Mark Stoops can’t find the brakes.
Simple as that.
Let’s be honest, here. Kentucky’s 45-7 swamping at The Swamp on Saturday wasn’t some sort of a one-day calamity. It was the continuation of a downhill slide for the program that started midway through last season and that, for whatever reason, the Kentucky coach hasn’t been able to get stopped.
He fired his offensive coordinator and brought in a new one along with a new quarterbacks coach. He made a change at quarterback. He hired a special teams coordinator. He tweaked his defensive schemes. He changed the team’s off-season routine. And yet Saturday the Cats dropped to 0-2 on this year and, dating to last year, lost their eighth game in their last nine outings. The one win: Charlotte.
Saturday wasn’t just any loss, either. After going toe-to-toe with Florida the last two seasons — a 36-30 overtime heartbreaker of a loss here in 2014; a 14-9 defeat at Commonwealth Stadium last season — the Cats reverted to some of their past Sunshine State performances, ones that include a 73-7 thumping in 1994; a 65-0 blanking in 1996; a 63-5 trouncing in 2008. Florida has now beaten UK 30 straight games, remember.
Florida’s offense gained 564 yards while holding the Kentucky offense to just 149 yards. UK quarterback Drew Barker, fifth nationally in pass efficiency after week one, completed just two of 10 passes for 10 yards with three interceptions. Florida freshman Lamical Perine rushed for 105 yards. Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway caught five passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. Need we continue?
After the Cats blew a 25-point first half lead last week and lost to Southern Miss, Stoops apologized to the fans. Saturday, standing inside the hot, cramped interview area beneath the grandstand at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Stoops laid it out nice and slow.
“Not a lot to say other than we got our butts kicked,” he said. “We got handled.”
He also said, as he often does, that he and the team would go back to work, coachspeak that drives a significant portion of the Big Blue Nation crazy. But what’s he supposed to say?
Eddie Gran, the new offensive coordinator, pointed the finger right back at himself. He said he put his offense in a bad spot right from the start, opening the game in an empty-set (no backs) that saw Barker get sacked.
“I got our quarterback hit in the chin,” he said.
Gran then said he had to go back and re-examine what he’s doing with the offense. Are the coaches trying to do too much? Does the scheme fit the players? After a stellar first two quarters against Southern Miss, the Kentucky attack has produced just seven points in six quarters — and those points coming with just 4:27 left against Florida’s reserves.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” Barker said.
There will be a lot of that this week. The fan base will cry and moan and demand heads be rolled — be they the head of the 12-26 head coach or the AD who gave him a $12 million buyout, or both — but none of that’s going to happen, of course. The season is just two games old. There are 10 left to play. It’s a long season.
After Saturday’s carnage was complete, Stoops was asked if, after a terrible start to the season, with non-conference New Mexico State waiting next week, do you just wash the slate clean, say we’re starting over with a chance to show we’re better than this?
“To a point,” he said. I’ve never been one to just wash a game. We all have to be held accountable for what we do. I know that. It starts with me. We’ve got to look at all the things we’re asking them to do, what they’ve done and what they can do better. But to a point, yes. We can only control next week. Let’s just try to go get one victory and go from there.”
Try, someway, somehow, to find the brakes to put a stop to this skid.
Kentucky’s eight losses in last nine games