Column: It’s the little things that threaten to sink UK football


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) walks off the field after the No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Ole Miss football game on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss won 22-19. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Now two days removed from the loss in Oxford, one question still lingers on the mind of many UK fans: “What just happened?”

The answer is quite simple: nothing that couldn’t have been predicted beforehand.

More specifically, Kentucky’s inability to tidy up little mistakes cost it a victory against a team closer to its own level of play. Stepping back from just Ole Miss, this has been an issue all season for the Cats.

Countless little mistakes that add up, but had yet to be properly punished.

Kentucky football has given up 19 sacks this season in just five games, and, while an easy scapegoat, not all of that can be blamed on an inexperienced offensive line.

Several of the sacks Kentucky have given up are the result of silly little mistakes like running backs or wide receivers missing assignments, play calls that take a long time to develop or, in the case of sack No. 19 that ended UK’s hopes of victory in Oxford, quarterback Will Levis just holding on to the ball too long.

It’s not just against teams like Ole Miss and Florida either. Kentucky gave up three sacks to FCS Youngstown State. That is no longer just a thing that inevitably happens, that is a problem, and it’s far from the only one.

Kentucky left a lot of points on the board in Oxford. Kicker Matt Ruffolo missed a routine 39-yard field goal, just the second he missed all season, and had an extra point blocked on his next kicking attempt, leaving four points that would have won the game for Kentucky right there.

Beyond that, the Cats gave up a safety, the second this season against UK, that gave Ole Miss two points without the offense even on the field.

Going back to that first safety, in Gainesville against Florida, it was a high snap on a punt attempt that saw punter Colin Goodfellow have no choice but to boot the ball out the back of UK’s end zone to prevent a touchdown. Another tiny easy-to-make mistake.

Luckily for Kentucky though, Florida may have been a little overrated at No. 12 entering that matchup and UK was able to leave The Swamp with a victory.

Back to the game in Oxford, Kentucky also lost a touchdown when kick returner Barion Brown was tripped – by his own teammate – on a return that many feel would have, or should have, been six points.
How did that possession end for Kentucky? A failed fourth down conversion attempt that led to a turnover on downs and zero points.

Perhaps most egregious of all, however, had to be the game-winning touchdown that was nullified by… a simple, easy-to-make mistake.

Levis had snapped the ball too early, in a situation that offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello emphasized post-game was not one where the Cats needed to rush, leading to an illegal motion call on Brown, who didn’t have time to get set before the snap.

The very next play? The infamous sack-fumble combo that led to Ole Miss merely kneeling the remainder of the game to claim victory, not even mentioning the fact that the fumble was the second of the game… on back-to-back drives.

That is simply too many mistakes for one team to overcome in one game against a top 15 opponent and still claim victory, but boy did UK come close.

At the end of the day there is nothing else to blame for the loss but those small errors in judgment just finally costing UK a game.

The mistakes have plagued the season as a whole – let’s not forget that the Northern Illinois game ended as a one-score game after the Cats gave up a 63-yard pass because two UK defenders ran into each other on the play – and it was only a matter of time before Kentucky finally lost because of them.

That’s not to say Kentucky is a bad team though, because it isn’t. The fact that the Cats were a field goal away from tying a top 15 opponent, who admittedly made a number of their own mistakes, after all of those mistakes is a sign that Kentucky is actually probably a pretty good team.

The problem it has, though, is that many games in the SEC, including both of UK’s games against Florida and Ole Miss, ultimately come down to, not who’s better, but who makes the least mistakes and who gets the little things right the most.

So far this season Kentucky has been able to get away with making the most mistakes based on talent and scheme alone, but moving into the bulk of its SEC schedule, that’s going to get harder and harder to do.
Put simply, Kentucky needs to clean up the little mistakes if it wants to reach its full potential this season.

It’s hard enough to be successful in the SEC during a normal season, it’s going to be impossible to be successful in the SEC if it keeps shooting itself in the foot every week.

Kentucky football did not get “exposed” this past Saturday like some on social media thought it would, but it did lose. The only question now is what does head coach Mark Stoops change now that the first loss has come and gone to prevent a second loss, lest anyone forget that last season’s first loss turned into a three-game losing streak.

It’s unlikely that will happen again this season, but work needs to be done to ensure that it won’t, and that work needs to start with cleaning up those silly little easy-to-make mistakes that have plagued UK all year.