CRAWFORD | From Yahtzee to Sorry: Stoops Kentucky job now toughe - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | From Yahtzee to Sorry: Stoops Kentucky job now tougher after loss to Louisville

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Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker throws against Louisville. (AP photo) Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker throws against Louisville. (AP photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — A season that began with a chorus of Yahtzees ended Saturday afternoon in just another game of Sorry.

After the University of Kentucky football team raced to a 21-0 first-quarter lead against arch-rival Louisville, its offense shifted into neutral, while speedy Cardinals’ freshman Lamar Jackson took over and simply ran away.

In the second half, Louisville was PlayStation and Kentucky was Parker Brothers. Louisville was Monopoly; Kentucky was Chutes and Ladders. And the slide, once again, was longer than the climb.

Final score: Louisville 38, Kentucky 24, before a soggy Commonwealth Stadium crowd announced at 62,512 that has seen and heard all these things before — and not just during during the Wildcats’ five-game losing streak to Louisville.

Once again, Kentucky coaches were apologizing for not making a bowl game, for not beating their rival, and for not living up to the promise of a season in which they had eight home games, a renovated Commonwealth Stadium with new recruiting lounge, a $45 million practice facility on the way, an SEC East that turned out to be historically weak and two years of banner recruiting classes

I’m getting older, so I'm losing count of the number of Kentucky postseason news conferences where we’ve been told “we need to coach better and play better.” But it's been a lot.

It's become a rite of the postseason. "Things to do."

Stoops, more than his predecessors, has had the added boost of being able to generate excitement around his recruiting.  And don’t get me wrong, the Yahtzee! concept is great. Kentucky needs recruiting. Talent is key. But it needs direction. The overall talent level and depth may well be improving. But you can’t just rest on Yahtzee! You have to have some Clue. (Professor Petrino, with the lead pipe, in the locker room, etc.)

Too many times on Saturday, Kentucky didn't appear to.

A Pick-Six interception return to make it 21-0 was followed by Josh Forrest picking up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for chucking the ball into the stands. Not only did it lead to good field position for Louisville's first score, it was the last pass of any significance UK would complete for a while.

There was a fumble on UK's next possession when driving at the Louisville 32. There was the end of the first half -- an area where the Wildcats have struggled so much. They drove all the way to the Louisville 3, then let the clock run down from 30 seconds to 10 on third and goal.

What if Louisville had committed a pass interference penalty on the next play (not at all a wild suggestion given U of L's defense in the half)? UK would've had it first and goal with four seconds left. Instead, after the timeout, UK ran a play, had Jeff Badet in the end zone with no player within 10 yards of him, and didn't see him. The Wildcats settled for a field goal.

So often this season, Kentucky missed its chance. One play here or there, a dropped pass, a stuffed run, a missed field goal. They don't look like so much at the time, but you look back and realized they were enough to turn the game.

This season, as a whole, is a step in the wrong direction for Kentucky. The Wildcats won just five games, against competition that wasn't as good as they faced last season. They lost to a Louisville team at home that wasn’t as good as last season's Louisville team that it lost to on the road.

A loss to Vanderbilt that should've been a win. A loss to Auburn that could've been a win. A win over Eastern Kentucky that took overtime.

"It's a setback," Stoops said, and give him credit for that candor. "It is. It's disappointing. I know people have been patient even through a tough third year here and tough second part of this season. People were hanging in there. The fans were there, supporting us, and everybody wants to see a change. Nobody wants to see a change more than myself and the staff and these players that are working hard. It hurts. I understand the frustration, believe me; very clearly. We've got to do a better job, but we're going to do that. We're going to go back to work. And we need to get a lot tougher in the offseason. It starts there. And it starts with the way we go about our business right away here in this offseason program."

Stoops wouldn't address the subject of his staff. It's not really fair to judge UK's play-calling on the second half of Saturday's game. Without Boom Williams, hurt in one of those fluke things -- on an untimed play to end the first quarter -- and with JoJo Kemp hampered by a knee injury, the Wildcats were without their two top options. Too much was left on the shoulders of Drew Barker in the second half -- and Stoops acknowledged, it was left there too long. He should've come in with the more experienced Patrick Towles a couple of series earlier. In all, UK had five straight three-and-out series in the second half.

Kentucky had only 83 total yards and two first downs in the second half.

Through two offensive coordinators, UK hasn't really decided whether it wants to be air raid or ground attack. And then there's this: If you go back and look at the play calls in this game -- time after time, UK had receivers roaming wide open in the secondary. You have to have a quarterback who can identify them and get the ball to them.

I know people don't want to hear this. There is a learning curve. First-time head coaches make mistakes. They have a learning curve like everyone else. I saw it with Charlie Strong. I saw it when Bobby Petrino first came to Louisville.

But the grace period, officially, is over. In Year 4, Stoops is likely facing a move forward or else scenario. You lose a 21-point lead at home, and display a few meltdown moments doing it, that's what happens.

"I'm obviously very frustrated with the result," Stoops said. "And the result wasn't good enough, in my opinion. So I'm not pleased with the result. Five wins is not good enough. And I'm tired of the would've, could've, should'ves, just as the fans are. We've got to make those plays. And that's when our program will grow, when we make those plays to win games."

The problem now is that it gets more difficult. Next season gets tougher in terms of road challenges. Schedules don't get much better than this season's at Kentucky. This was a bowl season gift-wrapped for the Wildcats, but they didn't grab it.

Kentucky fans are among the most patient in college football. But after seeing the program's administration finally put so many much-needed resources into the program, I don't think they're patient enough to watch another repeat without some major changes.

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