John Clay: 2nd half of season should be easier for UK football team

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 13, 2013 

Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp (3) was pulled down by the face mask by Alabama defensive lineman Darren Lake (95) as #1 Alabama defeated Kentucky 48-7 Alabama on Saturday October 12, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

A Kentucky theme after Saturday night's 41-point slap down by No. 1-ranked Alabama was that after a vicious four-game stretch, the Cats could emerge from the rubble and have a successful second half of the season.

After all, the schedule turns from remarkable in degree of difficulty — ranked teams Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama all in a row — to at least reasonable.

How reasonable? Let's take a look.

Mississippi State (Oct. 24): The Cats travel to Starkville for a Thursday night ESPN meeting with the Bulldogs, who are currently treading water at 3-3 overall but 0-2 in the SEC.

Dan Mullen's club survived a non-conference scare Saturday night, nipping Bowling Green 21-20.

But Mullen has never lost to Kentucky, 4-0 with three wins coming in Lexington.

Alabama State (Nov. 2): The FCS Hornets are 5-2, riding a five-game win streak after a 48-42 overtime win over Prairie View A&M on Saturday.

A SWAC member, ASU will likely be psyched for the Lexington trip. The Hornets haven't played an FBS school since Sept. 10, 2011, when they lost 14-7 at Eastern Michigan.

Missouri (Nov. 9): Gary Pinkel has gone from hot seat to hot coach with his Tigers the surprise of the SEC, soaring to a 6-0 start after Saturday's 41-26 upset win at Athens. That's the good news.

The bad news is quarterback James Franklin suffered a Grade 2 shoulder separation and could miss the rest of the season.

Vanderbilt (Nov. 16): The Commodores are 3-3 overall but 0-3 in the SEC. They lost at home to Ole Miss 39-35, on the road at South Carolina 35-25 and at home to Missouri 51-28. Against better opponents, Vandy's defense has turned soft, giving up 579 yards to South Carolina and 523 to Missouri.

On the other hand, the 'Dores boast back-to-back wins over Kentucky the last two years by a combined count of 78-8. And they get Kentucky in Nashville.

Georgia (Nov. 23): Bulldogs Coach Mark Richt may wonder if he will have any healthy players remaining by the time Kentucky visits Athens. And the rash of injuries finally caught up with Georgia on Saturday in the 15-point loss to visiting Missouri. Injuries and four turnovers.

By the time Mark Stoops' team comes calling Georgia will have played Florida in Jacksonville and Auburn on the Plains. Might the Dawgs be primed for a letdown?

Tennessee (Nov. 30): The Vols are currently 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the SEC and yet new coach Butch Jones has Tennessee thinking better things may be ahead.

Truth be told, UT faces a stretch similar to the one Kentucky just completed. The Vols play host to South Carolina on Saturday, then play Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Missouri in Columbia before returning home to play Auburn. All four of those teams are ranked.

Kentucky did beat the Vols the last time Tennessee came to Commonwealth Stadium, but the coaching staffs were different for both teams back then.

Jones and Stoops would probably agree that the biggest challenge for their respective programs is the lack of depth.

That came home to roost for Kentucky on Saturday. Not that the Cats had much chance against the machine that is Nick Saban's Alabama, but losing quarterback Jalen Whitlow on the second series rendered the Cats' chances beyond bleak.

It's great to preach a next-man-up mentality, but reality isn't always pretty. Backup Maxwell Smith was all but fed to the wolves.

At least Kentucky now has a dozen days to figure out an offensive plan, let some bumps and bruises heal and focus like a laser on a second-half surge.

The last six won't be easy, but they can't be any more difficult than the first six.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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