UK Football

Kentucky is 2-2. Can this season still be special?

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Game day: Kentucky at Mississippi State

Click below for more of’s coverage of the Kentucky-Mississippi State football game.

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Kentucky’s 28-13 loss at Mississippi State left the Wildcats still searching for their first Southeastern Conference victory of the season and put them behind, 24-23, in the all-time series against their permanent rivals from the SEC West Division.

Let’s look at the significance of Saturday’s outcome beyond the scoreboard.

No bounce back

Great football programs recover quickly from a tough loss and take it out on their next opponent.

These Cats didn’t do that despite proving last week that they can not only hang with a top-10 team, but — if not for any number of miscues that caused them to unravel in the fourth quarter — can dominate one in areas (rushing the ball, controlling the trenches) that UK football teams of the past had little chance of doing. The fight they brought to the Gators lacked in Starkville.

UK is a changed football program under Mark Stoops, but it is still making strides toward becoming a great one.

Road worriers

UK lost its road opener for the first time since 2016 and put itself on the wrong track toward a third straight year with a winning record away from Lexington. In fact, a finish better than .500 on the road this season could prove to be unfeasible.

The Wildcats finished 3-2 each of the past two seasons but play only four road games this season. One of those games is against Georgia, the SEC East Division favorite that’s considered a national-title contender, so we’ll file that one under “long shot.” Road trip No. 2 is immediate; UK heads to Columbia next weekend to face South Carolina, against whom it has a five-game win streak.

Kentucky’s only other road game, and its last one of the season, is at Vanderbilt on Nov. 16. If the Cats can’t extend their streak against the Gamecocks, a win over the Commodores likely would be their only one outside of Kroger Field in the regular season. The last time UK finished with just one road win was in 2015, which also was the last time it played only four road games (the Cats defeated South Carolina, 26-22, that year).

Bowl eligibility

With one-third of the regular-season schedule accounted for, UK is in search of four wins to reach bowl eligibility. This is where most expected it to be at this juncture, but the sting of last week’s near-upset of Florida wasn’t something that existed in the preseason.

The easiest road to six, as it was before the season’s first kickoff, consists of Arkansas, FCS foe Tennessee-Martin, Louisville and Vanderbilt. It in some ways seems easier and more difficult.

Neither Arkansas nor Vanderbilt — both picked behind the Cats in the preseason — has stood out from the crowd and should fill out the win column as long as UK can avoid further injury in key spots. The Commodores, particularly, could be playing for nothing but pride come November — they’re 0-3 overall with four SEC programs left to play before they host UK. The Razorbacks come to town following UK’s first bye week for a game during which the program will celebrate Jared Lorenzen; fans and players will be well-rested and galvanized.

Louisville, though, has played better football this season than many guessed they would coming into 2019. What seemed like a near “lock” come the final week of November is now, at least a little bit, more in doubt; anything can happen in a rivalry.

Tennessee has had a maelstrom of a season so far and has probably taken Louisville’s spot as the most-likely sixth win, on paper, but series history still makes that pick a bit uneasy. Missouri and South Carolina could account for that “sixth win” before Louisville or Tennessee even comes into the equation, too; we’ll obviously have a clearer picture on that come next weekend.

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.