It was the season in a nutshell.
And the nutshell was crushed.
Much like Kentucky’s season, the game against Louisville started with much promise, a 21-0 Cats lead, only to completely come apart in the end.
After building that massive advantage, UK gave it all back and more in the second half, allowing the Cardinals to score 31 unanswered points to win 38-24 at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
“I’m tired of the would’ve, could’ve, should’ves, just as the fans are,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “We’ve got to make those plays. And that’s when our program will grow, when we make those plays to win games.”
Kentucky, which started the season winning four of its first five games, lost six of its last seven to end the season 5-7 for a second straight year.
I’m tired of the would’ve, could’ve, should’ves, just as the fans are. We’ve got to make those plays.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops
“Nobody wants to see a change more than myself and the staff and these players that are working hard,” Stoops said of losing to Louisville to deny the Cats a chance at a bowl game for the second straight season.
“It hurts. I understand the frustration, believe me; very clearly. We’re not very pleased with the way we finished again. I know the fans are not happy. And I’m not happy. It’s disappointing.”
The Cats could be facing many more seasons ending in heartbreak if Lamar Jackson is the Cardinals’ quarterback of the future. The freshman backup dominated the second half, finishing with 186 yards rushing with two touchdowns and 130 yards passing with another score.
“We had guys in position and they made us look foolish at times,” Stoops said.
Johnson outran the Cats on the perimeter, and they couldn’t contain the mobile quarterback. It was a similar story against players like Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs earlier this season.
Louisville freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson amassed 316 yards to outgain the Kentucky offense.
“A guy like him, if you miss a tackle or even if you’re there, he may outrun you and that makes it really tough,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, whose team gave up 489 yards of offense, including 325 in the second half.
The 6-foot-3 freshman quarterback, who amassed 316 yards, outgained the Kentucky offense, which managed just 291 yards, including an anemic 83 yards on 27 plays in the second half. On six of their eight second-half drives, the Cats went three and out.
Fifty-one of UK’s 83 yards in the second half came on the final drive of the game when Patrick Towles came in to relieve Drew Barker. Towles’ drive ended in a pick. And Barker’s day ended with 128 yards after he hit on just six of 22 throws.
“I know that we had some open guys,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said when asked about the second half meltdown. “And there were times we didn’t go to them and there were times when we went to them and they didn’t make the play.”
It was an eventful first period for the Cats, who grabbed a 21-0.
On the opening drive, UK got big yardage (first a 31-yard pass to Garrett Johnson and then a 28-yard screen to Mikel Horton) to help set up a 1-yard touchdown run for Barker, first of his career.
The Cats went 6-for-9 on third down in the first half and went into the locker room with a 24-7 advantage on a short Miles Butler field goal at the horn.
One of the three interceptions in the first half for the Kentucky defense set up a 6-yard scoring run for Boom Williams, who left in the first half after reinjuring his elbow.
Just kept getting outside of us and that was unfortunate because we didn’t (contain him) and we should have. It’s a shame.
UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, on Lamar Jackson
Williams’ touchdown came courtesy of a 35-yard pick return for A.J. Stamps, the senior’s first of the season after leading the team in that stat a season ago.
Another UK senior, linebacker Josh Forrest, picked off another Kyle Bolin pass and returned it 81 yards to put the Cats up 21-0 with 4:42 to go in the first half.
Enter Jackson, who connected on his first pass of the game, a 38-yarder to James Quick, right before Jackson ran it 16 yards for the score.
Kentucky’s J.D. Harmon nabbed his third pick of the season, pulling a Jackson pass out of the air near the end zone a couple of drives later and set up the short Butler field goal to end the break.
As good as the first quarter was for Kentucky, the third quarter was as bad with the Cardinals scoring 17 unanswered, first on a 37-yard field goal from John Wallace.
Brandon Radcliff’s 6-yard run made it 24-17, capping a six-play, 66-yard drive. Much of that came via the feet of Jackson, who ran for 43 yards.
“Just kept getting outside of us and that was unfortunate because we didn’t (contain him) and we should have,” Eliot said. “It’s a shame.”
Jackson made another big play -- this one with his arm -- when he hit James Quick for a 35-yard touchdown pass to tie it up 24-24 to end the third quarter and eliminate the Cats’ big advantage.
The offense did nothing to help the UK defense in the third quarter, managing 11 plays for 19 total yards, including three three-and-outs.
“It hurts,” said running back Mikel Horton, who had 13 carries for 44 yards after Williams (elbow) and Jojo Kemp (knee) both went down with injuries. “People in that locker room are hurt. Everyone is hurt, crying, emotional. It’s emotional because we don’t like losing.”
First quarter: UK—Barker 1 run (MacGinnis kick), 9:15. UK—S.Williams 6 run (MacGinnis kick), 7:30. UK—Forrest 81 interception return (MacGinnis kick), 4:42. Lou—Jackson 16 run (Wallace kick), 3:21. Second quarter: UK—FG Butler 20, :00. Third quarter: Lou—FG Wallace 37, 7:45. Lou—Radcliff 6 run (Wallace kick), 2:40. Lou—Quick 35 pass from Jackson (Wallace kick), :02. Fourth quarter: Lou—Radcliff 4 run (Wallace kick), 10:17. Lou—Jackson 13 run (Wallace kick), 4:02.
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Louisville, Jackson 17-186, Radcliff 14-62, Reve 1-43, Scott 3-13, Quick 1-8, Bonnafon 2-5, Team 2-(minus 3). Kentucky, Horton 13-44, S.Williams 7-37, Kemp 5-14, Barker 12-(minus 3).
PASSING—Louisville, Jackson 8-21-1-130, Bolin 2-5-2-45. Kentucky, Barker 6-22-0-128, Towles 3-4-1-71.
RECEIVING—Louisville, Quick 4-94, Standberry 1-38, Samuel 1-15, Staples 1-11, Bonnafon 1-7, Ja.Smith 1-6, Hikutini 1-4. Kentucky, Baker 3-94, Horton 2-46, G.Johnson 2-41, Timmons 2-18.