Should Kentucky football really be this bad?

(H-L photo/Pablo Alcala)

Off the top of my head on this Monday morning:

Here’s the question of the day: Should Kentucky football really be this bad?

The Cats have played arguably three of the top four teams in the conference, and three of the top 15 teams in the nation — and lost by a combined count of 137-20.

And it wasn’t that close. Kentucky was trampled for 406 rushing yards by Florida in that 48-10 home loss. The Cats squeezed out all of 59 total yards through three quarters during that 35-7 beating at LSU. Joker Phillips’ team posted all of six first downs, failed to gain 100 yards, and surrendered over 600 yards in Saturday’s 54-3 trashing at South Carolina.

My contention is that the Cats just don’t have the players. It’s not Xs and Os, it’s Jimmy and Jones. We were sold a bill of goods on UK’s recruiting the past few years. It was widely advertised as an improvement from year-to-year. We now see that it was not — not at all. You could make a compelling case that Kentucky has never replaced Andre Woodson at quarterback, Rafael Little at running back, Kennan Burton and Stevie Johnson at receiver and Jacob Tamme at tight end. Yes, Randall Cobb is probably better than any of the aforementioned, but Cobb is a special case, a hybrid talent who could have played (and did play) quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Since the 1980s, Kentucky has not consistently owned the skill to go toe-to-toe with Florida and LSU. But now the program appears to have returned to the dark days when the gap was canyon-sized wide. And we now know that those Gators that ripped UK in Commonwealth three weeks ago are an inferior brand of Gators, at least by their standards. The past two weeks, Florida lost 38-10 to Alabama and 41-11 to LSU. The Florida faithful is not too happy with Will Muschamp.

But as low as UK’s talent level appears to be at present, judging by production,  it’s hard to believe that the Cats should be this comically bad. This is a team that threw as many interceptions (four) as completions (four) on Saturday. Three different players tossed picks. UK passed for 17 yards on 26 attempts. (I have stats going back to 1985 and can’t find any passing numbers that low.) It turned the ball over six times. One turnover happened when a shotgun snap accidentally hit a man who was going in motion on the play.

Let’s not excuse the defense, either. Rick Minter was having none of that, either. The defense allowed over 600 yards and “half-a-hundred” points, as the upset defensive coordinator put it. He wasn’t smiling.

(H-L photo/Pablo Alcala)

Kentucky shouldn’t be this bad, should it? Saturday’s performance was a definite debacle. The only time it had the ball in South Carolina territory was when the Gamecocks fumbled the opening kickoff. And then it was forced to kick a field goal.

The long-term answer: Recruiting. I think Phillips recognized this was a problem when he took over. That’s why he shook up the staff, replacing some of Rich Brooks’ assistants with some of his own hand-picked coaches.

The middle-term answer: More administrative support. Mitch Barnhart needs to stop playing defense and admit that the football program needs financial help. This may be a situation like the president and economy. The president may not be able to do a whole lot where the economy is concerned, but he better look like he’s trying to do everything he can where the economy is concerned. Same with football. Barnhart may not be able to have a direct immediate impact on football, but he needs to stop referring to complaints as “garbage,” stop incessantly pumping the athletic department’s accomplishments in Olympic sports, and start letting the fans know what he’s doing to fix football. He needs to make his case to all the media outlets, not just a sympathetic few.

The short-term answer: Show some pride. Fans were not happy to see Joker Phillips smiling when the UK coach was shaking Steve Spurrier’s hand after Saturday’s smashing. I don’t care if Spurrier ran it up. As someone said, if you don’t want the opponent to run it up, don’t far behind. And Spurrier didn’t call time out, like Petrino did at Louisville a few years ago, just to score another touchdown. Still, I understand why Phillips’ smile upset the fans. They wonder if he understands the gravity of the situation.

He needs to show he does. Yes, Kentucky finds itself caught in a widening talent gap. But 96 yards of total offense? Six turnovers? Four complete passes in 26 attempts?

Even Kentucky football shouldn’t be this bad.

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