John Clay: Cats find out what rock bottom looks like

Nowhere to go but up in second half of season

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 9, 2011 

COLUMBIA, S.C. — This didn't start with that home loss to Louisville.

It didn't start when the Cats allowed Florida 406 rushing yards on the way to a blowout loss.

It didn't start last week with that four-touchdown drubbing at top-ranked LSU.

It didn't even start Saturday at South Carolina, when Joker Phillips' team suffered a humiliating 54-3 loss to Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

I'll tell you when it started.

It started back on Nov. 27, 2010, in Knoxville, when already up 7-0 on a team it had not beaten since 1984, the Cats lost a fumble at the Volunteers' 1-yard line.

This Kentucky football program has been on a downward spiral ever since.

And it can't get it stopped.

The Cats ended up losing to Tennessee, yet again, that day 24-14. Then-quarterback Mike Hartline got himself suspended. Then the Cats were drubbed 27-10 by Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. Then Randall Cobb left early for the NFL.

Then the Cats opened this new season with unimpressive wins over Western Kentucky and Central Michigan. Then came the loss to Louisville, the flattening by Florida and the steamrolling at LSU.

Then, Saturday ...

... rock bottom.

"Ugly," said UK Coach Joker Phillips afterward at Williams-Brice Stadium. "That's how you can describe it. It was ugly."

Kentucky threw as many interceptions (four) as it did completions (four). Twice, in the same game, it threw interceptions on successive plays.

Its 96 total yards were the fewest since Bill Curry's team had 67 in a 65-0 loss to Steve Spurrier and Florida in 1996.

Spurrier is the coach at South Carolina now, of course, and Saturday his Gamecocks gained 639 yards.

"They hung half a hundred on us," said UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter when asked about his side of the football. "So we must not have played too well."

This was an out-and-out debacle. Three different players threw interceptions. Three trick plays were executed so poorly as to make you wonder if they had been practiced. The capper came when a shotgun snap accidentally hit running back Jonathan George as he was going in motion in front of quarterback Morgan Newton.

"We've kind of gotten in a funk," said offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. "It seems like the funk just keeps getting worse."

Truth be told, the funk began last season, a season in which Florida, Tennessee and Georgia all experienced down years, yet the Cats could not take advantage.

Now at the halfway point of this season, they sit 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the conference, having just been bashed back-to-back-to-back in a gauntlet of conference heavyweights by a combined score of 137-20.

"It just seems like everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong," said Newton of Saturday. "That's been the case this season."

The offensive line, considered the team's strength, couldn't get through training camp without multiple injuries. The receivers have dropped multiple balls, and Newton has taken multiple sacks. The Cats have not been able to run the ball, not with multiple defenders stacked in the box.

So now what?

"We've got to get some answers to how to move the football," said Phillips.

Here's what I'd do with the football: I'd bury it.

I'd open the first practice of the off week with a little ceremony at the Nutter practice fields. I'd dig a hole. I'd place the pigskin inside it. Then I'd throw some dirt on the top of the hole.

I would tell my players that the first half of the season is now dead and buried. I would tell them it's time to focus on the second half of the season, when the days are shorter, the schedule is softer, and the record is 0-0.

After all, Saturday at South Carolina, the Cats hit rock bottom.

There can't be anywhere to go but up.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226, or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or Read his blog at

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