Football

John Clay: SEC is rife with bounce-backs, so why not Kentucky?

Patrick Towles passed under pressure in the fourth quarter of the Kentucky at LSU football game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rogue, La.,, on Oct. 18, 2014. LSU beat Kentucky 41-3. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Patrick Towles passed under pressure in the fourth quarter of the Kentucky at LSU football game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rogue, La.,, on Oct. 18, 2014. LSU beat Kentucky 41-3. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

It began with the first game on the first night, back in Columbia, S.C. on Thursday, Aug. 28, when Kenny "Trill" Hill and his Texas A&M Aggies unexpectedly slammed the Steve Spurriers 52-28.

Two weeks later, South Carolina rolled up its sleeves and atoned for its sins with a huge win over East rival Georgia.

We saw it again two weeks ago, when LSU was buried at Auburn 41-7, dug itself out of its deep hole the next week and kicked a 50-yard field goal at the buzzer to snap the Gators' spirit in The Swamp.

We saw it Saturday night when Missouri, fresh off a 34-0 home-field pasting by a Todd Gurley-less Georgia, rebounded with a vengeance to stamp Will Muschamp's job status in Gatorville as precarious as best.

If 2014 SEC football has produced a high number of beatdowns — Alabama's 59-0 domination of Texas A&M and Ole Miss' 34-3 trouncing of Tennessee on Saturday expanded the list — it has also brought subsequent bounce backs.

Kentucky joined the steamrolled Saturday night, whipped by host LSU 41-3. The Tigers' Terrence Magee returned the opening kickoff 49 yards, with 15 yards added by a Blake McClain face mask penalty, which was soon followed by a Za'Darius Smith roughing the passer penalty, and the Cajun party was on.

"To be physically handled is what sticks out to me," said UK Coach Mark Stoops after the bloodbath. "Along with our mistakes."

Now Kentucky has to hit the glass — you know, rebound. If the Cats are going to make good on Stoops' "one game will not define us" pledge, the time is now.

It won't be easy, of course. So far, by way of the rankings, Saturday's opponent, Mississippi State, is not just the best team in the conference, but the best team in America. Dan Mullen's club had a week off to bask in the glow of three straight wins over top-10 teams.

Meanwhile, Mullen is a perfect 5-0 versus Kentucky. Things are going so well for the former Florida offensive coordinator he even got some overzealous Gators fans to shutter their hiredanmullen.com website.

Ah, but let's open the UK football history book and thumb back to 2006, Rich Brooks' third year on the job. The former Oregon coach was beginning to believe he was making some progress with the probation-riddled program he inherited.

Then the Cats arrived in Baton Rouge and got waxed 49-0.

The setback wasn't so much a wake-up call as a siren blare. Brooks went back to the basics, preaching tough, physical play. What followed was a four-game win streak that paved the way for UK's first bowl appearance in seven seasons.

Stoops' situation isn't quite the same. The former Florida State defensive coordinator is only in his second season. He didn't face scholarship restrictions, and he has recruited well. Still, if the UK coaches thought the water from the ALS' Ice Bucket challenge they took in the preseason was cold, Saturday night in Louisiana must have been chilling.

For Kentucky to have any chance against MSU, the Cats have to play the run better on defense and be better in the passing game on offense.

LSU rushed for 303 yards, the most against a UK defense since 2011. Yes, Kentucky rushed for only 71 yards, but LSU could stack the box thanks to an athletic secondary that smothered Kentucky's young receivers.

"We didn't win a lot of one-and-ones," lamented offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

And LSU was just one game. Just as coaches preach play the next play, it's time to play the next game. Hit the delete button on LSU and punch up the SEC's week-by-week results as reference points.

If South Carolina can lose by 24 at home to Texas A&M and then beat Georgia; if Florida can lose by 21 to Alabama and then win at Tennessee; if LSU can lose by 34 at Auburn and then win two in a row; if Missouri can lose at home by 34 to Georgia and then win by 29 at Florida, there is only one question to ask.

Why not Kentucky?

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