(photo courtesy UK Athletics)
It happened during that cold, dreary afternoon in Columbia, Missouri, as the Kentucky football Wildcats were watching a shot at an SEC road win melt away. With 2:11 left on the game clock, a loan duck swooped down from the sky and flew from one end zone to the other. If it had flown any lower it might have clobbered 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Landon Young right in the helmet.
One couldn’t help but find it appropriate, a drake buzzing the UK huddle, as the Wildcats, who had just fumbled away any chance at forcing at least a tie, were dead ducks.
For the third time in five games, they had beaten themselves. This time, it wasn’t a missed extra point or an end zone interception. Instead it was a lack of fire, which led to poor execution. In a league as tough as the Southeastern Conference, that can make any team a sitting duck.
Need more ducks? We’ve got ‘em. Georgia comes to town Saturday afternoon, once again the powerhouse in the SEC East – the biggest duck in the puddle. The Bulldogs wilted under Alabama’s relentless pressure but all that did was verify the theory that this could be (shudder) Nick Saban’s best Crimson Tide team.
Coming into the game at Mizzou, Kentucky coaches, players and fans naturally were hoping to see the same squad that wiped out Tennessee during the second half down in Knoxville. The Cats rallied at intermission and turned the game around. But compared to the way they played against the Tigers, clearly the team that whipped UT was a peaking (nee, “Peking”) duck. It flopped in Missouri.
Kentucky was supposed to have played Georgia last week before the SEC schedule-makers, responding to the COVID mess, flip-flopped the schedule. Perhaps a high-profiled home game would have brought out more of the best in the Wildcats. Instead, UK looked like the ugly duckling that never quite turned into a swan.
So now, the Wildcats find themselves in a big bowl of duck soup. They’re still trying to find a trustworthy wide receiver; All-SEC noseguard candidate Quentin Bohanna is still sidelined and, oh yes – Kentucky likely will feature a quarterback who’ll be making his first start as a Wildcat, against the nation’s fifth- ranked team – one that’s looking for the Big Bounce-Back after the blowout loss to Bama.
Ordinarily, coaches give players 24 hours to celebrate a win or mourn a loss. The guess here is that the Wildcats, at least the more mature ones, have been carrying the memory of that Missouri trip everywhere they go, every day. It should go a long way toward motivating them when it comes to preparing for the Bulldogs. If it doesn’t, come Saturday Kentucky will be a sitting duck.
Mark Stoops has admitted that he’s not yet figured out the best way to motivate this team, which is puzzling, given the fact that there are so many veteran holdovers from last season. But each team has its own personality. Evidently, right now this one is as muddy as a duck puddle.
Before the season began, UK fans at their most optimistic were predicting their team might be undefeated when it hooked up with the Dawgs. That would have meant Kentucky once again had a shot at the SEC East title and a berth in the conference championship game. Now it’s trying to keep alive any hope for a .500 season, which will be a monstrous challenge with Georgia, Florida and Alabama coming in the weeks ahead. That kind of worksheet could render Kentucky, at bowl bid time, a lame duck.
If you’ve made it through this collection of paragraphs with a minimal amount of groans, you will likely be pleased to know that I have to duck out of here. Just remember this: Kentucky is an underdog by more than two touchdowns. If the Cats can somehow pull off the upset, well, that would be just ducky.