It has never been a secret that Kentucky could be in for a difficult football season. What at points looked like a sterling rebuild under coach Mark Stoops has veered off course, and the Wildcats just aren’t as talented as most of the SEC.
But Saturday’s 44-35 loss at home to Southern Miss is a bad look all its own. Let’s count several (not all) of the ways in which it is bad.
1. Kentucky had a 35-10 lead. The home team had a 25-point edge after a touchdown run with a minute left in the first half. Southern Miss went ahead and scored its own TD on a 71-yard pass 30 seconds later, and that was the beginning of the problem.
2. Southern Miss scored 34 unanswered points. If you are an SEC team playing a season opener at home, it is advisable to not give up 34 unanswered points to teams from Conference USA. That is nowhere in the handbook.
3. The dude putting up all those points is the offensive coordinator Kentucky fired. The Wildcats pushed coordinator Shannon Dawson out after last season. Where did Dawson land? Indeed, as Southern Miss’ coordinator. His Golden Eagles flew into Lexington and scored all those points. Do you think Dawson enjoyed it? He recently subtweeted Kentucky’s quarterbacks, and at least one of his former players doesn’t seem to miss him too much.
4. Kentucky couldn’t even commit pass interference properly. One play involved two Kentucky defensive backs interfering separately with a receiver on the sideline. A flag was thrown. The Southern Miss player still caught the ball. (We are feverishly scouring the internet for a clip of this incident.)
5. Kentucky plays a ranked team next. Granted, Florida looked more than a little underwhelming against UMass on Saturday. But the Wildcats are probably about to be 0-2, and any Lexington dreams of bowl eligibility could slip away pretty quickly.
So, yeah, this is not the good stuff. Kentucky is on track to start winless through at least two weeks. The Cats play Alabama on Oct. 1, which will be NSFW. Bill Connelly projected Kentucky to win about four games, with this one as a tossup. Now 3-9 (or 2-10?) doesn’t seem at all impossible. Anything above 5-7 stretches the imagination.
Good for Southern Miss, though. New head coach Jay Hopson has a nice feather in his cap to get started, and the Eagles’ schedule sets up really nicely. Dawson seems like he’s a good fit there, too. This could be a quality season in Hattiesburg.
The SEC suffered a whole bunch of indignities on Saturday. Kentucky losing to a decent if completely non-power opponent is not the worst, but given the Wildcats’ already difficult prognosis, it could work out to be one of the most regrettable.