For almost seven months our world has been flipped upside-down. Ever since that infamous night in March when we learned that Rudy Gobert and Tom Hanks had tested positive for the Coronavirus, nothing has been the same. The “new normal” of NBA bubbles, MLB and NFL games in empty stadiums with cardboard cutouts of fans, and 20% capacity at college football games, have all had their brief moments where a sense of “normalcy” would return. But nothing made me feel more like what life was like before 2020 than today’s game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Kroger Field, where the return of “Same Ole Kentucky” made its first appearance in a long time.
Back in mid-August when the SEC released this modified schedule, we all penciled in Week 2 against Ole Miss as a win – for good reason. Last year the Rebels finished with a record of 4-8, with only 2 conference wins (against Vanderbilt and Arkansas). And if Kentucky was going to accomplish anything it wanted to do this season, beating the 6th place team from the Western Division at home was a must.
Then the game actually started, and Lane Kiffin’s high-octane offense marched 75 yards in 8 plays for a quick 7-0 lead.
What followed has to be the biggest bonehead sequence in UK football history. Asim Rose, uh, seemed to be on his way to a 75-yard touchdown run before inexplicably deciding to put it in cruise control, wave a peace sign, and start pointing to the crowd while still 25 yards away from the end zone. This allowed an Ole Miss defender just enough time to tackle Rose at the 3-yard line. Now, if I were Mark Stoops (which I’m not), Rose would have had his rear-end on the sideline for the remainder of that drive, if not the remainder of the game for such non-sense. He can flash peace signs to the crowd while he sits on the bench. But Stoops decided to stick with Rose and give him a chance to finish what he started with that long run. And in the most “Kentucky Football” play imaginable, Rose immediately fumbled to give the ball back to Ole Miss. Same Ole Kentucky.
Despite this, the Cats seemed to be in control of the game for the rest of the first half, with leads of 14-7 and 21-14. When Chris Rodriguez scored on a 22-yard run with 10:41 remaining in the 3rd quarter to give us a 28-14 lead, I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we seemed to have maybe put this one away.
Yet for the second week in a row, Kentucky dominated most of the statistical categories except for 2: turnovers and final score (which really is the most important stat of them all). Kentucky had 100 more total yards, 269 more rushing yards, and dominated the time of possession (over 36 minutes). How we lost this game is truly mind-boggling, but the Rebels were able to reel off 21 straight points to take a 35-28 lead with about 8 minutes left in regulation.
My personal favorite play during this 21-0 run, was when Jonathan Mingo made a 3rd down catch while lying on the ground after the Cats had dropped 8 in coverage. Then immediately caught a 24-yard touchdown on the very next play. Same Ole Kentucky.
When all hope seemed lost, Terry Wilson channeled his inner Dad Strength to make some clutch passes to Akeem Hayes and Justin Rigg and lead the Cats down the field on a 78-yard drive to tie the game at 35 and send this game into overtime.
Kentucky’s offensive line then overpowered the Ole Miss defensive line on their first overtime possession with three straight run plays. The last of which was a 10-yard score from Terry Touchdown. You had the feeling that after holding the ball most of the game, the Rebels defense was exhausted, and the Cats could score on every possession the rest of overtime. Then, the curse of Kentucky Football struck. Matt Ruffolo’s extra point was wide right. And it really wasn’t even close. It actually looked as if he was aiming the ball into the corner section of Kroger Field. Same Ole Kentucky.
A few plays later, the inevitable happened. Ole Miss scored and actually made their extra point to take a 42-41 victory with them back to Oxford.
A part of me had actually believed that our program was beyond these types of losses. Mark Stoops broke the Florida streak, is recruiting at a level never seen here before, and has made us a contender in the SEC East. The days of finding unprecedented ways of losing football games, and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory seemed long gone. But here we are with SportsCenter mocking the showboating blunder followed by a goal line fumble of AJ Rose, and a missed extra point in overtime by Matt Ruffolo.
Today was heartbreaking. But at the end of the day, I would like to give a big thank you to AJ and Matt. For one day, you have taken me back to a time where we lost on Hail Mary’s to LSU, missed kicks against Tennessee, and failed to cover wide receivers against Florida. For one day, you have taken me back to a time, pre-Covid-19, where we are the “Same Ole Kentucky” and we continue to find new ways to lose at football.