Well? Alabama 63, Kentucky 3.
What did you expect? Going into the game with the Crimson Tide, only delusional die-hard Kentucky fans gave their team a chance to win. A team whose offense had struggled all year to score—combined with their Jekyll and Hyde defensive performances thus far—just couldn’t be counted on to give the No. 1 team in the country a run for their money on their own home turf. Throw in ten players out with the “Rona,”—including their biggest offensive threat (Chris Rodriguez) and their leading tackler (Jamin Davis)—and anybody in their right mind could kind of see it coming.
Still, us Blue Kool-Aid guzzlers thought that those massive-thumping days were over. Long gone were those 70-point woodshed beatings administered by the “Head Ball Coach.” Kentucky was over the hump, the culture changed, the talent level good and deep enough to play big boy football with any of the league elites.
For one glorious quarter, we did all believe. The Cats looked good. They moved the ball with precision, utilizing all sorts of highfalutin motions and spreads. Between the red zones, they were a well-oiled machine. Even the first-down-efficiency bugaboo seemed a thing of the past. Down only 7-3 and driving for a score, these Wildcats were in it to win it.
Then, inexplicably, they quit dancing with the girl that brought them. A cavalcade of red zone demons—inopportune penalties, mishandled snaps, and questionable play selections—would soon follow. And before you could say “ground and pound,” Kentucky reverted back to the only way they know how to play.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops admitted as much in his postgame comments. “What our strength is right now is nickel and diming you. Getting some good yards and moving the football.”
Unfortunately, in this high-scoring, throw-the-ball-down-the-field world of college football we’re currently living in, nickel and dime football might buy you a stale cup of coffee. When you can’t put the ball in the end zone, you’re simply not going to win many football games.
After their initial success, Kentucky suddenly flipped the script and started playing not to lose. That shouldn’t really surprise us. It’s happened many times before. With Stoops and crew, you know what you’re going to get—hard-working, blue collar football…predictable, run-it-every-chance-you get football. It’s certainly served us well in the past. You’d think, however, against a Nick Saban-coached club, you have to take some chances, chuck it down the field every now and then, and just throw caution to the wind.
“We never really take that approach,” Stoops said before the game when asked why not just let her rip. “We’re always just striving, no matter who we’re playing, we’re trying to be the best version of ourselves each and every week. We know that’s a challenge. As I’ve said before, that’s not going to happen in any team. But we better be the best version of ourselves this week.”
Against Alabama, Kentucky wasn’t anywhere near the best version of themselves. The stat sheet bears that out. Outgained 509 to 179 in total yardage, 226 to 59 in net yards rushing, 283 to 120 in net yards passing, and 29 to 12 in first downs. Gotta hand it to Saban. He was the best version of himself. The guy can’t act worth a lick, but he can sure coach. His team played errorless football, scoring all seven times they were in the red zone on their way to administering another methodical beatdown.
For Kentucky to salvage the season, it’s obvious something has to change. All the goodwill built up over the past couple of seasons could be quickly washed away. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If Kentucky keeps playing nickel and dime football in their trip to the Swamp next week, they may just experience another Spurrier type shellacking.
That’ll set the program back on its heels. Eight years of off tackle runs, quarterback draws, and bubble screens isn’t sitting well with an already antsy fan base. It’s up to the coaching staff to adjust with the times and add some excitement into the offensive scheme. At least keep the hope candle burning on the recruiting front. Let’s hope they do the right thing and show the world that they really can deviate from this nickel and dime mindset.
After all that’s transpired this season, what do you really have to lose?