Dealing with doubters and adversity is one thing and dealing with success and hype is another and a Kentucky football team in a “culture change” mode got itself a valuable learning experience at LSU on Saturday night.
When the Wildcats went to The Swamp in September, nobody was giving them a chance against Florida. This time, these same players were hearing everyone from their own fans to ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit picking them to win and hearing how a victory could bring the College Gameday show to Lexington, etc. And then they got smacked down by a talented and focused LSU squad, still stinging from back-to-back SEC losses a few weeks back, and playing in the stadium known as “Death Valley” to opponents. But as Rocky Balboa said, it’s not about how many times you get knocked down—it’s about how many times you get back up and keep fighting.
This Saturday, when top-ranked Mississippi State comes to Lexington, the Wildcats get the chance to show the nation, via CBS’s marquee game of the week, that what was seen down at LSU is not the true picture of this season for UK. And it’s important that they take advantage of that opportunity, to send a message to the Big Blue Nation as well as potential recruits.
Mark Stoops was candid at his Monday news conference, talking about how they must make sure the team’s confidence was not shaken, and noting how the staff got “too cute” with that attempted trick play on the opening kickoff. But he also noted that he saw some encouraging signs, like how UK played versus LSU’s power running game. The final numbers don’t reflect it but Kentucky actually played some of its best-run defense of the season when the game was still in doubt in the first two-plus quarters. Fatigue and a lopsided score wore down that defense but the improvement shown earlier offers encouragement against a State team that has rushed for at least 201 yards in every game this season.
MSU ranks last in the SEC in pass defense while LSU was number one and State has turned it over 13 times in six games so there are some stats that offer hope in helping craft a script for a Kentucky showing that would surprise the skeptics.
And a little history lesson wouldn’t hurt. Back in 2006, Kentucky was demolished in similar fashion at LSU, losing 49-0, and only three weeks later, the Cats were celebrating an upset of Georgia. Playing in the SEC offers regular opportunities to redefine one’s self but it’s up to these players and coaches to seize the day and grab that opportunity.