All things boil down to how you want to look at them. For many UK football fans this year will be a year of disappointment and missed opportunity. Losses to Mississippi State and South Carolina will both look bad from afar. This is especially true if taken out of the context of the games at the time they took place. Close losses to Florida and Tennessee likewise will be easily lamented and rightfully so.
One could look back and see the Cats at 11-1 and 7-1 in the conference if every single thing had broken just right. Instead we await a sixth win over OVC also ran UT Martin and then perhaps a victory over a vastly improved UofL squad. Bowl predictions seem to indicate a trip to a tropical location in sunny…Tennessee at either the Music City Bowl or perhaps the Liberty Bowl.
It would be reasonable to lament what might have been. It would be far less reasonable to blame the coaching.
In fact, it could be argued that getting this team to a winning record (should that happen) and a fourth straight bowl bid has been nothing short of a coaching miracle. Coming in to the season we knew the Cats had to find a replacement for three of the best players to ever wear Blue and White, one in each phase of the ball (Snell, Allen, and MacGinnis). Plus the team had to replace a ton of pro level talent on the defensive side.
Further, the jury was still out on QB Terry Wilson (although I was convinced he was going to have a great year). All in all, the schedule looked good, but the depth chart looked iffy at best.
Then late in the 2nd game calamity struck. Terry Wilson who had so far not committed a turnover on the young season, went down for the year. Back up Sawyer Smith looked good for a half against Florida but then also succumbed to injury. After losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State the season looked lost and winning any more games (except maybe UT-Martin) looked unlikely.
For the 2nd time in his tenure, OC Eddie Gran had to try to keep the plane from crashing under the worst of conditions. He was forced to rethink and redesign the entire offense. So he did.
Not only did he and the staff move WR Lynn Bowden to QB, but they kept him there. They knew that doing so was a major risk. The move has not been without some trial and tribulation. But last week the Cats put over 400 rushing yards on a hapless Vandy defense and have put themselves in the top 20 in the country in rushing offense. They have either won or given themselves a chance to win every game since the switch. John Shlarman’s offensive line has been dominant.
Meanwhile, DC Brad White is thriving in relative anonymity. UK has replaced the likes of Josh Allen, Lonnie Johnson, Chris Westry, Mike Edwards and more without missing even a beat. While those guys make the big bucks in the NFL, UK’s defense continues to hold opponents off the scoreboard. Further, it is a young group that should be even better next year.
And so, against all odds, this year’s UK football Wildcats will once again get to at least six W’s (barring a major upset to UT-Martin), have a chance at a 4th consecutive winning season, and could conceivably finish on a roll heading into a promising off season where recruiting looks good, and key players return in every facet.
If you are of a mind to see things only through the current lenses of recent history, that may not impress you much. But for those of us who have watched UK football for years, well, as Carly Simon once said, ‘These are the good old days.”
And we should congratulate the current coaches for that. They deserve it.