On a picture perfect, sun-splashed afternoon in Commonwealth Stadium, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville renewed their in-state football rivalry. And despite the Wildcat loss, the level of play between the opening loss to Western and the loss to Louisville was dramatic. Prior to the game, team Captain Avery Williamson and game captains Maxwell Smith, Darrian Miller, and Alvin “Bud” Dupree came to midfield to meet their Cardinal counterparts for handshakes and the flip of the coin. The air raid sirens went off and fireworks exploded as the rest of the Wildcats stormed the field. Regrettably, the siren was seldom heard the rest of the day and there were few fireworks from the sputtering UK offense the rest of the game.
A very good effort by the Kentucky defense was wasted on a day when UK’s Air Raid attack could never really get in rhythm. Poor throws or dropped passes constantly kept the Cats playing behind the chains and resulted in them being 0 for 13 on third down conversions. The inability of the UK offense to stay on the field resulted in Louisville’s time of possession being 34:36. This was very telling in the second half as the game UK defense started wearing down. Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater and company were able to take advantage of the lack of Wildcat depth and take control of the game.
Despite the loss, the coaches and most of the Big Blue fans feel as though the improvement on defense is a real positive step in the “process” Coach Stoops has put in place. So, while the road to being more competitive in the SEC will not be a straight shot, it definitely seems this coaching staff has a plan for how to get UK to that level. There will undoubtedly be more bumps in that road, but the foundation is being laid.
In the short term, the big question for Coach Stoops and Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown is: does Kentucky have a quarterback who can run the Air Raid offense? With Max Smith getting banged up (yet again) in the third quarter, there are continued questions about his ability to stay physically healthy enough to lead the team. When Jalen Whitlow replaced Smith there were several errant throws and this offense requires quick, accurate passes. Patrick Towles was unable to win the QB job in either the spring or fall camps, if his redshirt is taken off, could he be the guy now?
In a season where wins will be hard to come by, the Big Blue Nation will have to find solace in the fact that continuous improvement bodes well for the future. This coaching staff is changing attitudes and, by getting a potential highly ranked recruiting class for next season, is building momentum for making Kentucky relevant in football again. With an extra week to improve before the stretch of three extremely difficult opponents; playing good, solid games against Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama may be the best UK coaches and fans can hope for right now.