Head coach Mark Stoops has done an incredible job with the Kentucky football program in his six seasons. He took a team that had collapsed under Joker Phillips and brought it to respectability. The Wildcats played in bowl games in each of the last two seasons. This season, Kentucky already picked up upset wins over both Florida and Mississippi State, along with a good win over South Carolina, during its first five games.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the perfect record could not improve to 6-0. They traveled to College Station to face Texas A&M, and the Aggies were up to the test. The way Kentucky played, though, tells us a lot more about this team than anything else. Keeping the undefeated season would certainly have been nice — and the loss will disappoint Kentucky fans — but there are far more important takeaways.
The game was a defensive slugfest. The Kentucky offense could not get anything all game- the Wildcats actually did not run a single play in Texas A&M territory in regulation. Kentucky clearly needs work on that side of the ball. When opponents can win the battle up front and Benny Snell, Jr. can’t get going, then it will be a tough slog on offense for the Wildcats. That’s okay, though. The defense and the attitude of the team more than makes up for it.
This Kentucky defense is stout and disciplined. Sure, Texas A&M racked up yards against the Wildcats. But the Aggies rack up yards against everyone- they basically put up the same against Alabama that they did against Kentucky. That should tell us everything we need to know about this Kentucky defense. The Wildcats performed essentially in the same range that Alabama did. Take away a lucky long Texas A&M touchdown pass — off a deflection that fell into place perfectly — and the Kentucky defense probably did enough to win this game.
In the end, it took overtime, and Kentucky’s lack of offense did the Wildcats in. After a fruitless possession, Miles Butler came up short and hit the crossbar on a field goal attempt. Texas A&M only needed a field goal to win, but the Aggies punctuated the victory in front of their home crowd with a Trayveon Williams touchdown run.
What’s to come?
In this loss, Kentucky played in a manner that can rightfully earn comparisons to how Clemson and Alabama looked against Texas A&M. Obviously, the Wildcats need to pick things up on offense. But this team’s defense and attitude are as good as any team’s in the country.
More importantly for Kentucky, the tough part of the schedule is behind it. Vanderbilt and Missouri are decent teams, but there’s only one more game remaining that Kentucky should really be an underdog in- when the Wildcats host Georgia on Nov. 3. There’s a very good chance that Kentucky and Georgia enter that game with the knowledge that the winner takes the SEC East crown.
A month ago, just a statement would have been preposterous to all but the staunchest of Kentucky fans. Now it looks like that’s how the season shaped out- which tells us everything we need to know about Kentucky under Mark Stoops.