Cats face reality midst second half collapse

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops pacing as the time runs down on the clock at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday,September 3, 2016. Photo by Josh Mott | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

Isn’t it ironic that a team that has boasted an offseason motto centered around finishing would start the season with a second half collapse matching only the one they had to finish the prior season?

That irony surely hits close to home with UK fans because that is their reality.

After leading Louisville last season 24-7 and being on the cusp of a bowl berth, UK gave up 31 unanswered points and entered another offseason searching for answers.

Whether there were questions over the offense, defense or just overall maturity, no answers were found in the offseason and it showed in the 44-35 loss to Southern Mississippi.

This time the Cats gave up 34 straight points between the last 30 seconds of the first half and the rest of the game. The collapse hurt that much more at the hands of former offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson as he proved he wasn’t the one holding UK back.

For a coach trying to change the culture from “everything bad that can happen, will happen” to something more positive, Mark Stoops isn’t doing himself any favors.

Most fans left early in the fourth quarter as the Cats seemed to try to thwart any comeback attempt and Stoops frankly understood, stating in the post-game press conference the need to apologize for the team’s performance, something he never considered should be done before.

The loss brings up pain at a new level just because it forced fans to enjoy the team at its peak only to have them suffer as it fell to its lowest point.

“I know everybody has every right to question what we’re doing and we’ll stay the course,” Stoops said. “You saw how we can play and how we will play.”

The team looked confident and poised in the first half. Barker was lighting up the Golden Eagles’ defense and trying his best to beat Louisville’s Lamar Jackson’s ridiculous first week numbers. The defense was getting stops and the star-studded defensive backfield was living up to the bill forcing three turnovers.

The Cats also tempted fans in an irresponsible way when you consider how most of their opponents looked close to incompetent to start the season. Tennessee nearly lost to Appalachian State. Mississippi State lost to Southern Alabama. One of the favorites to be the worst team in the SEC East in South Carolina beat Vanderbilt, who was predicted by many to take a big step this year.

Going into the game, all UK had to do was look decent and it would have been reasonable to expect seven wins. Now the loss to Southern Miss leaves them searching for replacement win on their schedule and six wins becomes that much steeper of a challenge.

Also to make matters worse, next week’s opponent, Florida, was one of the UK opponents that didn’t look vulnerable in its 24-7 win over UMass.

Sure fans may have seen the team UK could be, but that is the kind of talk the team has been surrounded by for three years now. The facts show that the team that UK is now is a very underwhelming one. And with a schedule that keeps looking easier and a fanbase that grows more impatient by the week, UK needs to capitalize on whatever opportunity comes its way.