Live. Breathe. Blue. Kentucky Football: When ‘Good Enough’ is Good Enough
For a game that supposedly meant very little to many, Kentucky’s 38 – 35 loss to Clemson in the Gator Bowl still packed a heck of a wallop. Like many of you, watching the Wildcats continually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in that crazy fourth quarter had me reaching blindly for the Xanax.
Here’s what was overly frustrating. Kentucky’s pass rush (8 sacks) was as stiff as they come during the first fifty-eight and a half minutes of the ballgame. To see the defensive going totally limp in the final minute and a half with the game on the line was what ultimately sent me over the edge.
Admit it. You felt it too. Watching that ‘bend but don’t break’ prevent defense letting Clemson methodically matriculate down the field was akin to death by a thousand paper cuts. It hurt.
Let’s be fair, though. In an emotional loss like this, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Sure, Kentucky’s offense did a lot of good things during the course of the afternoon. Four touchdowns and 398 yards of offensive production will win you a lot of ballgames. Devin Leary threw for 306 yards and two scores. Barion Brown had a rare trifecta—a rushing, receiving, and a kickoff return touchdown. But clearly, turning the ball over on four offensive possessions in the final quarter was what ultimately cost Kentucky the game.
It was a bitterly disappointing end to the second straight less-than-stellar season for Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops. Coming off his recent ‘kiss-but-don’t-tell’ date with Texas A&M, Stoops needed the big bowl victory to assure the citizens of the Commonwealth that all was well in Big Blue Nation. As it stands, his program now moves forward with more question marks than answers.
“Coaching-wise, there’s a lot of things we can do better,” Stoops acknowledged in his postgame presser.
Of course, there are always things every coach can do better. Most long-time Kentucky Football die-hards, however, are of the mindset that what Stoops is doing (and has done) is good enough. Set upon the backdrop of Kentucky’s lack of football success over the previous few decades, what Stoops has accomplished in his twelve-year tenure is actually quite statue worthy.
Here are Stoops’ records over the past eight seasons: 7 – 6, 7 – 6, 10 – 3, 8 – 5, 5 – 6, 10 – 3, 7 – 6, and 7 – 6. That’s resulted in eight straight bowl appearances—not too shabby considering UK Football’s previous bouts with postseason futility. Two ten-win seasons among the mix also gives you a lot of equity, even with a hyper-expectant fanbase.
And yet, a small but vocal—and growing—segment of that fanbase is gaining more and more disgruntlement as the “mediocre” seasons pile up.
I understand. I feel your pain, too. But to use one of Stoops’ own cliches, “It is what it is.”
Because Mark Stoops is what he is—an old school traditional coach who believes in physicality, running the football, and grinding his opponents into submission. Unfortunately on too many occasions, that type of conservative philosophy translates into his teams playing not to lose. That’s exactly what happened in the Gator Bowl versus Clemson. And it’s probably not going to change any time soon.
I’m okay with that. Not with the loss but with Stoops being Stoops. I’m also okay with Kentucky paying the guy nine million dollars a year. After all, it’s not my money. I’ll admit that I’m as frustrated as the next guy that Stoops’ Kentucky teams often still lack discipline while drawing lots of boneheaded penalties. I also remain perplexed as to why clock management and quality control details continue to rear their ugly heads. Perhaps it’s those little details that have kept Kentucky from winning against the top-echelon teams.
But let’s be real. Who else is going to recruit better than Stoops and Vince Marrow? Playing in the SEC is tough. It’s going to get even harder with Texas and Oklahoma joining the mix. You need to keep landing those Jimmys and Joes. To those calling for Stoops’ scalp, be careful what you ask for. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart aren’t walking through that door.
Plus, we can all agree that football is a game of inches. A play here or there, and the outcome of an entire season could be radically different. Let’s remember that if not for a lucky Clemson field goal bounce over the crossbar or a questionable facemask penalty, Kentucky would have most likely won the game and finished the year 8 – 5 with a much more positive narrative heading into next season.
So, despite the disappointment, Kentucky fans need to circle the wagons. Mark Stoops—although far from perfect—deserves our unbridled support. He’s the right man for the job. What he’s doing—keeping Kentucky competitive in an uber competitive conference—is certainly good enough for me.
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. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs, check out his blog at Huangswhinings.com, or purchase his books at https://www.Amazon.com/stores/Dr.-John-Huang/author/B092RKJBRD
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