If you wandered over to Kroger Field early Sunday morning, you might be able to see them, just laying there – all the points the Wildcats left on the field Saturday night in their latest heartbreaking loss to Florida, one that took its place among the other 30, stretching back to 1986.
It was a one-point punch to the gut, delivered as Austin MacGinnis’ try for a school-record 57-yard field goal died in the end zone, along with the Wildcats’ hopes for a 4-0 start and a slot alone atop the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
So many points left on the field and all of them would have made the difference. Of course, none of it would have mattered if the Wildcats hadn’t, literally, handed the Gators not one but TWO free touchdowns – both because of substitution breakdowns, and both after timeouts.
Said Mark Stoops, “We have got to do a better job of coaching them.” He is, of course, right.
In the first half, the Wildcats moved the ball by spreading it among rushers, tight ends and wideouts. On their second drive, seven different players touched the ball. It included a pass to tailback Benny Snell, who rumbled 22 yards, and passes to tight end C.J. Conrad and wide receivers Kayaune Ross, Charles Walker and Blake Bone, whose touchdown grab gave Kentucky the early lead.
And it should have been a fat, nearly insurmountable advantage at halftime. But the Cats handed a free touchdown to Florida when Tyrie Cleveland was left unguarded, standing right next to the UK bench.
On their last drive of the half, the Wildcats got some help from the Gators who were flagged for two 15-yard penalties on the same play as Vosean Joseph delivered a dangerous lick to the head of a sliding Stephen Johnson.
On the next play from scrimmage, Sihiem King, channeling his inner Boom Williams, bolted for 21 yards to the Florida 21. But Johnson took two inexcusable sacks in the red zone and the Cats had to settle for a field goal try. Macginnis – gasp – missed from 48 yards. Instead of being up 10, or more, Kentucky had to settle for a tie game at the break. Opportunity, wasted.
Momentum came rushing back at the start of the third quarter, when Kentucky needed only four plays (one of them, a run by Snell for no gain) to zip to the end zone, Johnson shredding the Gator secondary three times. They made it look easy.
The Cats held Florida to a three-and-out and Kroger Field was shaking.
Then came a scoring drive that could have cemented the game. Instead, the Wildcats left the door propped open. Two more big plays by King – a 30-yard run and a 24-yard reception on a gadget pass delivered by Lynn Bowden – helped put the Wildcats at the Gator five.
Suddenly, Bunchy Stallings forgot how to deliver a deep snap, Bowden, Snell and Johnson each having leap to haul them in. It seemed inevitable that one would clear the quarterback completely and, sure enough, one did, forcing Kentucky to settle for a field goal instead of a TD. Four points, wasted.
On the next series, Florida went to backup QB Luke Del Rio, the guy who looked like Joe Montana against the Cats last season. But on his first series, he made Darius West look like Ronnie Lott as he delivered an interception that could (should) have begun to bury that streak for good.
But instead of spreading the offensive joy and keeping the Gators on their heels, the Cats went conservative, running between the tackles three times before punting it back to Florida. Opportunity, wasted.
Still, time was running out and the Gators knew it. On their next possession, they pounced, working their own gadget play for a 50-yard bomb that set up a touchdown, pulling to within 27-21. The “Kroge” had turned quiet.
So had the Wildcat offense. A three and out, followed by a short punt, put Florida in business, pounding away at a UK defense that was running out of steam. Converting twice on third down, twice on fourth down and overcoming two penalties, the Gators needed 13 plays to drive 58 yards for what proved to be the game-winner.
MacGinnis might have been the hero; it appeared he’d get a shot at immortality from 42 yards away but a holding call on offensive guard Nick Haynes shoved Kentucky out of his range. His kick was dead-on, but short.
Upset opportunity – vanished, along with first place in the SEC East and a chance to bury a long losing skid that just got uglier.