Mark Story: One man is responsible for the three 'worst losses' in modern UK football history

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 3, 2013 

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looked at fans trying to provoke him during the Gamecocks' win Saturday night at Kentucky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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When the Kentucky football team last visited South Carolina two seasons ago, the result was an epic example of UK dysfunction.

The Wildcats produced six first downs, six turnovers, three points. Out of 18 offensive possessions, UK had seven three-and-outs and the six turnovers.

Not once, but twice — twice! — Kentucky threw interceptions on back-to-back offensive plays. Not one, not two, but three different Kentucky players — two quarterbacks and a halfback passer — threw interceptions.

South Carolina ran 91 total plays; Kentucky gained 96 total yards.

Kentucky lost the game 54-3. UK was outgained 639 yards to 96.

Two years later, as he prepares to take UK to Columbia for the first time as Wildcats head coach, Mark Stoops seemed retroactively stunned by the magnitude of the train wreck Kentucky suffered in Spurrier-land in 2011.

"I see the last time (UK) went down there to South Carolina was not a very good outcome," said Stoops Wednesday, "and the yardage was, wow, that was tough."

It's easy to look at the grim numbers UK compiled against the Gamecocks in 2011 and proclaim that it must have been the worst Kentucky football performance ever.

My firsthand memory of Kentucky football pretty much begins with the season Commonwealth Stadium opened (1973). So UK's 82-0 loss to Saint Louis in 1905 and its 67-0 pummeling at the hands of Centre College in 1894 are a bit outside my scope of evaluation.

But in the past 20 years alone, UK has had three other "meltdown games" similar in proportion to what happened to Joker Phillips and Co. at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2011.

In terms of "worst Kentucky losses," I'd rank them like this:

4.) 2008, Florida 63, Kentucky 5. UK got two punts blocked in the first quarter by Urban Meyer's Gators. They set up Florida's first two touchdowns and launched UF to a 35-0 lead. Bringing even more special teams ineptitude to The Swamp, Kentucky later had a field goal blocked, too.

Why it isn't the worst UK loss: Kentucky gained 268 yards of offense and did score.

3.) 1994, Florida 73, Kentucky 7. The Cats were down 31-7 at halftime against Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun, but things got fully out of hand in the third quarter when Terry Dean hit Reidel Anthony with a 65-yard TD pass, then UK fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Florida returned it for a touchdown.

Why it isn't the worst UK loss: The Cats logged a touchdown and gained 198 total yards.

2. 2011, South Carolina 54, Kentucky 3. Had South Carolina's Bruce Ellington not fumbled the opening kickoff, which set up UK's field goal, the Wildcats would have never come close to scoring.

Why it isn't the worst UK loss: Kentucky did manage that field goal.

1.) 1996, Florida 65, Kentucky 0. In a season in which UK fans were pleading for the Wildcats coaching staff to install true freshman Tim Couch as starting quarterback, Bill Curry and offensive coordinator Elliot Uzelac threw Couch to the Gators in Gainesville in his first college start.

Couch completed six of 18 passes for 13 yards. Spurrier's crew led 41-0 at halftime, then Jacquez Green returned back-to-back punts (66 and 79 yards) for touchdowns in the third period.

Why it is the worst UK loss: Florida scored 65 points; Kentucky gained 67 total yards.

You'll note that the three worst Kentucky defeats of modern times have come with "Steve Superior" on the opposing sideline. All those Spurrier comments about UK that sound so snarky to Kentucky ears may be the Head Ball Coach speaking the truth as he has lived it.

The hard fact is, legitimate SEC football programs should not be losing games 54-3 to anyone.

With the current Kentucky team in the midst of a brutal four-game stretch against No. 7 Louisville, No. 18 Florida, No. 13 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama, it has been somewhat heartening that UK has not been blitzed in defeats to U of L (27-13) and UF (24-7).

One suspects the knowledge of what happened the last time Kentucky visited Spurrier and South Carolina may have been part of what prompted the rant Stoops went on Wednesday after what he described as a "very unacceptable" practice by his team.

Visiting South Carolina "will be a challenge for us," Stoops said, "and it's something that we need to show some mental toughness and not let the game get out of hand."

The new UK coach should have added "ever again."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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