COLUMN: Chain reaction causes Cats to crumble

OXFORD, Miss. — Saturday was a distressing day for Blue and White enthusiasts. UK played ugly when it couldn’t afford to, and it cost itself a win.

The Cats suffered one thing coaches of all sports fear — implosion. It began with a dropped pass or a missed blocking assignment, and it ended with a 7-point loss to Ole Miss. It was nothing but a simple chain reaction.

“One thing we preach is that Kentucky will beat Kentucky. Today, we beat ourselves,” UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. “But our kids fought when most people would have given in. That showed a lot of character.

“All of the final numbers were right around our goals, so there are a lot of positives to build upon. Yeah, it’s tough initially, because our No. 1 goal is to win, but we don’t win just so people know who to take.”

In disagreement with Brown, individual players got down on themselves when trailing for the second consecutive week, a trend UK head coach Joker Phillips should hope to correct immediately.

“We had control of the game, especially in the first quarter,” Phillips said. “We thought we had the momentum, but then we gave it to them. That is really frustrating.”

Play calling and execution on both sides of the ball was questionable, to say the least. The Cats all but abandoned the run for a period in the first half, and then when they threw, it was for yardage too short or unnecessarily long.

Sure, senior quarterback Mike Hartline posted 300 passing yards for the first time in his career. But it would be tough for UK to beat even a high school program if they were to allow 21 points off turnovers, as they did against the Rebels. Giving up another touchdown thanks to a pair of personal foul penalties on the defense on one drive didn’t help.

The game should have been around a two- or three-touchdown victory for UK, but a game can’t be won by letting the opposition take possession of the ball inside the 10-yard line, and by bailing the team out of tough spots with mental mistakes all the way down the field.

At least the Cats don’t need to worry about their kicking game (well, kind of). Freshman Joe Mansour did let two kickoffs fly out of bounds, which is a pretty big no-no. But sophomore Craig McIntosh nailed a couple huge field goals and junior Ryan Tydlacka accumulated 202 yards on only four punts, including one 73-yarder.

A 0-2 start to conference play probably wasn’t on Phillips’ to-do list this fall, but it’s what he has to work with now. With the approaching three games taking place in the confines of Commonwealth Stadium, UK desperately needs to come up with a string of wins. If the Cats play similarly against any one of their next three opponents, they will surely lose.

It often happens in sports that a game will be close, but the score will not reflect it. Saturday, it was the opposite. Rare was a point where it felt like UK had a chance to come out on top in the second half, but the final deficit would say otherwise.

“Right now, we’re disappointed,” Hartline said. “We didn’t think this was going to be an easy win, by any means, but it was a good chance for us to go on the road and win. It’s tough to take this and move forward, but I think our team unity is as strong as it’s ever been. We’ll come out Monday ready to go.”