Live. Breathe. Blue. Kentucky Wildcats Football - Just Win, Baby! by Dr. John Huang

by Dr. John Huang (LOS ANGELES, CA)
What have you done for me lately? Photo Credit: Dr. Michael Huang What have you done for me lately? Photo Credit: Dr. Michael Huang

What have you done for me lately?

Overly obsessed sports fans frequently ask frazzled college football coaches that burning question—often on a weekly basis. I don’t think they necessarily expect an answer. They’re just expressing frustration whenever their team’s not performing like they should.

Whenever a team stinks it up like Kentucky did in their 51 – 13 loss to Georgia on Saturday, we shouldn’t really be surprised at negative fan reactions. After all, people see coaches earning these ungodly salaries coaching a game that fans already spend their hard-earned money to attend. Then when the coach asks them to fork out additional big bucks for the school’s existing NIL coffers, you can see how tempers might flare.

“Fans have that right [to complain],” Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops answered, when asked on his weekly radio call in show about Kentucky’s inability to beat the elite SEC teams. “I just encourage them to donate more, because that’s what those dudes are doing. I can promise you Georgia, they bought some pretty good players. You’re allowed to these days. We could use some help…I encourage anybody who’s disgruntled to ‘pony up’ some more.”

To add fuel to the fire, it seems that everyone and their brother is talking about Stoops’ comments the day after—from talk shows to the office water coolers to even my Yoga instructor three thousand miles away.

Personally, I find this entire dustup quite amusing. It’s the proverbial making a mountain out of a molehill, much ado about nothing. The fact is that Mark Stoops has spent his entire eleven years at the Kentucky head coaching helm making sure he says nothing the least bit contentious, controversial, or condescending.

Think about it. How many times has he lauded the fan base for their overwhelming support? Or built up his opponents like they were the ’85 Bears? Or guardedly follow up a reporter’s question by stating, “Those are your words, not mine”? How many times do we have to hear “Get back to work” or “It is what it is” or “We’ll see” before we get dizzy rolling our eyes?

Either the guy’s a public relations genius about not putting up bulletin board material for the other team, or he’s schizophrenically paranoid about having his words taken out of context. It’s probably a little bit of both.

At 5 – 1 midway through the season, you’d think all would be fine and dandy in Big Blue Nation. Stoops has taken the Wildcats—a perennial doormat prior to his arrival—and vaulted them into the middle echelons of the toughest conference in the land. If not a statue, he deserves at least a pat on the back.

But remember, it’s what have you done for me lately. Just a short week ago, Stoops and Kentucky were riding high after a spirited blowout victory over Florida. After the Georgia

debacle between the hedges, there are some pretty obvious cracks in the team’s armor and questions that need legitimate answers.

What’s with all the undisciplined play? Penalties, slow starts, and lack of proper game-week preparation have all been called into question. That’s a coaching issue. Is there also a leadership void among the players? It’s obvious that Kentucky dearly misses someone like a DeAndre Square rallying or calling out his teammates when needed? Who’s going to step up and lay the wood this year under the bright lights of the big stage?

What’s up with Devin Leary? The NC State transfer was heralded by some experts as the next coming of Tim Couch. He hasn’t been anywhere close, consistently missing open receivers in what should be big-yardage situations. Leary denies any residual effects from his previous pectoral injury, which leads me to believe the problem is somewhat between his ears. Dropped passes don’t help in that regard. Liam Coen also runs a fairly complex pro-style offense requiring his quarterback to make split-second decisions. Leary didn’t really have to do that in his previous stint in the ACC. Either he’ll finally catch on, or they’ll have to dumb things down for him from this point forward.

What happened to Brad White’s defense? Not only were they gashed by Georgia, but they acted like they had never played the game. Missed tackles, uncovered receivers, and a lack of fight from the get-go made everyone wonder if this team’s identity and strength evaporated into the ether.

The defense will definitely need to show up and shell out this weekend when Missouri (5 – 1) comes calling at Kroger Field. Missouri quarterback Brady Cook can fill up the stat sheet. The dynamic redshirt junior looks to extend his streak of 300-yard passing games to five against the Wildcats. He’ll have plenty of help from one of the top receivers in the country in Luther Burden, who just had his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game in the Tigers' hard-fought loss to LSU. No doubt about it—Missouri can move the ball. They’ll look to top the 500-yard mark for the fourth straight game on Saturday night.

For Kentucky, the answer is simple. JUST WIN, BABY. Win this one, and the Cats are back on track moving into the open date. There are still elements in place for a magical season. Lose to the Tigers, however, and momentum turns. Then there’s a scary argument for finishing up the year at 5 – 7. If that happens, Big Blue Nation will undoubtedly have to circle the wagons like never before. Like he said, it’ll be time for everyone—including Coach Stoops himself—to “pony up.”

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a reporter and sports columnist for Nolan Group Media. He is the author/coauthor of four books, Cut To The Chase, Kentucky Passion, From The Rafters Of Rupp, and Serving Up Winners. His latest book, They Call Me Mr. Secretary, is scheduled for a fall release. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs.

phil malicote