John Clay

A new Kentucky? Not entirely

John Clay
John Clay

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It thought it was beyond this.

As a football program, it thought it was to the point where it was beyond the misery of spending 60 minutes on an opponent's field having its head bashed in time after time, beyond the Bill Curry acid flashbacks.

"I didn't think I'd be up here after a game where we had things go as badly as this," declared Rich Brooks.

Kentucky thought it was beyond Florida 63, UK 5.

It's not.

Brooks has taken a couple of beatdowns in his six years at Kentucky, especially early. There was a 62-17 loss to Georgia in 2004, a 49-0 loss at Louisiana State two years ago, a game against Florida in 2005 when the Gators led 49-7 at the half. But nothing like this, not in his 24 years as a head college coach.

In fact, not since 1996 and a 65-0 drubbing at the hands of the Gators at this very Swamp had the Cats been on the humiliating end of a such a lopsided loss.

"I was around for that 73-6 or something like that," said offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, who was an assistant on Curry's staff way back then. "It was déjà vu for me."

That was 1994.

And it was 73-7, actually.

You thought (hoped?) the program had grown in leaps in the 14 years since then. You thought those days were over. Turns out, they're not.

Not when you get back-to-back punts blocked in the first quarter, setting up back-to-back one-play Florida touchdown drives from inside the Cats' 5-yard line. In the first quarter.

Not when you have a field goal blocked, bringing the total number of kicks you have had blocked in a single season to five. And there are still four games left to go.

Not when, despite the late-game surge that beat Arkansas the week before, you have lost two of your better players (Derrick Locke and Dicky Lyons Jr.) on an offense that wasn't exactly a juggernaut when those two players were healthy.

Not when your starting quarterback (Mike Hartline) did a few good things Saturday, but not nearly as many as your backup (Randall Cobb) when he was at quarterback in the second quarter, but you go back to your starting quarterback (Hartline) to begin the second half.

First play of the second half: A pressured Hartline makes a poor decision and a poor throw, right to Gators corner Ahmad Black, who dances 40 yards the other way for a touchdown.

Saturday's smashing was simply confirmation: Powers like Florida reload; aspirants like Kentucky rebuild. Back-to-back Music City Bowl victories are two giant steps in the right direction, but they are not the same thing as an arrival. Not in the Southeastern Conference. They don't save you from the snowball effect, when while facing superior talent, one thing goes wrong, and then another, and then another, and the next thing you know you're assessing the wreckage.

"Cascaded," was Brooks' verb choice.

It's amusing to ask which team will end up having scored more points on the Cats, Urban Meyer's grid group on Brooks, or Billy Donovan's hoops version on Billy Gillispie? We shall see.

But it's more important to ask, where do the Cats go from here? Answer: Mississippi State, Saturday, in Starkville.

They do so knowing that — to turn Dennis Green's famous phrase on its ear — they are not the team they thought they were. They are not a team beyond falling totally flat on its face.

"I never thought I'd see this type of lopsided score in today's program because I thought we had surpassed this," Phillips said. "Obviously, we haven't."

"I didn't think we'd be beaten this badly," Brooks said. "I think we're a better team than that. I think we've already demonstrated that this year."

Now they have to go out and prove it all over again.