ATHENS, Ga. — If it had not dawned on Mark Stoops before — and there's a very good chance it already had — then surely at some point underneath the dark gray skies on a very long afternoon inside Sanford Stadium on Saturday the Kentucky football coach experienced a moment of clarity.
Somewhere during his tenure, Charlie Bradshaw experienced it. Then John Ray. And Fran Curci after that. And Jerry Caliborne. And Bill Curry. And Hal Mumme. And Guy Morriss. And Rich Brooks. And Joker Phillips. It's a long list.
Over the past 50 years or so of Kentucky football there had to have been a day when the head coach realized that turning the program around was going to be more difficult than maybe he had first believed.
Maybe Saturday's 27-3 loss at Georgia was Mark Stoops' day.
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Maybe it happened when he saw his team fumble away a punt return on its own 25-yard line. Maybe it was when an offsides penalty erased his team's recovery of a pop-up kickoff. Maybe it was while watching his offense manage just 180 total yards while his defense allowed 300 rushing yards.
At some point Saturday, Stoops had to experience that same feeling of frustration his predecessors felt.
"We're going to go back to work," he said after his team's fourth straight defeat, because what else could he say. He kissed his wife, hugged his two young boys, faced the media, then boarded a plane back home and back to work.
"We'll man up," Stoops said. "We know that this type of play is not acceptable."
It's been a rough three weeks. Kentucky was 4-2 after a 30-27 Thursday night home loss to Auburn. Then came the buzzsaw. Mississippi State mashed UK 42-16 in Starkville. Tennessee trounced UK 52-21 in Lexington. Georgia had its way with UK by 24 in Athens.
Suddenly a season that looked ready to deliver a giant leap of progress has dissolved into a salvage mission.
What made Saturday a little worse on the frustration scale was it was the first game all year the Cats could get absolutely nothing done on offense. At least against Florida, back in September, the offense set up three field goals.
Saturday, there was little rhythm, fewer first downs, no touchdowns. Quarterback Patrick Towles completed just eight of 21 passes for 96 yards with two interceptions in a performance that caused both Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson to admit they had to at least consider a quarterback change.
"I remember one other time where we struggled and didn't cross the 50," said Dawson of his career as an offensive coach. "We got shut out, which technically we got shut out tonight because defense gave us that three points. It wasn't fun then, it ain't fun now."
Meanwhile, Georgia had been having no fun either. The Bulldogs lost their best player, running back Nick Chubb, three weeks ago. They somehow find themselves without a reliable quarterback.
Leading up to Saturday, they experienced a week of craziness and controversy that included calls for Coach Mark Richt's job and rumors defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was being sacked.
"That's a prideful football team, give me a break," Stoops said afterward. "You all just gave them a chance to circle the wagons. We know what they're all about. We knew they were going to play good. We have to do the same thing."
Stoops also said this: "Things aren't easy all the time."
They're never easy at Kentucky. Not in football. The results of the last three weeks do not mean Mark Stoops can't ultimately get the job done — it's his third season — or he has to fire his coordinators or he must rip up his script and start all over again.
It does mean he knows what he's up against. There have been plenty of object lessons over these last three weeks, including maybe the most important one.
So often with Kentucky football, just when you think you're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, here comes a train. Here comes history.