How could Kentucky not have seen an uncovered Florida receiver on two different plays that gave the Gators two easy touchdowns? How could no one on the field seen a receiver waving his arms for the football because no one was lined up close to him? How could 11 UK staff members in the pressbox not noticed or how could no one on the UK sideline not seen a player standing five yards from them with no one on him?
“I don’t know. I really do not. That can’t happen,” said Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen said after last week’s bizarre 28-27 loss to Florida.
It seems impossible for no one wearing a Kentucky jersey or shirt to have made that mistake twice. That’s why I wanted to see what Allen, who was on the field for both plays, thought.
“I saw the first one when the ball was in the air (to the receiver). The second one, when I saw it I was just hoping he would drop the ball,” Allen said. “So we just gave them two touchdowns. We were definitely the better team.”
It’s easy for the losing team to be bitter, especially when the winning score comes on a defensive mistake like Kentucky made in the final minute. But this time, I think he was right.
Florida has now beat UK 31 straight times — and 36 of the last 37 years. But for the first time since 1976-77, I really felt like Kentucky had the better overall team even if UK did lose.
Guess what? Sophomore running back Benny Snell agreed.
“We were the better team. There’s not a question. We did our thing on special teams, the defense and offense, so I felt like we were the better team. Whether it was just the mistake of the guy being open or the flag (on a holding call that took UK out of field goal range with six seconds to play), we beat ourselves. That’s just that. We’re better than that team, period,” Snell said.
Linebacker Eli Brown was just as frustrated. He started in place of injured Jordan Jones and, like Allen, was on the field when UK gave away two scores with mistakes a junior high team should not make. Florida didn’t rely on trickery. It relied on huge UK mistakes.
“You get so riled up and you feel like you have the game in your hand and just something just slips up. We didn’t even see the other man move out. I guess they were breaking a huddle and moved somebody real quick where we didn’t see it, so they kept getting us with that,” Brown said. “Every touchdown they had was a miss assignment. They didn’t earn one touchdown they had.
“One guy was wide open; the other guy was wide open. The long run, the guy jumped the gap and busted open something. They didn’t deserve anything. None of those touchdowns they had. It sucks real bad. It’s upsetting.”
Is it ever.
Kentucky fans had Kroger Field rocking. Kentucky was on the verge of going 2-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1977. The Cats would have been in the top 25 this week with the win.
Kentucky still could have won despite the defensive lapses. With time running out, Snell broke through the line and had Austin MacGinnis in position for a short field goal to win the team. Instead, a late holding call on Nick Haynes negated the gain and took UK out of field goal range. MacGinnis tried a desperation 57-yard field goal as time expired, but even Big Mac does not have that kind of leg.
Haynes thought it was a “BS” call and says even after seeing the play on film, he’s not sure why it was called. Others believe it was a hold, but also agree the flag came late.
Give Haynes credit. He didn’t duck the media after the game. He accepted questions and answered as honestly as he could. That’s what leaders do. But he still blames himself for the loss even if teammates said they didn’t
For fans, remember as painful as Saturday was, UK is 3-1. Last year at this time it was 1-3 and still won seven games. This team could be better and could still win seven or more games. That doesn’t take away the pain of the Florida loss, but this season is not over.
Let former UK defensive back Littleton Ward explain.
“I felt like the last five or six minutes I was playing the game with the kids. I felt in my heart that these kids were prepared well and gained confidence every snap during the game,” Ward said about the UK-Florida game.
“I didn’t doubt we would win. We did some bone-head things and you can’t leave guys uncovered. There is no excuse for that. Cat fans have every right to be upset with that. I was, too. But nobody feels worse than the coaches and players right now. Those guys in the battlefield feel the worse. They know they let it get away.”
Ward was on the 1994 UK team that lost 73-7 to Florida. He was also on the 1997 team that lost 55-28 to the Gators. However, UK also beat Alabama in 1997 in a game that fans celebrated by taking down the goal posts and carrying them through the UK campus.
“The game before we beat Alabama we got smacked in the mouth,” Ward said. “These guys still have an opportunity to run the table (win out).”
“I am just being open minded and positive. I have been in those positions before and know one game does not make a season,” Ward said. “They made some bad mistakes. The coaches will get it cleaned up. But this is a good team. Don’t give up on them.”
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Maryland point guard Immanuel Quickley’s decision to verbally commit to Kentucky last week was no surprise. Kentucky had been his leader for quite a while and Quickley did play for coach John Calipari on the USA team that competed in the FIBA Under 19 World Championships last summer.
But what does Quickley’s decision do to Texas point guard Quentin Grimes?
He’s scheduled to make an official visit to Kentucky this weekend after being at Texas last weekend. He’ll follow that with visits to Kansas — his perceived leader — and then Marquette.
“I saw a shift happen at adidas Nations when Quickley and Grimes were placed on the same team. They played off each other's strengths and were pretty much unstoppable in the backcourt,” Rivals.com recruiting writer Krysten Peek said. “It also helped that they had Zion Williamson, too, but I think it showed both guards that they could play together at the next level.”
