UK Football

John Clay: Now we'll see how UK handles adversity

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops glanced at the scoreboard after LSU's first touchdown in the first quarter of the Kentucky at LSU football game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rogue, La.,, on Oct. 18, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops glanced at the scoreboard after LSU's first touchdown in the first quarter of the Kentucky at LSU football game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rogue, La.,, on Oct. 18, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

BATON ROUGE, La. — It wasn't just Bradley Dale Peveto.

To be sure, Kentucky's former special teams coach, who left Lexington after one season to return to his beloved Louisiana, was the star of a spectacular special teams show Saturday night as Peveto's LSU Tigers popped the Cats' balloon 41-3.

The home team opened the game with a 58-yard kickoff return. It returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. To cap off the first half, it recovered its own kickoff as a confused group of Cats only watched. By the time Kentucky could seek the refuge of the locker room for intermission, it was 27-3 LSU.

To blame UK's special teams meltdown on the absence of J.D. Harmon, the Cats' best special teams player who served a first-half suspension, is way too simplistic, by the way. Saturday night in the Bayou was more about a hard truth.

Just because Kentucky football is gaining ground, it doesn't mean the Cats are there.

As much progress as Mark Stoops and company made through the first half of the season — and there was much progress — the Kentucky reboot remains a work in progress. There are going to be holes in the road. Saturday's was more like a crater.

All night long, LSU was bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic. The Tigers' defense shut down Kentucky's Wildcat formation. The Tigers' offense broke UK tackles on key downs, zipped off long runs on others.

This was the best Les Miles' club has played all season, and probably the worst Kentucky has played in 2014. If UK helped LSU play well, LSU certainly helped Kentucky play poorly.

Here's an example: There was (at the time) a big play in the first half. UK trailed 17-3, but the Cats had started to get their feet back underneath them. They faced a fourth-and-2 at the LSU 29 with 5:31 left in the half.

Stoops correctly decided to go for the first down. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown went to the Wildcat with Jojo Kemp taking the direct snap — something that had worked the first six games of the season.

LSU stuffed it. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was in the Kentucky backfield a nanosecond after Kemp took the snap. Kemp never had a chance. LSU took over on downs.

Truth be told, Kentucky got a little ahead of itself. Well, not the Cats exactly.

We're talking the Big Blue Nation, drunk on the unexpected success. And even the experts. After all, ESPN's top analyst, Kirk Herbstreit, picked the Cats to win during the network's College GameDay telecast on Saturday morning.

Kentucky entered Death Valley 5-1 on the season, boasting a two-game conference winning streak for the first time since 2009 and with a new coat of on-the-road confidence from playing Florida to the wire and beyond last month in the The Swamp.

We now know Florida is officially a train wreck. We also know the toughest teams on the schedule are yet to come.

Stoops can be forgiven if he doesn't want to visit Baton Rouge again anytime soon. When he was defensive coordinator at Arizona under his brother, Mike, those Wildcats lost 45-3 to LSU in Death Valley. Saturday night had to feel about the same way.

Shake it off, as Taylor Swift says. CBS is coming to Lexington this week because No. 1 Mississippi State is coming to Lexington this week. It doesn't get any easier.

The bad news is last month Dan Mullen's club came into the Tigers' den and punched LSU in the mouth the way UK got punched Saturday night. State led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, 34-10 early in the fourth quarter. It won 34-29.

Saturday night pumped the brakes on the Big Blue bandwagon, but Saturday there's a chance to get the bus back on track.

After six games of prosperity, now we get to see how Stoops' young team reacts to the season's first heavy dose of adversity.

After all, Bradley Dale Peveto doesn't coach at Mississippi State.

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