Column: Kentucky football’s floor may have become its ceiling


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops protests a call during the No. 13 Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 24-14. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky football entered the 2022 season with high hopes.

The Wildcats were ranked in the preseason AP Poll for the first time since the 70s and brought back a likely first round NFL Draft pick as quarterback.

With so much hype surrounding the program, it was easy to buy into it and make bold predictions, with many, myself included, predicting the team could go 10-2 or even 11-1. I went as far as to say the absolute floor of this team was 8-4.

Looking up in week seven, that “absolute floor” may actually be the ceiling of this team and even an unlikely one at that.

Now, it’s unwise to overreact to one bad game, no matter how bad the South Carolina loss looked, but that’s not the full story.

Kentucky has hardly looked good in any game this season.

I beat the point to death last week about how many tiny mistakes this team has made that have led to poor results and ultimately cost the team its first loss in Oxford against Ole Miss, but they didn’t just remain against South Carolina. It could be argued they got worse.

It was already setting up to be a rough night when the starting lineups confirmed what most already knew: Will Levis was injured and could not play this past week, not that it wasn’t obvious from the boot he’d worn on his foot the entire week leading up to the matchup.

Backup Kaiya Sheron did not play a bad game, finishing with 178 passing yards and two touchdowns to one interception, but as head coach Mark Stoops said after the game, “the team didn’t play well around Kaiya.”

Play well around him they did not, allowing Sheron to be sacked six times, more than doubling South Carolina’s season total for sacks, and dropping passes throughout the night.

To make matters worse, two-thirds of UK’s lethal wide receiver trio, Tayvion Robinson and Dane Key, went down with injuries in the losing effort.
Robinson was taken out while trying to block for Sheron, who was rushing, before the inexperienced QB dove for the first down, and right into Robinson, taking him down from behind.

After the contact Robinson did not play for the remainder of the game, not even fulfilling his role as punt returner.

As for Key, the freshman went up for a reception late in the game and, upon landing, immediately grabbed his hand and took himself out of the game.

Key also did not return for the remainder of the game after his injury, having his hand wrapped and covered with ice after having to be assisted in even removing his helmet.

While the latter emphasized after practice on Tuesday that his wrapped hand was a “precautionary measure,” it didn’t calm the nerves of many Wildcat fans.
With Levis still day-to-day and many other position groups thoroughly beaten up, Kentucky desperately needs an easy tune-up game.

Well, that was supposed to be South Carolina.

Matter of fact, these next two games on the schedule may end up being two of the toughest UK will play all year.

After starting so-so in conference play Mississippi State has looked electric, putting up 40-plus points on both then No. 17 Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Then, even if Kentucky survives the Bulldogs, the Cats have a quick bye week before traveling to Knoxville, Tennessee, to duel the Volunteers in Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee has quickly solidified itself as a potential College Football Playoffs team, currently ranked No. 6 overall after decimating then No. 25 LSU 40-13 in Baton Rouge.

While the Vols’ upcoming matchup against No. 3 Alabama will truly tell whether or not Tennessee is a playoff contender or not, it’s definitely a massive threat to Kentucky, especially in such a hostile atmosphere.

Then, Kentucky travels to Columbia, Missouri, to duel Missouri which, while one of the worst teams in the SEC, has shown potential to be a giant killer if the time is right, very nearly upsetting then No. 1 Georgia just a few weeks ago.

All this predates a matchup with the aforementioned Georgia which, while in Kroger Field, is still against a Bulldogs team that is fresh off a national championship winning season and one that hasn’t lost to Kentucky in 12-straight matchups.
There’s a very real possibility that, while I had said the “absolute floor” was 8-4, this team will finish 7-5. Matter of fact, unless something changes in the next three weeks, it seems more likely than not that Kentucky will go from 4-0 to 4-4 with four-straight losses.

It’s also possible that none of that happens and Kentucky finds its form again, but that seems like the less likely outcome at this point.

Linebacker JJ Weaver said after the loss at Ole Miss that “everything we (the team) want is still in front of us” but, while I’m not in the locker room to know what the team actually wants, I am not so sure that’s true anymore.