Mark Stoops: 'We just need to play better than that'
OK, so Kentucky football is ranked 111th nationally of 129 FBS teams in total offense. In Saturday’s 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan, it gained its fewest yards in 13 games. It is still missing its best defensive player. And its four victories have come by a combined 32 points.
That all said, it has lost just once in five tries, to Florida 28-27 in a heart-stopper you can argue it should have won. It is 2-0 on the road. It is 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference. And when you study its remaining opponents, it’s still on track to ring its baseline bell of a second straight bowl game.
Preseason, I picked Kentucky to go 8-4. That was after starting offensive tackle Cole Mosier and starting wide receiver Dorian Baker went down to injury, but before All-SEC linebacker Jordan Jones banged a shoulder, before various centers starting spraying shotgun snaps and before we realized it would be tougher for Eddie Gran’s offense to overcome the loss of Jon Toth and Boom Williams than we first thought.
Still, I’m sticking with 8-4, meaning Mark Stoops’ troops must go 4-3 from October to December. Truth be told, given the Cats’ defense — currently third nationally in run defense; 28th in scoring; 49th overall — that win total could even rise with a break here or there, or some improvement by the offense.
A quick look ahead:
Missouri (Oct. 7): Simply put, Mizzou is a mess. Second-year head coach Barry Odom axed his defensive coordinator two weeks into the season. The Tigers have been no better since, losing 35-3 to Purdue and 51-14 to Auburn. Saturday night at Kroger Field will be Missouri’s first road game of the season.
Mississippi State (Oct. 21 in Starkville): The Bulldogs’ 37-7 win at LSU on Sept. 16 doesn’t look as impressive now — shout out to Neal Brown and Troy for the Trojans’ 24-21 win at Death Valley on Saturday — and Dan Mullen’s club is 0-2 since, losing by a combined count of 80-13 at Georgia (31-3) and Auburn (49-10).
Tennessee (Oct. 28): The Vols might have five-star hearts, according to Butch Jones, but they could be without their embattled head coach by the time they reach Lexington. Saturday’s 41-0 humiliation at home by Georgia turned Jones’ seat into a five-alarm fire. And the Vols visit Alabama the week before visiting Kroger Field.
Ole Miss (Nov. 4): If Louisville basketball’s year, after firing Rick Pitino in preseason, goes the way Ole Miss’ football season has gone, after firing Hugh Freeze in preseason, the Cards are in for a long, long season. Ole Miss collapsed to 2-2 after being destroyed 66-3 by Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Vanderbilt (Nov. 11 in Nashville): A 14-7 win over then-No. 18 Kansas State shoved the Commodores into the spotlight, where they’ve promptly been burned. Alabama buried Derek Mason’s club 59-0. The ’Dores put up a fight before falling 38-24 at Florida on Saturday
Georgia (Nov. 18 in Athens): This remains the one game on the schedule that looks beyond Kentucky’s reach. The 5-0 Dawgs are darn good. The game is at Sanford Stadium. A Kentucky victory between the hedges would be a major upset.
Louisville (Nov. 25): After last year’s 41-38 loss, the Cards will no doubt be seeking revenge. And Bobby Petrino’s team is currently 4-1, its lone loss coming at home to No. 2 Clemson 47-21. A tough task for Kentucky, no doubt, but the Cats do get this one at home.
Missouri at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC)
KENTUCKY FOOTBALL 2017