If you said before the season that Kentucky would have back-to-back losses against Ole Miss and South Carolina after beating Florida in Gainesville, Wildcat fans would’ve called you crazy. But that’s what happened. And after a dreadful performance this past weekend, UK’s 2022 season is on the line Saturday against Mississippi State, at least from an expectations standpoint.
It’s not last week’s loss to South Carolina that concerns me. It all centers around the expectations for the Wildcats. If you noticed on the sidelines against the Gamecocks, the energy was low; it was about the same as the fans leaving the stadium in the fourth quarter. You can’t fake it and you certainly cannot continue having to only rely on the leaders to bring the juice, which was the case this past weekend.
The team seemed lifeless without quarterback Will Levis last week. I understand the starting quarterback in Lexington is the backbone of this group, but the team played lethargic without him.
Energy Lacking For Kentucky
“Well I think it’s always concerning,” Mark Stoops noted about sideline energy. “We talk about it on Monday, I actually challenged them in the locker room the week before, postgame and then challenged them every week about high energy. I guess I could talk about it until I’m blue in the face, but they better do something about it.”
Even without Will Levis taking snaps, this team should’ve brought the same type of energy as they would with him out there. Considering running back Chris Rodriguez has looked good in his return to the field, this team could’ve had a better game plan, but it’s certainly hard to do without your star quarterback.
“Obviously when you lose one of the top players in college football, it doesn’t help your football team,” Stoops added. “But it’s still no excuse for how we played around him.”
Let’s not forget, Kentucky had its starting quarterback the week before against Ole Miss, but only scored 19 points.
Stoops is trying hard to not make excuses, but losing your starting quarterback comes with ramifications. All across college football, quarterbacks are dropping like flies, but this is why you have a backup plan. Considering the way Levis plays, Kentucky has to be prepared for this scenario.
So when freshman Kaiya Sheron got the start, Kentucky needed its core group to step up around the quarterback, which they didn’t.
“I mentioned it during the game and it held true after watching the tape, we didn’t play very good around him at times,” Stoops said. “There’s people that did, there’s plays. But again, the inconsistencies of the breakdowns, you can’t put it on any one person. We just as a group different play very good around him.”
Climbing Out Of The Hole
So now, Kentucky has to figure out a way to climb from the hole. You can certainly throw out a shot at playing for the SEC East title, with two conference losses.
This is about finding a way to get this team back on track, against a very tough opponent in Mississippi State.
If the Wildcats thought containing Lane Kiffin’s offense was tough, wait until State quarterback Will Rogers takes the field. The health of Will Levis is a major question heading into this game, which is another reason why the Cats’ are seven point underdogs.
While we don’t know if Will Levis will play against the Bulldogs, with Mark Stoops calling him day-to-day, this team better figure out a way to win with what they have. There’s no certainty that Levis doesn’t re-aggravate his ankle injury, which would put Kaiya Sheron back into the drivers seat.
Saturday presents an opportunity for Kentucky to right the ship and finish the regular season with enough wins to satisfy a fan base that feels deflated.
But when Mark Stoops opened his press conference by thanking the fans and almost begging them to come back on Saturday night, this is a clear sign that this 2022 team is heading in the wrong direction.
For the Wildcats sake, hopefully there starting quarterback is healthy enough to return. But if Levis is standing on the sidelines come Saturday night and not on the field, Kentucky fans might as well prepare for basketball season.
We’ve come a long way from that preseason hype.