Live. Breathe. Blue. Kentucky Football -Wildcats Seek Redemption in Rivalry Showdown

by John Huang (LEXINGTON, KY)
Wildcats Seek  Redemption in  Rivalry Showdown Photo  Credit Michael  Huang Wildcats Seek Redemption in Rivalry Showdown Photo Credit Michael Huang

Wildcats Seek Redemption in Rivalry Showdown

- Thank God for Louisville.

After a demoralizing 17 – 14 loss to the lowly South Carolina Gamecocks, the Kentucky football program appears poised on the brink of a momentous season-ending crash and burn. Not only have dreams of a magical ten-win campaign gone by the wayside, but the reality of a 6 – 6 trainwreck has even a few die-hard crazies calling for Mark Stoops’ scalp.

There’s only one potential saving grace for the embattled Kentucky coach. Ironically, it comes from a program just down I – 64 that previously served as Stoops’ whipping boy. Four straight wins over a Louisville little brother had the Kentucky head man cruising comfortably in his own skin…until now.

Lo and behold, how times have changed.

There’s a new sheriff in town on the Cardinals’ sidelines. Coming into this Saturday’s high-noon showdown, Coach Jeff Brohm—in his first year at the helm—is looking for Louisville’s 11th win for the first time since the 2012 season. The Cards picked up their 10th win last Saturday for only the seventh time in school history and the first time since 2013. Their 38 – 31 victory over Miami also clinched a spot in the ACC title game—Louisville’s first and only appearance ever in any conference championship.

And now, Stoops and company get a chance to crash the party. By taking down their intra-state rivals on the home turf of L&N Stadium, Kentucky can show once and for all that even a mediocre SEC team is heads and shoulders above the best that other lesser conferences have to offer. Bragging rights are certainly in order, but for the Big Blue faithful, there’s a lot more at stake.

For Kentucky fans, it’s a serendipitous shot at redemption.

No matter how you slice it, this upcoming Governor’s Cup is a potentially nurturing salve to what has turned into a poop storm of a Kentucky season. Sure, the team stunk it up with its undisciplined play on the field. And off the field, the false bravado early on and Stoops’ infamous “pony up” comment only added to the program’s existing woes. But knock the Cardinals off of their high-and-mighty perch, and we can at least put the torches and pitchforks away for one more season. A win won’t right all the awful wrongs, but it sure can change the narrative of a program approaching freefall.

If Stoops was feeling the pressure of a fan base in revolt, he certainly didn’t let on at his weekly Monday news conference.

“It’s been a tough stretch, without a doubt,” Stoops acknowledged. “This is another game. It certainly doesn’t salvage some of the things that we’ve done or anything like that. We don’t look at it that way. We look at it as another opportunity.”

I beg to differ. It’s not just another opportunity, but rather it’s a golden opportunity for Kentucky football fans to have something legitimate to cheer about in a season gone horribly sour. Beat U of L, win your bowl game, and suddenly 8 – 5 isn’t that far off from what many of the disgruntled experts predicted preseason.

There’s a difference between disgruntlement and disappointment.

Win or lose, Stoops has consistently denied any sort of disgruntlement emanating from him or his team.

“When did I ever say I was disgruntled?” he snapped back when asked his thoughts after the Alabama blowout. “You put words in my mouth. I never said I was disgruntled. I said I’ll never be defeated. A touch disappointed, I’m not disgruntled, I’m not defeated, I’m on to the next, I’m going to go try to win this game.”

If social media were any indication, it sure seemed there was some disgruntlement coming from players and their parents after the stinker the Cats pulled in Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. But less than forty-eight hours after the carnage, Stoops remained unperturbed.

“I’m disappointed with that game that comes from investing so much,” Stoops acknowledged. “But far from defeated. Our team will show the resolve that we’ve always had and come back this week and try to put together a great week. The bottom line is go execute a little better than we did Saturday.”

And what about his “pony up” comment?

There’s been a lot made about those two infamous words Stoops uttered on his coach’s show just a few short weeks ago. I personally think fans and media grossly misconstrued his intentions. Unfortunately, if things go south from here, they’ll most likely permanently etch those words on his UK coaching tombstone.

“I really don’t want to talk [about it], I want to move past that,” Stoops said when asked if he’d like to go back and change the way he presented those comments. “You have to listen to the whole conversation. Everyone takes a piece of something you say and [they] act like you’re making an excuse. Please go back and listen to the one-minute conversation. That’s at my radio show. It’s a little more laid back. We can just discuss and talk.”

“I was very up front with the caller,” Stoops continued. “It’s like fans have every right. I never get offended or defensive. I may defend our program or our players or say things that we need. But as far as that goes, that was nothing. It was something I light-heartedly said that that person can do something—that is a way they can do something. Outside of that, I make no excuses. You know I haven’t for eleven years. I’m not going to start now. I’ll tell you facts and I’ll tell you reality.”

Here's the reality—beat Louisville and all is forgiven (well, almost all).

Lose to the Cardinals, and you’ve got a lot more explaining to do.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a reporter and sports columnist for Nolan Group Media. His latest book, “They Call Me Mr. Secretary,” has been met with great anticipation. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs and check out all his books at

phil malicote