There is a difference between pain and injury. One means discomfort; the other, damage.
This one is damaging.
Even the most faithful, stubborn, hard-bitten Kentucky football fans are having a hard time figuring out where to put Southern Mississippi 44, UK 35.
A Wildcat team that looked as though it had found a way to hush even its fiercest pre-season critics instead is in a position now to where it has to either win every SEC “swing” game on its schedule (South Carolina, Mississippi State, Vandy and Missouri) or steal one it’s not supposed to win. That’s IF it still plans on winning at least six games and playing in a bowl game sometime in December.
Oh, yes – it has to figure out a way to stop the run, something it never did Saturday night. A Southern Miss team that made a living last year on huge passing plays gashed and gouged Kentucky for the entire second half.
Ito Smith would take a handoff, pause and read the holes being opened up by his buddies on the offense line, and then slice through for chain-moving, time-killing yardage.
The Golden Eagles defense likewise had out-adjusted the Wildcats by using the intermission to figure out a way to stop being a punching bag for Drew Barker and his talented corps of receivers. After a sluggish start, the Cats set up an umbrella of protection for Barker, who threw long bombs for touchdowns and short hitches that his pass-catchers turned into scores.
It was fun to watch; it had to be a blast to be right in the middle of it. Then came halftime – actually, halftime plus the 16 seconds BEFORE the end of the second quarter, which is when USM caught Kentucky peeking at the locker room door. Nick Mullens threw a 72-yard, momentum-changing TD pass and it was on.
The Golden Eagle offense, coordinated by ex-Kentucky OC Shannon Dawson, went all ground-and-pound on the Wildcats because, well, because it could. UK never figured out a way to consistently halt the USM rushing game, which is why the final numbers showed Southern Miss with more than 550 yards of total offense.
Kentucky put up more than 450 but 387 of those came in that super-fun first half. UK’s offense did virtually nothing in the last two quarters.
“It’s unacceptable for us to lose momentum like that,” said head coach Mark Stoops. The long scoring bomb by USM just before halftime put Big Mo on the black and gold sideline for what turned out to be the rest of the night.
“We were playing exceptionally well… 35-10,” he said, citing the score late, LATE in the second quarter. Then came the big play by Southern Miss and the Golden Eagles were back in it, although Stoops said he addressed the mistake immediately at halftime.
He told his team, “We’re going to go back out there and finish this.” But they didn’t.
So now the Wildcats take their place beside Mississippi State, which lost at home to South Alabama, failing to protect its turf against a non-conference opponent. And they can talk about bouncing back all they want but the next time they pull on the Game Day pads, they’ll be in Gainesville, where they learned the hard way two years ago just how hard it is to complete an upset. Sometimes, zero on the play clock doesn’t mean zero.
They have six days to create a run defense. Some folks believe that’s how long it took God to create world. Which job seems easier right about now?