Two games are down with two games still to go for Mark Stoops’s head coaching debut through the mini- NFL part of this season’s Kentucky football schedule.
Once again Stoops’s troops gave that ole tough and gritty college effort at home against Florida on Saturday night, but there was simply too much size, speed, and overall pure football talent thrown at the Cats by the Gators.
When you are outmatched at virtually every position in college football you simply have to play pretty much a perfect game in the execution department, and that’s even more difficult to do when you have to execute a few out of the norm trickery type plays to gain some type of equalizer for the underdog.
UK’s first “Hal Mumme special” against the Gators on Saturday was a fake field goal that was executed perfectly and produced seven points, tying Florida on the scoreboard plus electrifying Commonwealth Stadium late in the first quarter. After a period of about two quarters’ worth of reality put Florida in a comfortable 21-7 lead, the football gods struck again when UK’s Josh Forrest broke perfectly on a pass pattern he was defending, picked the ball off and headed toward pay dirt, only to have teammate Bud Dupree fail to execute an open field block on the Gator quarterback. Instead of ending up in the end zone, Forrest was stopped at the Florida 40-yard line.
Just a few plays later, UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown pulled another plum out of his bag of tricks and tried the same throw back play that WKU upset UK with in overtime last year on the same end of the field. This time the throw back passer froze and didn’t have the presence of mind to at least throw the ball out of bounds, instead taking a sack for what appeared to be a 12 to 15 yard loss. If that didn’t take the air out of the Wildcats’ upset sails, Maxwell Smith’s hail Mary pass into the end zone did when the Gators picked it off.
More important, though, is the obvious fact that for the second week in a row against quality competition you could plainly see a different UK football team evolving right before your eyes. The very hard-earned 24-7 win by Florida was much different than previous Gator wins that blew up the scoreboard with 50 to 60 points.
Good news at the end of the night Saturday is that only a few bumps and bruises were reported with no season-ending injuries occurring. The coaches are learning valuable game performance information on personnel to set the stage for a second-half run that could produce some wins and send the Cats into the off season having weathered the storm of the worst part of the building block seasons needed to get back to bowl-winning years.
Bad news is there are still two more tough weeks, with South Carolina on the road and Alabama at home. The South Carolina game this Saturday is set for a 7:30 kickoff and will be televised live on Fox Sports South with former UK great Tim Couch serving as the color commentator.
For the second week in a row UK will be facing the backup quarterback of its opponent. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw injured his shoulder early in last Saturday’s alarmingly close 28-25 win against 2-2 Central Florida, and the school has announced that he will be out of competition at least two to three weeks.
Kiffin Bites the Dust
The mighty Southern California Trojans parted ways with former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin after Arizona State smacked them 62-41 late on Saturday night. Trojans Athletics Director Pat Haden and a posse of Southern Cal athletic department officials actually ran down the team bus as it was en route to the airport after the game and pulled Kiffin off the bus to tell him he was fired as effectively immediately.
ESPN reported the decision was actually made by Haden while he was in his suite surrounded by USC dignitaries during a 3rd-quarter run that saw Arizona State outscore the Trojans 20-0.
Kiffin’s recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named the team’s interim head coach for the remainder of 2013. Orgeron was the Ole Miss head coach just a few years ago before he was let go by the Johnny Rebel brass.
ESPN immediate l y tabbed Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio as the leading candidate for the Trojans’ head position. However, I am sure that Louisville head coach Charlie Strong will surface as a candidate in the next few days as the USC job is still considered by some pigskin experts as one of the top 10 jobs in the nation.
Regardless of how the season ends for the Trojans and who the new coach is, you can be assured of two things come pre-season 2014: The Trojans will be ranked in the top 20 if not top 15 right along with the nation’s other over-hyped college football program, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. College football is what it is when it comes to the national media.
Columnist Ira Combs lives at Jeff in Perry County, where he and his brother Harold own and operate Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.