Gridiron Expectations

Photo by JOHN HARRALSON | The Voice-Tribune The SEC fined Kentucky a $25,000 penalty for the celebration of the 45-38 win over South Carolina.

Photo by JOHN HARRALSON | The Voice-Tribune
The SEC fined Kentucky a $25,000 penalty for the celebration of the 45-38 win over South Carolina.

Tony Vanetti: Expectations have already been exceeded, Matt Jones. The football team comes up with a big win, big fourth quarter over South Carolina. If they are mediocre for the rest of the season, you’ve still got to be pretty happy.

Matt Jones: Well look, I predicted them to win five before the year. And if they win Saturday, they’ve already got five. It was a great atmosphere. That may be the best atmosphere for a UK game that I’ve ever been to from start to finish. There have been moments that have been that loud, but from start to finish, it sort of felt like kicking off the Stoops era. You know I’ve heard Louisville fans say when they beat Kentucky that one time in Commonwealth Stadium, Charlie Strong’s second year, it felt like ‘ok, here we go.’ And that’s how I felt with this one. It was like ‘Alright, UK football is back to being kind of hopeful and on the rise.

Vanetti: And I will give you credit, you’re doing it the right way with defense and running the ball. You’re doing it with real basic football tactics, which is running the football and playing some defense, so good for you.

Jones: And they out-coached Steve Spurrier. That’s the crazy part. South Carolina should’ve won that game. I mean, I think they were the better team. They kind of dominated UK at times, but then they got away from what they were good at. They stopped running and Spurrier tried to get too cute, Kentucky wound up winning the game and we finally got some good breaks. Kentucky football is known as bad break central, and we finally got a good break.

Vanetti: You all never get a break in the fourth quarter, and it was like ‘really?’ I know things have changed when Kentucky football starts getting their way because it never does. I’ve got to tell you, I talked to some of my UK buddies as they were driving to Lexington that morning, and I said ‘Hey, I think you’ve got a chance to win this one,’ and all of them said the same thing, ‘Well, you know I’m a Kentucky fan but I’m not going to get my hopes high. I’m going to go cheer and if it happens, it happens.’ But they’re talking pretty big now.

Jones: Well, I mean there were a bunch of times in years past that Kentucky would’ve given up. They were down 14 at the beginning, and then South Carolina got the ball again. And in years past it would’ve been 21-0 and we all could’ve gone home. But they fought back. Then they got up by seven, and South Carolina came back and took a 14-point lead again. And in years past, the game is over. But they stayed with it, and that’s the difference. This mentality that Kentucky fans have, myself included that ‘Oh, what’s the next bad thing to happen to us?’ this group really doesn’t have that. These young guys and these coaches – they weren’t here when things stunk. So they have a different view. It was just cool with the uniforms and the helmets and the black out, it just felt like a real football night in Lexington.

Coach Mark Stoop's Cats are 4-1 for the year and have 2 SEC wins so far.

Coach Mark Stoop’s Cats are 4-1 for the year and have 2 SEC wins so far.

Vanetti: Well, write it down, it’s not very often that Kentucky football coaches are talked about once you start winning like this, and you know that this summer Stoops is going to be named in one of those coaching jobs that comes up.

Jones: Oh, he already is. I mean, during the game people were saying, ‘Oh you know, he’d be a good fit at Michigan’. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. You know, Kentucky can be in the position that Louisville was in, which is that they can now hold off all but a couple very good schools. When you look at Charlie Strong, he turned down Maryland, he turned down Tennessee, he turned down some other offers, but he just couldn’t turn down Texas. I think Kentucky can get to the point where you can turn down all of those other kind of schools and it’s only the elite of the elite that he would leave for, and you can’t get upset at that. In basketball, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, Kansas, that’s about it. Other schools, there’s no reason they can’t keep their coaches and I think that’s what could happen with Stoops, that he would only leave for the elite of the elite job.

Vanetti: I hate to be even more positive, but if you look at what Ole Miss and Mississippi State are doing right now, Kentucky’s always been lumped in with the middle to lower level in the conference. You look at what they’ve accomplished, when people said they couldn’t get it done, and now those teams are in the top five together.