She still sees Kansas as the team to beat for Grimes, and isn’t sure when he’ll make a decision.
The longer things go on with Grimes, the better shot the other three schools (Texas, Marquette and Kentucky) have in landing the five-star guard,” Peek said. “I never count Kentucky out in a five-star's recruitment and this could very well end up being a Kevin Knox situation where he surprises everyone (by picking Kentucky).”
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Kentucky native John Showalter knew UK football fans would travel to the TaxSlayer Bowl and as a bowl committee member, never missed a chance to tell bowl officials that last year before UK did get an invite to play Georgia Tech.
“I know Kentucky didn’t win but Kentucky was so well represented by the administration to the way the team and fans behaved and interacted. It was great,” Showalter, who played for former UK assistant coach Chuck Smith at Boyle County High School, said.
Kentucky is not eligible to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl again this year due to a policy adapted to keep the same team from playing in the same bowl consecutive seasons.
“All the bowls kind of work together now to get the best matchups for everybody,” Showalter. “Fans don’t travel to bowl games like they did 15 years ago. This year Kentucky can’t come back with the way our contract is structured with the Southeastern Conference.”
Showalter says Jacksonville would like to have more neutral-site matchups in early September to start the college football season. The city has a “big one” in the works for next year and had Alabama and Florida State play there a few years back.
“The BCS (bowl championship series) is a whole lot more about strength of schedule now,” Showalter said. “When you get down to the end, strength of schedule matters. Labor Day weekend works well for fans for a big neutral-site game. It gets on the calendar early and makes travel and planning easier for fans. It’s good for teams and coaches are sort of coming around. I get coaches don’t want to play marquee games right out of (preseason) camp, but it is coming. I definitely can see with the way Kentucky football is headed that Kentucky will have a chance to be in those types of games because there are going to be a lot of them I think.”
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I always enjoy meeting UK fans and discussing their views on the Wildcats. Thanks to Mary Ann Kearns and The Ledger Independent in Maysville, I’ll get that chance Oct. 12 from 4-6 p.m.
They invited me to Newsfest where readers are invited to come and interact with newspaper staff members.
Kearns says she had no choice but to be a UK fan — a dilemma many UK fans understand — because her mother was such a big Kentucky fans. She remembers her mother listening to UK games on the radio and not giving up even if the signal drifted in and out.
“Even later when games were routinely televised, she would turn down the sound to listen to Cawood,” Kearns said. “We would tease her that her two favorite men — after Dad — were Cawood and Joe Nuxhall (of the Cincinnati Reds Radio Network).”
I a looking forward to talking with a lot of UK fans who knew Darius Miller, Chris Lofton and many other Mason County athletic standouts.
I will get a little different conversation on Oct. 6 when I get to go to the Stanford Elementary School Career Day in Lincoln County. I’m hoping some of the students have either seen my work online or in The Interior-Journal in Stanford. Often youngsters amaze me by what they know when it comes to UK sports and it’s always fun to share with them.
I also get to join Kevin Conley of EKY Sports Radio (WSIP 98.9) Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to talk Kentucky football again. His show airs Thursdays from 6-7:30 p.m. and I had a great time on air with him earlier this season.
So if you have an event, never hesitate to ask me to attend because talking UK sports is something I love to do with fans of all ages.
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My cousin’s daughter, Rachel White, attends Asbury University and is spending this month in Spain studying. She loves Kentucky sports — not sure her father really gave her a choice — so I wondered how it has been for her trying to keep up with her Cats from overseas.
“In all honesty I'm not making much effort to keep up with UK while I'm here. I'm mostly just looking forward to catching some of basketball season when I get back,” she said. “I will say it is interesting how basketball and football are completely off Spaniards' radar here.
“I’ve never been into soccer, but that's what's always on TV in my host home. Never baseball or football, but soccer and tennis.”
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Quote of the Week: “He was never over there with the defense. He just wanted the ball and for every game to be a shootout. If we played a team that was grinding it out, he would yell, ‘Just let them score.’ He wasn’t big on defense. If he had brought in a big-time defensive coordinator, he probably would still be coaching here,” former UK quarterback Tim Couch on former UK coach Hal Mumme’s view of defense.
Quote of the Week 2: “I like playing in the SEC because usually when it is cold in Lexington, we fly south to play games and it is warm,” UK basketball junior Maci Morris on what she likes about competing in the SEC.
Quote of the Week 3: “They are going to be huge for this program. They are two versatile forwards that can post, rebound. They are excellent ball handlers and unbelievable passers. They have NBA toughness. They are talented, very unselfish. They will both be great,” Kentucky basketball assistant coach Kenny Payne on freshmen Jarred Vanderbilt and P.J. Washington.
Running back Benny Snell walked off the field by himself after UK blew a 27-14 lead and lost 28-27 to Florida. (Vicky Graff Photo)