Talk about your baptism by fire. When Mark Stoops begins his tenure as Kentucky football coach in 2013, the former Florida State defensive coordinator will make his head coaching debut trying to walk through a proverbial bed of coals.
For his opener on August 31, all Stoops has to do is face Western Kentucky and its new coach Bobby Petrino, the same offensive mastermind many in the Big Blue Nation wanted Mitch Barnhart to tab as UK’s new coach — not that the Nation is unhappy with the Stoops, hire mind you.
Two weeks later, on Sept. 14, Stoops must face none other than Louisville, the in-state arch-rival that figures to have a secure spot in at least the top 10 of next season’s pre-season AP college football poll, if not top five. That’s right — top five.
And oh yeah, that’s the same Louisville that whipped Florida 33-23 in Wednesday night’s Sugar Bowl. The same Louisville whose quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, is likely to be among the 2013 Heisman Trophy favorites after throwing for 266 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators to earn Sugar Bowl MVP honors.
Kentucky, remember, hasn’t beaten Florida since 1986.
Indeed, the Cards shocked the football world by shocking the Gators in New Orleans, starting with Terrell Floyd’s 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the game’s first play of scrimmage pretty much to the final horn. Louisville led 14-0 at one point and 30-10 at another and even when the Gators closed to within two scores late, the U of L defense sacked quarterback Jeff Driskel on an important two-point conversion.
Here are your stats of the night: Against one of the nation’s best defenses, Louisville converted nine of 14 third-down situations. Florida was three-of-10 on third down. Louisville outgained Florida 336-276 in total yards.
You can say that Florida wasn’t prepared to play. You can say the Gators had no motivation after losing a sport in the SEC title game via it’s only regular-season loss, that 17-9 setback against Georgia. You can say that Florida just had an all-around bad night.
That doesn’t take away from Louisville’s all-around great night, probably the best in the school’s football history. Give Charlie Strong credit. Give Charlie Strong a ton of credit. He’s a great story. A half-dozen schools — including Kentucky in 2002 — passed over the long-time defensive coordinator when filling head coaching positions. Tom Jurich saw something other ADs did not and hired Strong off the Florida staff to put some bite back in the U of L program.
Strong rewarded Jurich’s faith by first turning down a recent offer to jump to Tennessee, and then by whipping Florida in a BCS Bowl.
“We got outcoached and outplayed,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said afterward.
OK, Mark Stoops, you know what’s coming.