “I know we owe our fans more” – will seem even more hollow than ever.

However, one memory keeps rising from the back of my mind. It was the first time I saw Kentucky play after I moved to Louisville – September 24, 2005, in Commonwealth Stadium, against Florida, ranked fifth in the country.

Florida jumped off to a 49-0 halftime lead before coasting to a 49-28 win. Fans were disgusted. Brooks, in his third Kentucky season, came in for much of the criticism. That team went 3-8. But it had Wesley Woodyard, Andre’ Woodson, Keenan Burton, Rafael Little, Myron Pryor, Tim Masthay and Jacob Tamme.

The next year, the Cats were 8-5. The Beleaguered Brooks became the Beloved Brooks. All was forgiven.

History doesn’t always repeat itself. But it does have a way of whispering in your ear – if you let it. VT