By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
There seems to be a lot of unnecessary negativity around the UK football program after a heartbreaking loss to Florida on Saturday . I will be the first to admit that squandering a 21-10 lead In the fourth quarter by giving up 19 points to the 9th ranked team in the country is not the way to make fans and media feel good about your program.
But it has happened before and it may happen again — to this UK Football program and many others. That doesn’t mean the sky is falling. It doesn’t mean the wheels are coming off and it doesn’t mean the sun won’t come up tomorrow.
What it does mean is that this team — like the Benny Snell/Josh Allen-led team from last year — has to learn how to win. They have to learn how to make plays at crunch time with the game on the line. Last year’s team had to learn the same way — losing games they should have won until they figure out which player will step up and win the one on one battle that will ultimately win the game.
Think back to the UK-Florida Football game in 2017. Kentucky held a 27-13 lead with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Florida then mounted drives of 58 yards and 80 yards to take the lead 28-27. The Kentucky offense then drove down the field to set up a game winning field goal attempt. Unfortunately Austin McGinnis’ 58-yard field goal fell short and so did the Wildcats.
They lost a game — to the Gators at home — that they should have won. But those players, like this current group of players, were learning how to win. They were learning how to make plays when they count and that learning experience in 2017 paid huge dividends in the 2018 season. It may be the same case with this group. They may be a year away from being a great team. Only time will tell.
But one thing is for sure, the season is not over. There is plenty of football left to be played. Kentucky has nine games left on the schedule and eight of them are very winnable. If they can win six or seven of those games they could finish 8-4 or 9-3. Either of those records would be acceptable considering the amount of adversity this team has already encountered.
It’s very difficult to mix in inexperienced players into key positions and then expect to win at a high level in the SEC. Teams like Georgia can do it because they have a top five recruiting class each year. Teams like Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri have a much harder time filling those gaps due to injury and graduation because of the talent difference between the players recruited by Georgia compared to the other teams in the SEC East.
So looking at the result of the Florida game can either be considered a huge negative by the fan base or it can be considered another step along the pathway to become an elite football program. It’s no fun losing but if used as a proper motivator, it can pay benefits down the road.
If — and it’s a big if given the injury situation — Kentucky could play four quarters of quality football in all of the last nine games they would have a great opportunity to finish second in the SEC East and be in line for another great bowl game at the end of the season.
But if the players are still thinking about the Florida game when they visit Starkville to play Mississippi State this week there’s a good possibility UK will lose that game and will have allowed Florida to beat it twice.
Knowing that Josh Allen and Company, as juniors, lost to Florida the same way this current group of players lost should give some perspective to the loss last Saturday. It doesn’t make the loss feel any better but it does bring some perspective.
And perspective is a valuable thing — for fans, media and players alike — if they plan to move beyond where they are sitting right now.