On an absolutely beautiful fall afternoon in Central Kentucky, at what should be the pinnacle of the college football season, Kentucky played undefeated, 20th ranked Mississippi State in a big-time SEC matchup. Sadly for Kentucky, there was little big time about it.
Opening day at Keeneland, a dissatisfied fan base, and a 1-4 football season kept many of the Big Blue Nation away, so much so that Saturday’s crowd was one of the smallest for a UK home SEC football game since Commonwealth Stadium was built. The entrance of the home team from the tunnel was greeted with only mild enthusiasm from the crowd. And few were left in the stadium to see Dan Mullen’s classy decision to take a knee to end the game rather than try to run up the score.
All that happened in between, which included many big hits and great plays, was greeted mostly with, at best, tempered enthusiasm.
With Maxwell Smith already out for the season and Morgan Newton being ineffective (and now apparently focusing his efforts on getting into law school, according to media pundit and Tweeter Matt Jones), UK coaches took the redshirt off homegrown hero Patrick Towles and were set to rotate him and fellow true freshman Jalen Whitlow at quarterback.
But, after throwing a touchdown pass in his first college drive, Towles was sacked and received an ankle injury on his second series and will now miss several games, if not the rest of the season. So Whitlow, who coaches anticipated at the start of the season would play only in the wildcat package, will be the starting full-time quarterback.
The first half of the season ends with Kentucky 1-5 and great uncertainty at the lead position. All the improvements over last season on offense and signs of improvement this season on defense will be negated without consistency at quarterback.
In real estate, location, location, location means everything, and that may well be true for coach retentions. On Saturday, the fans, once again, were not located in their seats at Commonwealth Stadium. Apparently they were located at the track with the horses, at home watching other good college football matchups on TV, or just enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon in the Bluegrass. No doubt, when Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart decides whether to extend Joker Phillips’ tenure, or try again - as UK has so often before - to hire a new coach for the Wildcat football program, the absence of those fans will make it harder for Barnhart to keep coach Phillips.
Going into the second half of the season there seems to be several winnable games, but in the short term, the path ahead does not look good for the Big Blue. The Wildcats will face Arkansas — coming off their second win, a victory over Auburn — on the road this week; then will face Georgia at home after the Bulldogs have a bye week to rest and contemplate their big loss to South Carolina.
With injuries mounting and a fan base that has lost faith in the coach and team, even the most optimistic Wildcat fan finds the odds of turning this season around very remote.