It was fun while it lasted! After Florida lost to Arkansas earlier in the day, everything seemed to be falling into place for a magical Wildcat run to a first-place finish in the SEC eastern division. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The Commonwealth crowd was stoked all evening but couldn’t propel the Cats to those rarefied heights.
Here’s the question I asked Mark Stoops during his weekly press conference prior to the Georgia game: “With how well this team is playing, it seems like the toxic fan environment that you referenced just a few short weeks ago has been turned completely around. How much would it mean for you and the team for the fans to fill the stadium on Saturday night?” Behind a podium lined with a Starbucks cup, a bottled water, and a can of Coke, the UK football coach bristled over the first part of the question but was eager to answer the second. “It’s very important for us to see the stadium filled,” he said. “Our players would love to see that happen. I make no bones about it, when we see it filled, I expect our team to play at a high level to make those fans proud.”
Coach Stoops and the Wildcats couldn’t quite uphold their end of the bargain losing to the big bad Georgia Bulldogs 27-24 on this chilly November night even as Commonwealth Stadium was filled to capacity. Alas, the fairytale ending we were all expecting never materialized as the hopes and dreams of BBN were wiped out with some inopportune turnovers and a steady diet of a punishing Georgia rushing attack. Three touchdowns by The Boom and Benny Show weren’t enough to offset another lackluster passing performance. Just like the namesake of the pre-game band, the Cat’s hopes of an improbable date in Atlanta were ultimately kicked halfway to Hazard when Rodrigo Blankenship’s field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired.
With the end of daylight savings time, Cat fans will have one more hour to drown their sorrows. Magical seasons such as this are exceedingly rare making these agonizing defeats excruciatingly painful. Speaking on the heels of such an emotional letdown, I can’t help but lament “what could have been.” Every time the Wildcats are on the brink of a big game breakthrough, it seems the football gods mockingly turn away in jest.
What does this loss mean for the remainder of UK’s season? With one more win (presumably against Austin Peay) Kentucky will be officially bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season. That’s a significant achievement, but this group of Wildcats had their sights set on much more. Up next is a date with the Volunteer vermin from across the border. The Cats haven’t won in Neyland Stadium since 1984 and what was once considered a sure loss has suddenly become a winnable game with the recent upheavals within the UT program. Had UK beaten Georgia tonight, I think they would have squeezed the orange. Kentucky may still win, but it’ll take a herculean effort by Coach Stoops to rally the troops from this huge disappointment. Deflated but not defeated, I’ll be there to report the action.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Football Column for Nolan Group Media publications.