“Tom Brady has lost it… he lets Kansas City come in here and kick his butt, at home. He’s lost it. He’s done.”
- Somebody somewhere in New England
Could be a fan, could be a talk show host, trolling for ratings. Maybe it’s a blogger who needs that instant take. But you know he’s out there (probably more than one).
We know this because they’re everywhere – fans who judge based on precisely what they see before them; no more, no less. They don’t bother with context, history or reason. Never mind the fact that the last three times the Patriots lost their opener, they went on to win the Super Bowl – as recently as 2014.
No, the sting of loss is what matters the most. Next to that is the disappointment of a win that didn’t go the way you thought it would; maybe like the one in Hattiesburg last Saturday. Kentucky was a double-digit favorite but had to dig deep for a 24-17 victory. Yes, it would have looked a lot better on the scoreboard (and to the gamblers who laid the points) had Stephen Johnson pushed his way into the end zone instead of taking a classy knee on the game’s last play. But it wouldn’t have been that much prettier.
We all would have come away with the same opinions. Some were simply more extreme than others:
- The offensive line is not all that great.
- Stephen Johnson was a disappointment; maybe it’s time for Drew Barker.
- The Wildcat formation ought to be put on the shelf for good.
When faces become long, memories turn short. Some Kentucky fans seemed to forget that their All-SEC center is gone, and that the man who took over for John Toth (Bunchy Stallings) suffered an injury that, by sidelining him for the rest of the game, set off a chain of position changes that played a distinct role in the Wildcats’ gummed-up run game.
And by not being able to consistently put the Southern Mississippi defense into the dreaded second-and-short situations, the Wildcat passing attack (minus top deep threat Jeff Badet) wasn’t nearly as potent as it was when we saw Johnson torching teams last season with TD bombs.
Johnson did miss a couple of makeable throws, and twice his receivers muffed catchable balls, all of which would have moved the chains and added to Kentucky’s miniscule play total of 55.
The Wildcat formation did appear toothless against the Golden Eagles, who loaded the box with eight and sometimes nine defenders within five yards of the football, daring the Cats to run. This was the same USM defense that finished among the nation’s best last year in run defense and in stops on third down.
And this was a Kentucky team that has used the Wildcat successfully under Mark Stoops, dating back most noticeably to their upset win over South Carolina in 2014, when the Gamecocks couldn’t find a way to stop Jojo Kemp. It also rode the direct-snap page of its offense to seven wins last year, producing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
A peek at video shot from the end zone in Hattiesburg (which will be available for you to peruse on this week’s edition of the Mark Stoops TV show) reveals a bushel of mistakes Kentucky made trying to execute the Wildcat, in areas where it excelled last season.
You’ll be able to see, with help from assistant coach Vince Marrow, holes where Benny Snell should have run, how he should have paused just long enough to set up blocks. You’ll recognize mistakes made by linemen, errors that seemed ever-so-slight but helped USM shut down Kentucky’s run game.
And you’ll see a couple of successful bursts by Snell, which happened in the second half when the Wildcats re-gained control of the game. Those will look familiar.
The show airs Sunday, a day after what figures to be a UK victory over Eastern Kentucky. The thought here is that, against a FCS opponent, with a week to clean things up, the Kentucky offense should be much more effective. With a stronger offensive flow and better field position, Johnson should be better than the 11-for-20 he was last week.
We likely will see backup QB Drew Barker who, given the chance, just might throw the ball well enough to touch off, if not a controversy, a quarterback debate coursing through the Big Blue Nation.
Because in the world of football, you’re only as good as what happened last week. The Patriots are winless. So are Florida State and Florida. And Howard University, a 45-point underdog, is still floating over its upset win over UNLV.
Just try to remember this, as you run through the laundry list of flaws from the season opener: Kentucky is undefeated.