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Jamie Vaught: Loss to Southern Miss another low for Cats, who don’t figure to get well against Gators


Disappointing. Embarrassing. Disgusting. Awful. Heartbroken. Horrible. Frustrated.

That’s what the long-suffering Big Blue Nation is feeling like after witnessing the football Wildcats’ second-half collapse in a season-opening setback to Southern Miss Saturday night after Kentucky once led with a very comfortable margin of 35-10.

Tweeted Oscar Combs, the founder of The Cats’ Pause magazine, after the Kentucky loss. “Devastating! Thought I had seen it all the past 51 years at UK. I had not. No need for further comment. So sad. Good night sports fans.”

In a post-game news conference, Coach Mark Stoops, now in his fourth year at UK, told the assembled media that he was sorry for the fans.

With the loss to the Golden Eagles of the Conference USA, Kentucky is now 0-1. That means the Cats have 11 more chances to finish at 6-6 or better, but the margin of error has sure gotten much smaller.

Wide receiver Garrett Johnson hauls in a pass against Southern Miss. UK plays Florida on the road Saturday afternoon (UK Athletics Photo)

Wide receiver Garrett Johnson hauls in a pass against Southern Miss. UK plays Florida on the road Saturday afternoon (UK Athletics Photo)

In my opinion, UK now only has six beatable opponents, including five at the friendly confines of the Commonwealth Stadium, on the schedule — New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Missouri and Austin Peay.

Before the current campaign, the Wildcats have dropped 11 season openers (to U of L and Western Kentucky) since coach Bill Curry’s first year at Kentucky in 1990 and all but two went on to have a losing record, according to my research. The 1999 and 2006 teams finished 6-6 and 8-5, respectively.

Said Stoops on Monday, “We feel the same way today as we did after the game. It hurts just as bad, but I promise you, as I said all year, this is a good football team. They knew what to do. We got to execute.”

Perhaps, the Wildcats can regroup, especially on defense, and surprise many folks by beating the Gators at the legendary Swamp Saturday afternoon for the first time in a long time.

Florida, which defeated UMass 24-7 in a sloppy performance this past weekend, has beaten UK 29 straight times, representing the longest active winning streak over a major opponent in an annual series. In the past two years, UK has had close calls with the Gators only to drop in waning seconds, including a triple overtime loss in Gainesville in 2014. Last fall, Florida prevailed in a 14-9 victory over UK.

By the way, the Wildcats have 14 players on their roster from the state of Florida, according to Kentucky’s pre-game media notes. Would that be a good motivating factor, knowing these players would love to capture their bragging rights by beating the hometown school?

The Gators, meanwhile, have only one player from Kentucky — junior defensive back Garrett Stephens of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville.

Don’t forget Florida coach Jim McElwain’s staff also includes a couple of Kentuckians. Lexington native Mike Summers is an assistant coach who works with the offensive line. His father-in-law is former UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall. And Greg Nord, a Louisville native who played football and coached at Kentucky, is the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.

Anyhow, a UK victory over Florida would certainly breathe a new life in BBN, but I unfortunately don’t believe that’s going to happen. I sure hope I’m wrong. As I mentioned in a preseason forecast, the Gators will stop Kentucky by 9.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have nothing to do on a lazy Saturday, you can watch the Kentucky-Florida contest on CBS, beginning at 3:30 p.m., and Verne Lundquist, the folksy voice of the SEC ON CBS since 2000, could be calling his last Wildcat football game.

As you probably have heard, the 76-year-old Lundquist is stepping down from his lead college football role at CBS after the current season ends. Lundquist, who has been in the television industry for 53 years, will continue calling other sports, including college basketball and golf.

Brad Nessler, who has left ESPN, will succeed Lundquist as the lead play-by-play announcer for the SEC football games, joining lead analyst Gary Danielson and reporter Allie LaForce in 2017. But he will call during the weeks that CBS televises two SEC football games this fall.

Verne Lundquist (right with Jim Spanarkel), the folksy voice of the SEC ON CBS since 2000, could be calling his last Wildcat football game (Jamie Vaught Photo)

Verne Lundquist (right with Jim Spanarkel), the folksy voice of the SEC ON CBS since 2000, could be calling his last Wildcat football game (Jamie Vaught Photo)

Said Lundquist last May, “Being a part of the SEC ON CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business. Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth.

“I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence. He shares the same passion for college football that I do.”

Added Danielson, “Verne is a legend in this business. I am extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to sit next to him for the past decade calling SEC games and so grateful that Verne gets to finish his football career calling the last play the way he wanted.”

Lundquist – who once called the famous 1992 Kentucky-Duke thriller in the NCAA tournament for CBS — was honored recently with the Sports Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.

Lundquist perhaps will get to call Kentucky’s upset of Florida this time.

Would that be awesome? We’ll see.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.


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