Jones: The big thing I think that’s changed in college football in the last decade is that every single game is on television. So you don’t have to go to a power school to get on TV. The NFL has changed the way they draft, they’ve gotten a lot better in that you don’t have to go to a great school to get in the draft, and they’ve cut down the number of scholarships. 20 years ago you could have 115 scholarships. Now, you have 85, so the talent has thinned out. Better schools still get the best, Alabama is still going to be better than everybody else, but there is now room for secondary programs to find a niche, I didn’t know if that could happen in the SEC, but it’s happening now. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky are kind of benefitting by the fact that Florida and Tennessee are down. Now we have to see if Kentucky can join that group.

Vanetti: Look, you’ve kept the interest of a Kentucky football fan late into the season, so congrats on that, Stoops. Let’s move on to some UofL positives. DeVante Parker could be back for Saturday against Clemson, probably not but we’ll see, he’s been cleared to practice. Good news on that.

Jones: They’re going to get blown out unless they find some offense. I was impressed in part at the Syracuse game in that they won. But watching their offense, they have a really good defense, first of all, but did you ever think that a Bobby Petrino team would be so boring?

Vanetti: Well, we talked to some folks that are Notre Dame fans and they said ‘Look, we thought when Brian Kelly got to Notre Dame he would just install the offense first year and it would just be this wild ride of offense and scoring touchdowns.’ It took two and a half to three seasons to implement, and that’s what’s going to happen here. I mean, did you not think that Brian Kelly had good players when he went?

Jones: But there’s a little difference, Brian Kelly made the national championship game in like his second year.

Vanetti: His third year.

Jones: Well this team is still losing to Virginia, playing Wake Forest close, when they lost to Louisiana Monroe. The difference for me on Louisville is that I am amazed at just how absolutely awful the games are. It reminds me of watching bad Kentucky teams, now granted they’re better, and DeVante Parker will help, but in college football, if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a team. You can stay in games with good defense and good position players, but to be good, you have to have a quarterback. And he doesn’t have a quarterback, neither of those guys are good.

Vanetti: Either one of them has potential, but neither of them can put together that spectacular offense that everybody’s used to with Bobby Petrino. Now if that’s the case, you’re just going to have to live off your defense. Their defense is the real deal, they haven’t allowed a touchdown in a month. I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s a good stat. They’re going to go into Clemson and will probably lose that game. I don’t see it as a blowout like you do, I think the defense will keep it a ball game into the fourth quarter. And I think that the Louisville offense will continue to struggle on the road, they will lose to Clemson, but it won’t be a blowout.

Jones: It’ll be interesting to me to see how the defense does against a real spread team. Because they have not played a good offense yet this year. I believe their defense is really good, but to be fair, they haven’t played even a decent offense yet. Every team they’ve played are arguably four of the 25 worst offenses in the country. Now with Clemson, they’re going to play a real spread team, and it’ll be very interesting. I don’t know if in the past few years Louisville has played against a spread team. I think they’ll lose by 15 or 20, I don’t think they’ll lose by 40. But this is the first really good offense they’re playing.

Vanetti: Well the defensive line is better than we thought, and the one thing that Charlie Strong did do was load up the linebackers, they can play sideline to sideline. And Clemson’s quarterback is a true freshman, so he’s young too. Reggie Bonnafon will be the starter for Louisville, I’d expect, so we’ll have two young guys. And those linebackers are pretty darn good.

Jones: Are you excited to watch Cal’s NBA Combine on Friday?!

Vanetti: No, I can’t think of anything I’d be less interested in.

Jones: Oh, come on Tony. You’ve got to love getting national TV coverage for a practice. Not a game, practice.

Vanetti: I like the way he’s approaching this season opposed to the last few seasons where he’s talking more about how the chemistry is going to take a while.

Jones: He doesn’t believe that, he thinks they’re going to be really good. You don’t put a practice on national television four weeks before the season starts unless you think you’re damn good. I’m told there’s 100 NBA scouts attending. 100!

Vanetti: It’s just sickening. It really is. Where that program is at this point, it’s going to be another good year for Kentucky. Of course, last year wasn’t everything you thought it would be.

Jones: Actually, it ended up ok. They beat a team in red, I can’t remember who it was…

Vanetti: Most of the season was a disaster up until March, so I don’t want to hear it.

Jones: At the end of the day it’s not how you get there, it’s what you do once you’re there. And I remember a team in red going down in what was really a special moment for all of humanity.