OK, everyone just take a deep breath and chill. I’ll admit, this opening game against Southern Miss was huge. After a much quicker than anticipated parting with offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson at the end of last season, Coach Stoops especially has to be feeling somewhat discouraged. A loss to the man he fired is certainly an embarrassing personal setback that could send this team into a hopeless tailspin. This defeat, for a program hovering on the precipice, is devastating. I don’t care how many chair back seats you put in the stadium, or how much bourbon ice cream is trucked in, this was a “must win” on the field of play and Kentucky failed to deliver. For the last twenty nine practices, Mark Stoops talked about increased capacity and finishing strong. Regrettably then, an entire preseason of goodwill was quickly wiped out in a half of unexplained ineptitude. With all that said, it is only one game and I promised I’d try to stay positive throughout the entire season. We’re long-suffering UK football fans and this is the kind of setback we’re used to. So let’s all just give one collective blue tinged exhale in unison together. It’s September, the beginning of another year with plenty of time to regroup and recover.
For die-hard Wildcat football fans, this opening day couldn’t have come fast enough. There’s something magical about the kickoff to another exciting football season that always elevates the moods and spirits of all the Wildcat faithful. Whether it’s the smell of tailgate brisket wafting from the stadium parking lot, or the cheerleaders and band firing up the two-headed Cat Walk crowd, or the endless parade of sorority girls in blue sundresses and cowboy boots bopping to the tunes of Jordan English, there just aren’t many other places I would rather be this time of the year. The collective mood of the pre-game tailgating crowd is festive yet understandably guarded–slightly tainted by the recent litany of second half meltdowns together with late season collapses, and as evidenced by the 10,000 or so empty seats in the upper tiers of the newly downsized stadium.
My new journalistic perspective from the press box was a bit too sterile for my liking. Completely enclosed in plexiglass, all the stadium sounds appeared disturbingly muted–thus adding a surreal element to the rapidly unfolding nightmare playing out before me. Visually, it was also a long way up, making me continually question whether my eyeglass prescription was currently up to date. If not for the free buffet in the adjacent dining area, I would have gladly reclaimed my usual bleacher seat among the dejected masses in the crowded stadium below.
Nevertheless, from my perch atop the Goodyear blimp, I’m sorry to officially report that “after the 44-35 defeat at the hands of the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles on a perfectly crisp summer evening in Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky remains winless against Shannon Dawson. Following a rather inauspicious first couple of series that had the stadium crowd murmuring under its breath, UK vanquished its opening game jitters and jumped out to a 35-17 halftime lead. Drew Barker torched the “Havoc D” with two touchdown tosses to Garrett Johnson and one each to Jeff Badet and Kayaune Ross. Unfortunately, after halftime only one team showed up and they weren’t wearing blue. The Golden Eagles scored 34 straight points and ended up outgaining UK in total yardage 520-409 for the game. Kentucky’s talented secondary came up with three crucial interceptions in the first half but also gave up big chunks of yardage as a result of some blown coverages, ill-timed penalties and a game changing drop. Meanwhile Southern Miss unmercifully ran the ball down Kentucky’s throat in the second half while UK’s offense went into unexplained hibernation mode. As the final horn sounded, I dejectedly left a somber press row amid a cesspool of negative comments and muted invectives.
In the cramped interview quarters after the game, Coach Stoops was understandably disappointed. “Southern Miss outplayed and outcoached us” he stated apologetically. “Our fans deserve better.”
They certainly do, and for that reason the atmosphere may turn immediately toxic. After tonight’s dismal second half debacle, there’s not a chance in France the Cats will finally break that interminable losing streak to Florida next week–especially in the treacherous Swamp. The Cats will play hard but some things are just not meant to be in one’s lifetime. Florida 35, UK 21. Not exactly the start to the season we were all hoping for. Breathe in. Breathe out. Only 40 more days until Big Blue Madness.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Football Column for Nolan Group Media publications.
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