Kicking UK Into Touch

UK kicker Joe Mansour celebrating the Cats’ only score.

UK kicker Joe Mansour celebrating the Cats’ only score.

Joe Mansour scored a 25-yard touchdown on a fake field goal attempt on Saturday night for the University of Kentucky against Florida. Gripping the ball, he saw the opening and decided to storm with all the speed of a prancing gazelle through the Gators backline – one of the nation’s best defenses. As he reached the end zone, he smiled, teammates surrounded him and the senior had a memory to cherish. But Joe Mansour is not a running back, nor a wide receiver or tight end. Nope, he’s the kicker. Normally this shouldn’t be a problem. Trick plays are sometimes  necessary and everyone has a part to play. But when your kicker scores your only touchdown of the game in your team’s longest play from scrimmage and winds up topping your box score as the leading rusher you should probably look in the mirror.

The UK defense tries to stop Florida’s running back Matt Jones.

The UK defense tries to stop Florida’s running back Matt Jones.

Then perhaps shed a tear.

It must be tough being a University of Kentucky football fan right now. The early, pre-season optimism of the bright new dawn of Mark Stoops has been severely cast in a dark ominous shadow. And it’s only been four games. The WKU defeat really let the air out of the bag and since then any hope the Wildcats and their fans may express has been all but mocked as hot air.

The difficulty though is in deciding who is to blame. For Stoops, he is lumbered with a team that wreaks of Joker Phillips. It’s a team that will struggle to get a single conference win this year, with the possible exception of the tepid and frankly limp Tennessee. Imagine that, the UK-Tennessee game will decide who’s likely to be the worst SEC team. UK is a team packed with individuals who struggle with the basics and are destined for a forlorn year.

Where Stoops is to blame is still chopping and changing quarterbacks. It’s obvious that Jason Whitlow offers you athleticism and a decent arm, while Max Smith has the arm and little else. But maybe it’s time to decide which average quarterback you’re going to go with, so the team has some continuity and a fulcrum around which to focus its efforts. Bringing in Smith when Whitlow lets you down mid-game does not instill confidence into either one of the young men, surely?

But here is the good news. Stoops may have a dud roster this year, but the following season he has the 16th best class in the nation, according to ESPN – a total of 24 commits and a group of players ranked two places above the Cardinals. Stoops may have shown flaws this year, sure, but it’s always been with an inherited team. Perhaps next year we’ll see where UK football truly is, whether that’s under Stoops or someone else. Either way, the shadows at least seem to be receding somewhat.

UofL’s Strong-Hold

Charlie Strong spoke this week of his desire to see Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expand one day to 75,000. Wouldn’t that be something? Firstly it’s indicative of how quickly the program has progressed in recent times. It opened in 1998 seating 42,000, was expanded in 2009 to its current 55,000 and already the goal it seems is to keep moving on up. And why not? The ACC offers riches the shoddy Big East never could, or the interim American simply cannot. Playing against Florida State has a certain luster that Florida International doesn’t, don’t you think? This year’s average attendance so far has been a record setting 53,522 for the program. So just imagine a few years from now where the team may be. Critics may rightly point out the team won’t reach the zenith of its current state, with a Heisman candidate in tow. Maybe they’re right. But financial prudence and performance have not always gone hand in hand at UofL. Perhaps Charlie Strong may yet see those 75,000 fans.

Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer