As impressive as Louisville’s 32-14 win over Kentucky was Sunday, the spread reflects more the daylight between the two programs these days. Charlie Strong’s show is moving up. Joker Phillips’s program is — to be kind — standing still.
The Governor’s Cup has become a half-measure that damages football in Kentucky more than heightens interest. It is a grand season launcher for the winner, a nightmare for the loser so awful that the best Coach’s Show spin falls on deaf ears or no ears at all.
Chained to its bearish SEC schedule (not including Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M), Joker Phillips has not been well served by his director of athletics. Kentucky should have stayed with an approach embraced by West Virginia and Florida State. The Mountaineers and Seminoles put 69 points on the board last week, each. Whatever happens next, the winners are rolling. Marshall and Murray State went home with large checks.
Ironically, Louisville got the season opening breather it needed for Big Mo. But Wildcat football is left in regroup mode already, well south of hope, confidence and momentum — all with 70,000 seats to sell for Game Two.
Governor’s Cup Aftermath?
• At Louisville this week, Missouri State comes to town off a 51-9 loss at Kansas State. Charlie Strong’s largest problem may be keeping media worship for Teddy Bridgewater at bay. Gushing praise into the kid’s ears drawing comparisons to Michael Vick and other Glamour Leaguers.
• Meanwhile, in Lexington Joker Phillips goes back to a drawing board. But first he should get an apology from six-figure salaried Rick Minter. The latter should tell the former “I’m sorry for impersonating a defensive coordinator.” Then the soon-to-be 58-year-old Minter ought have the brass to resign and look for a new line of work.
Western Kentucky won a season opener for the first time since 2005. Just as important, while Louisville was slapping Kentucky around up I-65, the Hilltoppers were rolling up 49 points against Austin Peay. All good stuff for the ‘Tops … for the moment.
Willie Taggart’s team must have celebrated for half-an-hour, before eyeballing the schedule with a blink or two. Next up: The team that pulverized Michigan last week, Alabama … in Tuscaloosa.
Vandy And The Script
Only surprise from South Carolina Vanderbilt result last week was the final margin, 17-13. Steve Spurrier’s team was favored by 6.5. Coaches know the script, fans do and game officials know it too.
Savvy fans from Macon to Music City know the chances of Vandy beating an SEC big dog are as likely as truth-telling from a politician.
The doormat ‘Dores are supposed to be happy with a good gate, play a Spurrier team within four points, beat the spread, then shut up and move on.
Noble and admirable, Vandy coach James Franklin’s passion. He rails about “changing the culture,” stirs the hopes of fans and alumni, sells a few more tickets and attracts television a Saturday or two.
But a script is still a script in the SEC. Kentucky fans know the sting when Franklin and Commodore fans witness critical and close calls go, uh, the other way.
The Gamecocks led 17-13 in the fourth quarter, but Vandy was on the move. The crowd was up. Their ‘Dores had a shot.
Vandy receiver Jordan Mathews beat defender D.J. Swearinger down the right flank. Near the Carolina 40 Mathews reached for a pass from quarterback Jordan Rodgers that was straight into his bread basket. Would be a first down, maybe a touchdown.
One could almost hear Vandy fans, “Oh, baby! We’ve got a chance to beat the Ball Coach!”
They and thousands of TV viewers saw Mathews reach for the football, Swearinger reach for Mathews’ arm and whack it down. The football skittered away. Interference. Clear call, right? Wrong.
Maybe the guy in stripes was in mid-blink, maybe his mind was on a postgame barbeque sandwich, or maybe its simply the $EC script.
Spurrier’s team ran out the clock, the coaches shook hands and everybody went home. Kentucky fans know. We have seen UK coaches rage on the sidelines, plead for a fair shake, but knowing they (and we) know “the culture” is what it is.
• Major League baseball game in Pittsburgh. Base runner sprints for home, catcher blocks the plate … a train-wreck collision happens. Batting helmets explodes, bodies tumble in the dirt. The catcher is escorted off with a possible concussion. Three innings later, the player who bowled him over is hit by a pitch intentionally.
Why? Baseball culture dictates a pitcher must retaliate to “protect his catcher.”
Gamesmanship? No. Silly, childish, stupid and dangerous.
And so it goes.