John Clay: More things change in SEC, more UK stays the same

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 30, 2013 

Kentucky and Auburn both went 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference last season.

Auburn knocked off top-ranked Alabama on Saturday afternoon in the most miraculous play imaginable to win the West Division and earn a berth in the conference title game next Saturday.

Meanwhile, Kentucky lost to Tennessee 27-14 to complete its second consecutive winless conference season.

This is the college football season in which Duke won 10 games and reached the ACC title game. Vanderbilt won eight games to earn its school-record third consecutive bowl bid.

The more things change, the more Kentucky stays the same.

Kentucky changed coaches without changing the bottom line. Mark Stoops finished his first season as a head coach 2-10, the same record that got Joker Phillips fired during his third season as Kentucky's head coach.

As much as Stoops tried to dig Kentucky football out of its hole, one year proved to be just not enough. Through the losing, the Cats were competitive, at least until pretty much the final two weeks. Then, they just lost.

Last week, 64 seconds into the game, Georgia had scored a touchdown on Kentucky. Saturday night, 24 seconds into the game, Tennessee scored a touchdown on Kentucky.

In the first quarter, UK cornerback Jaleel Hytchye had an interception right in his hands, but bobbled it into the hands of Tennessee receiver Jason Croom for a 43-yard Volunteer touchdown. It's been that kind of season.

Joey Herrick slipped and his knee hit as the wide receiver was about to throw a pass on a trick play to a wide open Ryan Timmons. The play lost 10 yards. It's been that kind of season.

In the third quarter, with Tennessee backed up on its own 6-yard line, UK stopped a UT run, only to have Avery Williamson called for unsportsmanlike conduct for taunting. It was that kind of season.

In the fourth quarter, Tennessee was backed up on its own 1-yard line facing a third-and-10 when quarterback Josh Dobbs threw a 37-yard pass to Devrin Young. It was that kind of season.

Tennessee led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, 20-7 at halftime. In SEC games this year, Kentucky was outscored 182-50. That's a tough path to victory.

And remember, this was a Tennessee team trying to avoid the first eight-loss season in school history. It was a Tennessee team that had lost to Vanderbilt in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1925-26, that had clinched its fourth consecutive losing season since 1906. Luckily, the visiting Vols found UK no better than it was a year ago.

There wasn't much of a crowd at Commonwealth Stadium to see the Kentucky finale or support the departing seniors, which continued a trend. But the days of fans showing up just to support the home team are long gone. Blame that on higher ticket prices, high definition television and a long history of losing.

It still says here that Stoops can turn that around. The former Florida State defensive coordinator is a hard worker, a football guy and has shown to be a good recruiter. His next task will be holding on to the current commitments while trying to entice a few more. As Tennessee rolled to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter, major UK target Matt Elam tweeted that he has an in-home visit with Notre Dame on Wednesday.

There is promise from redshirts and transfers with names Braylon Heard, Ramsey Myers, Regie Meant, Reese Phillips, and (UK fans hope) many more.

In the fourth quarter, the frustration boiled over after the Cats were called for pass interference. Upset by the flag, Stoops called time out and blew his top, which earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the head coach.

You'll have to excuse the new coach, he's not used to this kind of football.

Meanwhile, if Auburn (after an 0-8 season), Duke and Vanderbilt can do it, why can't Kentucky?

How long have we been asking that question?

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

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