John Clay: Losing nothing new for UK football

jclay@herald-leader.comOctober 28, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

In the past 50 seasons, Kentucky football has won eight or more games five times.

In the past 50 seasons, Kentucky has now lost eight or more games 11 times.

It's not like this year is anything new. It's not like the Cats have a long tradition of winning football and this year, with this 1-8 record after Saturday's 33-10 mess of a loss at Missouri, UK suddenly dropped off the cliff.

We are talking about a half-century, at least, of a school playing major college football without anything close to sustained success.

And here's the thing: two of those eight-win seasons (2006 and 2007) came in years in which college football operated under its current 12-game regular season. In those two years, the Cats secured the eighth win by playing a 13th game, winning back-to-back Music City Bowls.

Here's another sad stat: Kentucky hasn't posted a winning record in SEC play since 1977. Since then, the Cats have won one or fewer league games in a season 10 times.

Unless Joker Phillips can find a way to beat Vanderbilt on Saturday and win at Tennessee on Nov. 24, that futility figure will reach 11.

Indeed, this current Kentucky football season has been like so many other Kentucky football seasons, except maybe more so.

Season-altering injury? Check.

The offensive staff spent spring practice, all off-season and fall camp designing, developing and deploying an up-tempo, short-passing offense around the quick release and accurate arm of Maxwell Smith.

Then the sophomore quarterback missed the fourth game of the season with a shoulder injury and made it through just two plays of the fifth game before requiring season-ending surgery on a torn ligament in his ankle.

With Smith sidelined, the Cats have relied on two promising true freshman quarterbacks in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. Yet each has his own style. Whitlow is more the runner, less the passer. Towles is more the passer, less the runner.

Whitlow missed part of the Georgia loss with a migraine headache. Towles missed two games with a high-ankle sprain, returned Saturday but appeared rusty.

If you combined Smith's healthy right ankle and Towles' healthy left ankle with Whitlow's mobility, Towles' arm, Smith's accuracy and Morgan Newton's senior experience, then you might have yourself a pretty good quarterback.

More bad timing? Check.

Early in the year, with Smith at quarterback, the Cats produced a potent offense that put up 47 points on a Kent State team that is now 7-1 after the Golden Flashes won at previously unbeaten Rutgers on Saturday.

Ah, but early in the season, Rick Minter's defense struggled to the point where there were rampant rumors the defensive coordinator might get pink-slipped, especially after UK lost 32-31 in overtime to Western Kentucky.

Now, Minter's defense has improved to the point where it allowed just 273 yards of total offense to Missouri's spread attack at Faurot Field on Saturday. Since 2008, the Cats had been 12-1 in games in which the defense gave up fewer than 300 yards.

Make that 12-2. As the UK defense has improved, the UK offense has struggled. After gaining 121 yards in their first two possessions, the Cats gained all of 58 yards the rest of the day.

The UK defense had intercepted just two passes all season. Saturday against Missouri, UK freshman cornerback J.D. Harmon intercepted passes on back-to-back offensive snaps by the home team as the visitors forced three turnovers on the day.

On the very same day, however, a UK offense that had not been turning the ball over committed three turnovers of its own. Missouri converted those turnovers into 21 points. UK converted the three Missouri turnovers into three points.

Figures.

We could go on, but we won't. It's depressing. And repetitive.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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