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Successive losses: a recurring pattern for Kentucky football

Kentucky linebacker Jayvant Brown (34) sits on the bench during the Kentucky vs. Georgia football game on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. Kentucky lost 51-13. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff

During a long college football season, it is often thought that one loss does not define a season. 

Not letting that one loss turn into a series of losses is often the true difference in whether a team’s season is viewed as a success or a failure.

After dropping back-to-back games to No. 1 Georgia and unranked Missouri, Kentucky football’s season very much hangs in the balance with five games remaining.

Unfortunately for the Cats, the successive losses are nothing new. In fact, they’ve become a trend in Lexington. 

Since Kentucky football’s first bowl game under head coach Mark Stoops in 2016, it has lost back-to-back games at least one time per season every year.

Taking a trip down memory lane, the 2016 season saw the Wildcats finish with a 7-6 record, including a loss in the TaxSlayer Bowl to Georgia Tech.

The Wildcats began the season being upset by Southern Mississippi 44-35. This game saw them allow 34 unanswered points to blow a 21-point lead with a showdown against Florida the following week.

Kentucky defensive end Denzil Ware rushes to the end zone after sacking the quarterback during the Wildcat’s game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 2, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Gators handed the Wildcats their second loss in as many games in dominating fashion, winning 45-7.

The Wildcats were able to respond and win consecutive games before losing to No. 1 Alabama. UK then won three straight games before playing Georgia.

Kentucky was unable to hold a 21-13 lead and dropped the game for its fourth loss of the season.

The next week, against Tennessee, it fell short again by a score of 49-36, suffering consecutive losses for the second time in a year.

The Wildcats were able to respond with two wins against Austin Peay and Louisville before losing in the bowl.

The next season for the Wildcats would see much of the same occur, with the team also finishing 7-6, albeit in a different way.

UK started 4-0 before losing 28-27 to No. 20 Florida, however it was able to respond by winning two straight games. The Wildcats then fell again to Mississippi State before bouncing back and winning against Tennessee.

Kentucky would bounce back again after losing to Ole Miss, but the pattern returned after a loss against No. 7 Georgia.

The Wildcats, at 7-4, faced Louisville in the final game of the regular season. They were not able to end the season on a high note, being dominated by the Lamar-Jackson-led offense by a score of 44-17.

The Wildcats then also fell short in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, being bested by No. 21 Northwestern 24-23 to finish the 2017 season on a three game losing streak.

Even the 2018 season that saw the Wildcats finish 10-3 also saw them suffer successive losses.

After starting 5-0, the No. 13 ranked Wildcats were upset 20-14 in overtime by Texas A&M.

The Cats quickly bounced back before facing No. 6 Georgia in a top 10 matchup. Kentucky was no match for UGA, being defeated by a score of 34-17.

After the loss the Wildcat defense faltered for the second week in a row as UK suffered another loss, this time being upset by unranked Tennessee 24-7.

The Wildcats went 3-0 to finish out the year and beat No. 12 Penn State in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.

The trend would continue in a 2019 season that saw the Wildcats finish with a 8-7 record.

After starting out 2-0 the unranked Wildcats were bested by No. 9 Florida 29-21.

Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Kash Daniel (56) celebrating a sack. University of Kentucky football defeated Penn State University 27-24 in the VRBO Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium on Tuesday, January 1, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The Wildcats inability to bounce back was then put on full display as costly penalties and poor offensive line play saw them fall to 2-2 with a 28-13 loss to Mississippi State.

Making things worse, Kentucky then struggled against a subpar South Carolina offense, suffering a third consecutive loss, this time 24-7.

The Cats would suffer just one more loss en route to another bowl victory, this time over Virginia Tech.

Then, in 2020, the all-SEC schedule would see the trend of consecutive losses present itself three different times.

Kentucky started the season with two straight losses against No. 8 Auburn (29-13) and Ole Miss (42-41).

The Wildcats then won back-to-back games, including an upset over No. 18 Tennessee, before falling into a trap game against Missouri and losing 20-10. The game they were perhaps looking ahead to didn’t go much better, with UK losing to No. 5 Georgia 14-3.

After defeating Vanderbilt, the Wildcats were not able to pull off the upset against No. 1 Alabama or No. 6 Florida as they were beaten by scores of 63-3 and 34-10 respectively.

The Wildcats rounded out their season with a pair of wins including a 23-21 victory over No. 23 North Carolina State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Moving back to a normal schedule in 2021, the Wildcats would go 10-3 for a second time.

After starting 6-0 with a win over No. 10 Florida, the Wildcats entered a game against No. 1 Georgia ranked No. 11 in the country themselves. Much like other years, the Wildcats were unable to take down the Bulldogs as they were defeated 30-13.

Following their first defeat, the Wildcats only slid back one spot in the rankings to No. 12 and looked to bounce back against unranked Mississippi State, but self-inflicted wounds saw them get upset 31-17.

As it would turn out, all three losses would be consecutive as the Wildcats suffered another loss, this time falling 45-42 against Tennessee in an offensive shootout.

The Wildcats finished the season with three straight victories, including a 20-17 win over No. 15 Iowa in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.

In the most recently completed season, 2022 saw the Wildcats finish 7-6.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops holds up the trophy after the UK vs Iowa VRBO Citrus Bowl football game on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. UK won 20-17. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The Wildcats started 4-0, including a win over No. 12 Florida, and entered a showdown with No. 14 Ole Miss ranked No. 7.

After having the game-winning touchdown erased via penalty, a fumble on the next play resulted in the Wildcats being upset 22-19.

Now No. 13, the Wildcats would look to have a bounce back game against South Carolina, but would be upset for the second week in a row, this time 24-14.

Kentucky then sandwiched its next loss with wins before overlooking, and ultimately coming up short against Vanderbilt 24-21 with a matchup against No. 1 Georgia ahead.

The Wildcats were unable to upset the Bulldogs as they were bested by a score of 16-6. The Wildcats then split their final two games with a 26-13 win over Louisville and a 21-0 defeat against Iowa in the Music City Bowl.

With that in mind, what should fans take from the pattern?

It is no secret that the Wildcats are not a team that is expected to beat the powerhouses such as Georgia and Alabama, but it is the games they are supposed to win following these losses that often lead to losing streaks, often changing the entire complexion of the season.

After being defeated by No. 1 Georgia and a complete collapse in a game where they were favored versus Missouri, all eyes will now be on the Wildcats to see if they can stop the bleeding with five games remaining in the 2023 season.

The Wildcats will get a week to fix their issues and gameplan for No. 17 Tennessee, which Kentucky will face on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. ET at Kroger Field.

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