Pre-Game Reading: Fear of Flying Meets Football
As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I’m terrified of flying. It’s why I don’t watch TV shows about plane crashes or movies that involve plane crashes (although I did watch Cast Away. I have no explanation for this.). I figure if I convince myself that I’ve never seen one happen, I can pretend that they don’t exist, get on the plane, believe in telekinesis and get where I need to be.
After early afternoon football viewing, I’m afraid I may have to extend my “no plane crash shows” rule to a “no teams Kentucky plays” rule.
I entered this season – and last week’s game against Louisville – with a great deal optimism. I gave Kentucky a chance for somewhere between five wins and seven with seven on the VERY optimistic side. That said three of those wins (even to get to five) were against Louisville (already lost), Western Kentucky (next week’s opponent) and Mississippi State.
It’s Mississippi State that has caused today’s consternation. I watched almost their entire game this afternoon, and either Auburn is really bad, or Kentucky is in big trouble on October 6. I’m REALLY hoping it’s that Auburn is awful.
The Bulldogs’ offense honestly isn’t anything to write home about, but they gashed the Auburn defense on simple runs many times. Unless Auburn’s defense is worse than what Kentucky showed against Louisville (and that hardly seems possible), Miss State could feast on the ground against UK.
The Bulldog defense was just as impressive in holding Auburn to just 216 total yards, but that may be because Auburn quarterback Kiel Frazier kept throwing the ball right to them.
That brings us to Western Kentucky. Sure, they’re getting housed by Alabama today, but they did gain 15 yards on one play at one point. Even as good as the UK offense looked at times last week, how many times did they gain 15 on a play…and, you know, Alabama. (By the way, being in Bowling Green at game time and watching WKU fans flood restaurants decked out in Hilltoppers gear to gather to watch their team get drubbed was borderline inspirational. I hope it’s like this when my beloved NKU Norse tip off their first Division I basketball season later this year.)
The truth is it may not matter for the Cats by October 6 when Mississippi State gets to town, or next week against Western for that matter. If Kentucky doesn’t win and win big tonight against Kent State, the howls for head coach Joker Phillips’ job will be deafening. I shudder to think what it would be like should UK lose. A lot of people (me included on First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk) said that last week was maybe the most important game of the Phillips era. I no longer believe that, only because in the situation Phillips finds himself in, whatever game he’s playing immediately becomes the most important.
Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote a great column early this week talking about how Joker likely needs a 2006 Rich Brooks-level rally to maintain his job. That year I remember calling Ryan Lemond on what is now Big Blue Insider on NewsRadio 630 WLAP (before I worked for the station) before the third game of the season (Ole Miss) that if Kentucky didn’t win that game, Brooks was as good as gone. Kentucky won that one two weeks after getting dominated by Louisville in the opener (sound familiar) and went on to beat South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt to reach the Music City Bowl, starting a run of five straight Kentucky bowl appearances and making Rich Brooks a legend in Lexington.
The problem for Joker is that with this defense, I just don’t think this team has that kind of run in it. It’s shockingly hard to win if you can’t stop anybody. After the debacle at Louisville, coaches talked about the defensive problems being alignment and assignment issues. The undercurrent being that they were problems that could be corrected. I think to a certain extent, I’d rather have them say Kentucky got physically whipped. Sure it’s unlikely to get better, but it doesn’t paint a picture of a team that doesn’t know what to do when it hits the field.
I am a big Joker Phillips fan. He’s a UK alum and his love of the university and the football program are undisputable. After seeing Max Smith and the offense last week, I’d be inclined to bring him back next year regardless of outcome if it were my decision to make. However, he’s paying the price for the well-documented vanishing recruiting class of 2009 that has left Kentucky thin at important positions (yes, I know he was the recruiting coordinator then. Calm down). Unfortunately, without big results when they are “expected” – starting with tonight against Kent – and some surprises down the road, that may not be possible. And having seen one of those “surprise win” teams play today, I am much less optimistic about the Cat’s chances as the season goes on.
I am in Bowling Green for the Special Olympics Kentucky State Softball Tournament, so Ryan will be sitting in with Anthony White on Sunday Morning Sports Talk tomorrow. If you’re interested in seeing what Special Olympics is all about, I will be calling two games on the Special Olympics Kentucky On-Line SOKY TV outlet.