Kentucky Football has come a long way since the Mark Stoops era began in 2013. The Cats have been to 4 straight bowl games, had a 10-win season, reached a ranking of #11 in the AP poll, ended the Florida streak, and has been steadily climbing up the rankings of SEC contenders. Yet for all the progress Stoops has made, on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban was there to remind the up-and-coming coach that he is not a Jedi yet.
To be fair, I don’t think anyone outside of the players and coaches in the Kentucky locker room really thought the Big Blue had a chance to win this game. It’s tough enough to play an SEC opponent with multiple starters out, yet alone a #1 ranked Alabama team that was already a 30-point favorite in Vegas. BUT, I did have some expectation that the game would be reasonably close. I never expected 63-3.
This was an absolute ass-kicking. Kentucky was completely overwhelmed, to the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a young boy watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. I’m of course referring to the climactic scene in which the protagonist, a Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker, faces off against the evil Darth Vader for the first time.
Much like young Skywalker, Kentucky put up a fight in the beginning. After Alabama struck first on a 22-yard run by Najee Harris, Terry Wilson led the Cats steadily down the field on their second possession and entered the red zone with an opportunity to tie the game. An unfortunate holding penalty on Landon Young however, forced them to settle for a Matt Ruffolo field goal to make the score 7-3.
Kentucky then got the ball back and drove down to the red zone again. The Cats were on the brink of scoring a touchdown that would have given them a lead against the number one team in the country. (At which point we all could have channeled Donald Trump to “stop the count!”). And you had the feeling that Nick Saban was angrily pacing the sidelines thinking this was a “most impressive” start for his opponent.
Inexplicably, on 3rd & Goal from the 7, Eddie Gran called a quarterback draw in which Terry Wilson was stuffed for a gain of a yard. I could do a whole other article on the questionable (at best) play calling during this game, but this one was so unbelievable frustrating. I can almost see the wheels turning in Eddie Gran’s head when he called that play. It’s like he was thinking back to the first game of the season against Auburn when Wilson threw that interception in the end zone. Not wanting to make that mistake again, Gran got conservative, and figured the worst-case scenario is we kick a field goal to make it a one-point game.
Never mind that this seems to be the complete opposite approach one should take when playing Alabama. Rarely has a team won in Tuscaloosa by being conservative and kicking field goals. But nonetheless, there was Matt Ruffolo lining up for a 23-yard kick. Much like how Darth Vader used the force to make Luke fly through a window, Kentucky’s long-snapper made the football fly over the head of the holder and left Ruffolo scrambling to dive on the ball to save a touchdown.
Actual photo of Kentucky’s field goal attempt against Alabama.
As long-suffering UK Football fans, we all knew that the game was over at that point, but UK still was showing some fight. Down 14-3, Kentucky once again drove deep into Alabama territory, only to see another special teams blunder when Ruffolo missed a 42-yard attempt. So, if you’re keeping track at home, that’s 3 drives that could have resulted in 21 points, but instead yielded 3. That’s not gonna cut it against a Sith Lord like Nick Saban.
I could summarize the rest of the game for you, but I honestly would rather not. It was an embarrassment. Just a few facts from this uninspiring performance:
- The 60-point loss was the worst of the Mark Stoops era, and the 3rd worst conference loss in the history of the program (only behind the ’94 and ’96 Florida games).
- It continued a trend of the Stoops not performing well against elite teams. Stoops is actually now 0-12 against top 10 teams, and 0-5 against top 5 teams at Kentucky.
- Stoops also continues to struggle against Western Division foes and now holds a 4-14 record against teams from the West. (Thank goodness for Vanderbilt and Missouri being in the East!).
- If you are a gambler, Alabama covered the over/under by themselves.
- And to pour salt in the wound, we had to witness Alabama’s star receiver DeVonta Smith break the all-time SEC record for career receiving touchdowns (now at 33).
Things won’t get any easier. Next week’s game will be against the Florida Gators in the Swamp. If the Cats can somehow pull out a second straight victory there (how weird does that sound?!), we will forget all about this game. But just like Luke reacting to the news of Darth Vader being his (*spoiler alert) Father, that seems just impossible at this point.
Luke, do you think Kentucky can win against Florida next week?
There also appears to be some dissention in the locker room and questioning of the play-calling of Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran. After the game, peace-sign waving running back AJ Rose said, “We could’ve called some better plays, or better play calls to get us into better position. But it’s how the game flow is going. He called what he thought was needed and we had to go out there and execute it, and we failed at that.”
That is some serious talk from UK’s starting tailback and one has to imagine the coaching staff was not happy with it. But with Chris Rodriguez expected to miss the Florida game as well, it will be very interesting to see if there are any consequences for Rose as he will be much needed if the Cats have any shot at winning next week.