Head Coach Mark Stoops leaves the field following Kentucky’s 44-17 loss to rival Louisville on Saturday, November 25, 2017. Photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country)
The 2017 Kentucky football season was supposed to be one of the best the program has had in many years and truthfully, it should have been. The Wildcats had a light schedule compared to other years but missed opportunities were how this season will be remembered after a brutal 44-17 beat down from rival Louisville.
The Wildcats entered the game with a chance to achieve the first 8-win regular season since 1984; however, the result was a total implosion from the inside out. It started with a series of frustrated tweets from senior captain Nick Haynes the night before the game and ended with the Wildcats unable to control their emotions in a heated rivalry.
Kentucky looked lost from the start and the defense showed no signs of containing reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who accounted for 372 total yards of offense. Jackson torched Kentucky to the tune of 216 passing yards and two touchdowns, including another 156 yards on the ground.
With any rivalry, you will have emotions but Kentucky allowed theirs to get the best of them. A nasty brawl broke out during the first quarter between Jordan Jones and Jackson, resulting in unsportsmanlike penalties for both. The Cardinals were able to regain composure to take a 14-0 lead, as Kentucky took too long to put their emotions to the side. Louisville took a 31-10 lead into the locker room and coasted to a victory in the second half.
Aside from the lack of control from the players, the lack of any effort by the defense was frustrating. Kentucky had no answer for Jackson and the Cardinal offense, which scored on 8-of-9 possessions in the game. The Cardinals punter never took the field and the only Louisville drive that didn’t find points was the final one, which ended at the UK six-yard line.
Early in the game, the Wildcats played zone coverage and Jackson was just hitting his spots. When an opportunity to make a play would present itself, the result was usually a missed tackle or a frustrating penalty. There is no other way to put it; this was an embarrassing beat down in year five of Stoops’ tenure.
The disappointing thing about the result is that it overshadows a career performance from sophomore running back Benny Snell Jr. Snell carried the ball 29 times for a career-high 211 yards and two touchdowns. His fourth-quarter touchdown run was his 18th of the season, which broke the UK single-season rushing touchdown record.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson struggled mightily in his final game at Kroger Field. The UK senior completed 8-of-9 passes for 110 yards. Overall, the offense totaled 338 yards with Snell accounting for 211 of those.
Fans are disappointed and rightfully so. As I sit inside an empty Kroger Field, I can’t help but think about what could’ve been. What could have been if Kentucky didn’t suffer meltdowns vs. Florida and Ole Miss. Throw away today’s result and Kentucky could have had a magical season if it wouldn’t have allowed opportunities to slip away. Instead, fans have been given another 7-5 finish but the feeling I get is this one seems to feel emptier than others.
Kentucky did have achievements this year. The program is headed to its second consecutive Bowl game, which is a win considering where the program was when Stoops took over. The Wildcats also finished 4-4 in the SEC for the second consecutive season. With that being said, they need a Bowl win to salvage any momentum heading into the offseason. For that to happen, the matchup will have to be ideal.