The Long Walk

Last week I encouraged Kentucky fans to dream and boldly dream big. I felt like the fan base had several good reasons to dream. Our young team was flying high after a surprising 5-1 start. The national media was saying that Kentucky was a dark horse to win the SEC East. In fact, some media pundits said the Wildcats could pull off a win at Tiger Stadium against a struggling LSU team. From the opening kickoff in Death Valley the Big Blue Nation saw our dreams become a proverbial and literal nightmare.
A failed trick play on the opening kickoff was made worse by penalties on the ensuing drive that gave the Tigers prime field position without breaking a sweat. Of course, they crossed the goal line and dared the boys in blue to play catch up. When Kentucky’s vaunted offense took the field with an opportunity to answer LSU’s young and talented defense easily dispatched the Wildcat formation that previous opponents labored to stop. By this point a familiar feeling was creeping into the back of my mind, my beloved Cats were going to get whipped.
The sense of foreboding I felt in the first quarter became prophetic. LSU’s never ending supply of physical tailbacks took advantage of UK’s weakness against the run for a handsome sum of 323 yards. Even worse Kentucky’s special teams gave up a punt return for a touchdown and failed to recover a kick that led to an LSU field goal before the half. Self-inflicted wounds such as receivers missing easy passes and the team speed of the Bayou Bengal defense stifled UK’s offense all night long. With the 41-3 lose the dreams of the early season gave way to a harsh and sobering dose of reality for the Big Blue Nation.
Now that the shine is off what do we know about this Kentucky Wildcat football team? Well, the defense definitely is suspect when it comes to defending the run against physical backs. The offense easily stalls when it does not hit the big play and may be too reliant on trickery. Kickoff coverage reared its head as a potential problem as well. When one looks at the upcoming schedule the issues I mentioned above are very troubling.
Mississippi State, this coming Saturday’s, opponent boasts not only a physical tailback but a punishing runner at quarterback in Dak Prescott. The Bulldog defense has also been able to hold high powered offenses such as Auburn and Texas A & M in check. The Athens, Georgia branch of the bulldog family also promises to bring a bevy of physical backs and a stout defense to Commonwealth Stadium in two weeks. At the end of the season Kentucky will face archrival Louisville who also brings a dominating defense to the game. Throw in two tough road games at Missouri and Tennessee the young Wildcats are facing a long walk to a potential bowl bid that looked like a cinch before the beat down on the bayou.
No one will shame Kentucky if they fall to the difficult slate of challengers they face in the second half of the season. A few noble efforts would take the sting out of a potential six game slide to end the year. Also, a number ranked basketball team also helps to heal the wounds of a potentially disappointing football season. And, like I mentioned last week Kentucky fans are used to futility on the football field. Still, despite the long odds one things remains that, in my opinion, which will make this a season to celebrate.
Going back to last season the current crop of Cats don’t seem to know the idea of the word quit. This season has seen much of the same. Already the team has overcome three fourteen point ten point deficits. Even when momentum was against them in Death Valley Kentucky went blow for blow with a physical LSU team in the first half. The will to win and physical toughness will take an underdog team many places, including a bowl game and a winning season. The road to that is a long road but one I believe that this team has the fortitude to do.