As hard as the players tried to sum up their regular season in other words, nobody could say anything truer than UK head coach Joker Phillips could. They each returned to one phrase.
“I think our guys fought, scratched and clawed (this season), there’s no doubt about that,” Phillips said following the 24-14 loss to Tennessee Saturday. “But we were a football team that made mistakes, shot ourselves in the foot, missed opportunities … As a whole, we had opportunities. I would say it was a season of missed opportunities.”
Senior quarterback Mike Hartline tried to elaborate on the thoughts Phillips couldn’t.
“I mean, he’s not wrong,” Hartline said. “There were definitely games that we could have won, we should have won, we were a better team at, but we just didn’t necessarily play better … This season was tough, it was a lot of missed opportunities.”
Junior safety Winston Guy felt the same, only in less fluent order.
“He’s right,” Guy said. “A lot of opportunities we had this whole year, you know, we missed … It was just the games we were in the last second, in crunch time, where we needed big plays to put us ahead of our opponent. We just didn’t do it. Overall, this season was pretty good, but we could have been better.”
Even junior wide receiver Randall Cobb, who typically has more than his fair share of emotional speech, had to agree.
“Exactly, (I’d describe the season) the same way,” Cobb said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to do some great things, we just didn’t capitalize on them … It’s tough, it really is.”
It seemed nobody could avoid the group of words — neither can the people who analyze football for a living. But wide receivers coach Tee Martin believes to have the remedy.
“ … we’re so close, and the young guys have to understand that the things we ask them to do, they’ve just got to do it unconsciously and not question it because you never know how close you are.”
This season, UK was “close” quite often. With three of its six conference losses coming by one touchdown or less, the year can be summarized no other way than by those pesky words the team couldn’t keep from rolling off its tongue.
Heartbreaking losses to Tennessee, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn (one of the most disappointing for UK, in my opinion) left the team wondering what could have been, had a few more breaks gone its way. Though 6-6 is the epitome of average, it simply isn’t fun. The numerous crushing losses take their toll on a program and its fanbase, as evidenced this season by UK.
This season hasn’t felt so ordinary for many individuals who follow the team because of those chances that fell to the wayside, instances that kept UK from finishing 9-3 instead of .500. The biggest (and by “biggest” I mean only) highlight of the season was the victory over South Carolina in the middle of conference play.
But talk of lost occasions for UK wasn’t the only thing coming from the players’ mouths. Another phrase echoing around the room following Saturday’s game gave light to the fact UK is bowl-eligible and it will continue to prepare for its upcoming opponent, whoever that may be.
Though the bowl game seems to be an afterthought following the loss to the Vols, it means the team doesn’t have to close the book on its season just yet.
It appears the Cats won’t be returning to Tennessee to play their postseason again. So in a season of one negative trend, the team may elude another tendency that it has seen in recent years. So at least there’s that.
Chandler is a journalism sophomore. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KernelHoward.