By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Sometimes in life what’s best for us is not what we enjoy the most. Most can testify that getting off the couch and starting an exercise program or changing our diet to eat grilled chicken and salads is not something to which we look forward. Neither are football games that go down to the last play before the favored team secures the win. Especially if the favored team is supposed to win by double digits. But such is the case for this Wildcat Football team. They seem to thrive on adversity.
Webster’s says that adversity is “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty.” This Kentucky team loves adversity. Most of the time they create it for themselves.
Take the Southern Mississippi game to start the season. UK led the Golden Eagles 24-10 to start the fourth quarter. It took several defensive stops by UK including a turnover on downs with 44 seconds left in the game to secure the 24-17 win. Or the 24-20 victory over Eastern Michigan that saw the Wildcats turn the ball over on the first play of the game. That allowed EMU to throw a 20-yard touchdown pass that spotted the Eagles to a seven point lead. After UK took a lead into the fourth quarter they then had to make a defensive stop on the last play of the game to pull out the victory.
Last but not least is the game against Missouri Saturday night. The crowd at Kroger Field saw the Wildcats build a 20-7 lead with less than a minute left in the first half. But one 58-yard pass for a score later the Tigers had cut the lead to six. Later in the second half the Wildcats would score repeatedly only to immediately allow Missouri to throw passes of 48-yards and 75-yards on two different possessions for scores that kept the Tigers in the ball game. At the end of the game it took a defensive pass breakup by the UK secondary and a mysterious running clock to give the Wildcats the 40-34 victory.
The above doesn’t even take into account Kentucky’s lone loss to the Florida Gators. Taking a 14 point lead into the fourth quarter the Kentucky defense gave up two Florida drives – one with an uncovered wide receiver that allowed the winning touchdown – before missing a 53-yard field on the last play of the game. A questionable offensive holding call on the play prior to the kick nullified a 10-yard run by Benny Snell that would have set up a chip shot field goal instead of the 53-yard field goal attempt mentioned above.
Why are these type games important? Why mention all the various problems that are mostly self-inflicted? Good questions. Here’s why.
Each time UK Football has to go to the wire to win a game – whether they are underdogs or favored by 50 – it increases their ability to dig deep and come back from bad situations that occur during their games. Instead of folding up like some UK Football teams of old this team bows their collective necks and gets back in there to make a play – whether it is a long run or pass reception on offense or a big sack, fumble recovery, or blocked kick on defense or special teams – and finds a way to win the game. Instead of saying that luck will eventually run out on this version of Kentucky Football it is time to say that they make their own luck in each and every game.
Winning creates winning and overcoming adversity throughout the game is a necessary step in creating a winning program. The fact that UK is 6-4 in its last 10 SEC games is proof that these Wildcats are learning how to win – even if they frequently shoot themselves in the foot.
An old African proverb says “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” Based on the performance of this year’s team it doesn’t look like smooth football games make skillful football players either.