By Dick Gabriel
Big Blue Sports Network
I stand by my pre-season prediction that this year’s Kentucky football team will win eight regular-season games – even though it’s impossible.
And my question remains: Who are these guys?
They should be in a position right now to reach eight victories (or even nine). An inability to find consistent play on either side of the ball has cost the Wildcats a shot at that elusive “special season.”
Forecasting three straight victories to open the season didn’t take too much nerve; Louisville is down, and learning a new coach; Akron and Western Kentucky were overmatched.
Nor was a loss at Florida much of a staggering prediction. But the setback in Oxford, and the way it happened, was a surprise. I didn’t foresee the Cats dropping footballs all over the field against a Mississippi team in the process of an overhaul.
As for the three-game home stand, I said UK would win just one – Georgia. My fingers first typed “win” next to South Carolina, figuring it HAD to happen some time. But, as I reminded myself, “…the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result…” So I picked SC. Thousands of Big Blue fans storming the field underscored my error.
The mistake came the following week, with my choice of UK over Georgia. I’m still not convinced the Bulldogs are better, but they were that night – thanks, again, to Kentucky turnovers and moments of defensive ineptitude.
I also predicted a Mississippi State victory, based on what I figured would be an MSU advantage on both the offensive and defensive lines. But after eyeballing the affair in Starkville, I’m not convinced that THOSE Bulldogs are better than the Wildcats, either. And yet, the loss dropped Kentucky under .500 for the first time this season.
Why? The defense. No, wait – the offense. And the loss of Derrick Locke.
The speedy senior tailback certainly would have made a difference in both the Georgia and Mississippi State games, perhaps enough to turn one (or both) around. More big plays by the UK offense clearly would have helped offset the number of times the Wildcat defense suffered gashes.
But the offense had plenty of misfires of its own, dropping passes, leaving the ball on the ground, or throwing it to the wrong guys.
Prior to the Georgia game, the Wildcats talked of winning out, which would have put them in the hunt for at least a share of the SEC East title. Before Mississippi State, with goals adjusted, they spoke en masse of a bowl game in Florida, or Atlanta.
Now, with just three games left, winning out likely would mean a post-season return to Tennessee – something every player who talked “bowl game” said he wanted to avoid. But, more than anything, they want to protect the string of trips to post-season play.
The Cats have been entrusted with keeping alive a streak the school has never known. They need two more victories to make it happen. It says here, they’ll make it.
The question is, can they actually rack up seven? It means they’ll need to take care of Charleston Southern and Vanderbilt at home, and then head for Knoxville for the matchup the Big Blue Nation has awaited all season.
Fans figure Tennessee is in a shambles right now, and ripe for the plucking. But know this: As much as the Cats want to avoid seeing their bowl streak end, that’s how much the Volunteers want to keep alive their dominance of Kentucky. Probably more.
On that upcoming November day, with UK likely heading to post-season play, UT will be playing for nothing but pride. And the Vols will attack the Wildcats like a drowning man trying to claw his way back to the surface.
Right now, 7-5 doesn’t seem so bad.
(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 21-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m. ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)