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By LARRY VAUGHT
So much for Kentucky winning the final four games to save coach Joker Phillips’ job.
Instead of building on the momentum of a 29-24 loss to Georgia, the Cats came unglued at Missouri Saturday and lost 33-10. Forget that UK had played the nation’s toughest schedule coming into this game. Missouri is not an elite team. It’s not even a really good team in the Southeastern Conference and it relied on its backup quarterback to lead the offense most of the game.
Kentucky’s defense allowed a season-low 273 yards, including a season-low 87 passing yards. The defense also forced a season-high three turnovers, including two interceptions by walk-on cornerback J.D. Harmon who only got into the game because of an injury to Cody Quinn early in the game.
But Kentucky couldn’t win because after the first two series, it had no offense. None.
And Kentucky couldn’t win beause it turned the ball over at key times to set up Missouri touchdowns.
One could also argue that Kentucky couldn’t win because of way too many questionable coaching decisions that certaily infuriated many UK fans. Just consider:
— Kentucky had a fourth down-and-seven deep in its territory when Missouri ran into punter Landon Foster. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips accepted the penalty even though Foster had boomed a 53-yard punt that put Missouri at its own 35. Foster had to punt again and this time Missouri took the shorter kick back to the UK 47-yard line — a net loss of 17 yards for the Cats on the play.
Why take the penalty? Did Phillips think Turner might hit a 60-yard punt? So what if the Missouri returner had muffed a couple of punts. That play just didn’t make sense.
— Freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow led a long drive on its first series where UK would have scored if Jonathan George had not fumbled and then came back with a scoring drive. However, rather than put him back in the game, Phillips said it had been predetermined to play freshman Patrick Towles at quarterback on the third series.
Now I am all for Towles, who was coming back from an ankle injury, playing and giving the passing attack some possible help. But why take Whitlow out when he was as sharp as he’s been all year? Towles values winning and is certainly smart enough to know any predetermined decision in a football game is subject to change even if the UK coaches apparently do not.
— Why has someone not made sure freshman Demarcus Sweat understands he can’t hesitate on kickoff returns in SEC play? Field the kick and head for any hole and get what yardage is possible. Of course, maybe he’s pressing since he’s not caught a pass since his touchdown catch in the third game of the season.
One could go on and on. But what’s the use. Kentucky is 1-8. That’s one win in nine games and on the road UK has no offense. Playing 14 true freshmen and 12 more redshirt freshman is a fact, but not an excuse for such play and mistakes.
It’s time for Kentucky athletics director MItch Barnhart to take a stand. Season ticket sales are down. The team is not winning. Fans are irate.
If Barnhart is not going to make a change, have the courage to say so now. If he knows one needs to be made, then let it be known now so the staff and players, especially the seniors, can somewhat enjoy the final three games.
There are only two more home games. This week against Vanderbilt and then Samford after a bye week. If Barnhart doesn’t want to announce anything this week, he has to do it during the bye week. Kentucky players and fans deserve to know what direction he wants to go and Saturday’s 33-10 loss should certainly make it clear that a change has to be made because things are just not working.