For UK, Groundhog Day’s in September

Senior running back Jojo Kemp had only 12 rushing yards versus Southern Miss. Photo by Victoria Graff

Senior running back Jojo Kemp had only 12 rushing yards versus Southern Miss. Photo by Victoria Graff

It would have been nice if the power had gone out in Commonwealth Stadium with 30 seconds left in the first half.

Or if there were some kind of a mercy rule in college football like there is in Little League. Or if the Southern Mississippi coach had said, “You know, Kentucky is ahead 35-10, they’re kicking our tail, we’re not going to win this game anyway, it’s a long trip back to Hattiesburg. We’ve decided to forfeit the second half and get an early start on the traffic.”

Yeah, that would have been nice.

But then, Kentucky’s been there before. Done that before.

A safety completely lost his concentration, bit on what would have been a pointless short-yardage gain and let the Southern Miss receiver get behind him for a meaningless touchdown just before the half. (Meaningless? It certainly seemed so at the time).

Blake McClain had an interception in his hands. Dropped it. So instead of turning the ball over, Southern Miss drove for another TD.

Kentucky’s been there before too.

A holding call on the offensive line wiped out a first down, and instead the Wildcats went three and out.

Been there.

Penalties mounted throughout the second half. Pass interference. Holding. Unnecessary roughness.

Been there.

Two snap issues caused a blocked punt and a muffed field goal.

Been there.

An offensive line couldn’t protect the quarterback. UK runners kept getting stuffed behind the line. First-and-ten became third-and-fourteen.

A team heralded for its passing game came into Lexington and ran the ball down Kentucky’s throat.

Suddenly, as the momentum began to shift, the Kentucky defense couldn’t make a clean tackle, couldn’t get to the quarterback, couldn’t cover receivers, couldn’t get it done on third down.

Fatigue. Poor execution. Confusion. It all felt too familiar. With a spectacular start and a shaky finish, Drew Barker looked a lot like the last guy who played the position. If it weren’t for a different number on the back, it could easily have been Patrick Towles out there on Saturday.

So much about this game looked like too many Kentucky games of recent history. But not a carbon copy. No, on this Saturday evening, Shannon Dawson was on the other side of the field. Can’t blame him anymore. Whatever problems bedeviled Kentucky in this game were some other offensive coordinator’s fault.

And so the Cats trudge into the SEC season without even a non-conference win on their balance sheet. Florida steps up next. Alabama looms in four weeks. Mark Stoops has to go back to the drawing board and figure out where, exactly, his six wins for a bowl invitation will come from.

So where are they? Well, when all the smoke has cleared, the Cats are no worse than 0-1. It’s certainly reversible. Lots of other teams have lost the first game before going on to have winning seasons.

Coaches review the tapes and hold meetings and practices to correct problems. Kentucky hired a bunch of top-notch assistant coaches during the summer. They ought to be able to figure it out.

Why, then, do we have the feeling that nothing will change? Why is there the sense that once again the season will rest on a few non-conference patsies and perhaps a win over Vanderbilt and, by November, most of Big Blue Nation will be wondering just how good Malik Monk really can be?

Maybe because BBN has been here before.

Stoops apologized after the game, though he insisted apologizing felt like sticking hot matches into his eyes.

He used terms like “man up” and “get back to work, starting Monday” and “we owe our fans more.” All of which he has said before. Often.

The players all said they were going to keep working, stick together and put this one behind them. It seems like a great bunch of kids, and Big Blue Nation so seriously wants to support them. They deserve better even more than the fans deserve better. They committed to Kentucky on recruiters’ promises that this was going to be a different program. One they could be proud of.

They got a fabulous new facility. Facilities apparently don’t stop the pass on third and seven.

But the thing about a football season, its peculiar rhymes and rhythms, is that the cliches do apply. It really is the next one that matters. You can put the last one behind you. You do have a week to work it all out, analyze mistakes and come out stronger for the effort.

It’s all up to Stoops. Been there already, too. VT