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Cats rebound from disaster in Arkansas with near upset

Ira D. CombsTri State Sports Media

October 22, 2012

I had a dream last Friday night after catching a couple quarters of a local high school football game. I woke up and headed to Commonwealth Stadium where Kentucky just missed an upset of Georgia. Who would have thought that? Vegas sure didn’t.


I wonder where the most money was lost Saturday, at Keeneland or at Commonwealth Stadium? If you visited both of these sports venues Saturday and felt lucky, you’re probably looking for gas, bread, and milk money for this week as you’re reading this column.


One of the things I love about college sports, especially football, is that you really never know what you’re going to get every weekend, no matter what the match-up of teams seem to indicate.


However, I must add at this point that each teams’ true home-based media representatives are not responsible anymore for this mindset as we enter each weekend, because of all the various angles of social media the fans have at their disposal week in and week out of websites, Internet chat lines, and talk show circuits. It’s the one angle of sports that neither players nor coaches can alter. It is what it is. Some college players are emotionally and mentally mature enough to overcome it and play to their potential each Saturday and some can’t; they let it get into their minds.


This leads me back to Saturday night and the latest Dog and Cat fight. Basically for two years in a row now UK has come dangerously close to beating Georgia when it shouldn’t have been remotely close. Are UK’s coaches that much better in preparation and game play calling?


I don’t think so. When you’re dealing with old teenagers and young adults this day and age, anything is possible.


In my last 15 years I’ve become acquainted with a lot of seasoned SEC football masterminds, and most all of them have placed the Georgia Bulldogs (under several different coaches, I might add) as classic under-achievers. Many have told me Georgia should have challenged for the SEC championship and BCS titles just as often as Alabama and LSU have.


I’m beginning to understand.


Is today’s social media setting up teams for failure?


As I’ve said before, today’s social media provides a lot of so-called sports fans an opportunity to express their opinion when they are really clueless about the actual fundamentals of the game and its ramifications on who will end up in victory or defeat.


You may hate me for this, but I agree with what Coach Charlie Strong of Louisville said earlier this season: “Social media networks are a cancer on college athletics and just may eventually result in the fall of our country.” He may wear red, but he may have the best crystal ball of all of us in that remark.


In all reality, every game takes its own course when the opening kickoff ensues, no matter what happened in the previous weekend or earlier in the season for that matter. It’s just human nature because the game is being played by people — young people — the same ones that make mistakes in all walks of their everyday lives.


One Saturday you can go into a game against a struggling 2-4 opponent expecting to have a realistic opportunity to get your first SEC win and build some momentum for the stretch run, and then you get hit with one of the most humiliating and devastating defeats in the program’s last 20 years. Then, seven days later, you take the same team and tee it up against college football’s 11th ranked team who is a whopping 28-point favorite, and hocus pocus you come within a whisker of beating them without any help from turnovers or any 50/50 calls going your way. You basically outplay them (except for three extended pass plays) and come up with the proverbial moral victory, which is nice coming off the spectacle they produced at Arkansas, but it doesn’t help this particular team or coaching staff with their present dilemma.


Go figure !!!!


Oh yes, that dream I had. Well it was really a nightmare that came true. I was afraid Joker Phillips would come up with another excuse to get Morgan Newton back behind center before the season was over. He did this time because of migraine headaches to freshman QB Jalen Whitlow. Of course, Newton’s passing skills surfaced again, one for six this outing, but miraculously the one was a four-yard TD.


What really bothers me is according to my sources inside UK athletics, Morgan Newton is an extremely likable young man, but he is so beat down from the previous three years’ failures that his mental and emotional state is all but shot, yet his coach continues to throw him back into the arena of fire trying to prove everybody wrong.


This team is so challenged to start with due to injuries, and it’s so obvious its limitations are so minute in the passing game when Newton is behind center. Saturday night UK lead No. 11 Georgia for 25 of the first 30 minutes of the game with Jalen Whitlow at QB, except for a token red zone appearance by Newton for a couple plays. Then all of a sudden Newton goes back behind center for four straight series which took them deep into the third quarter, during which time Georgia regained the lead and added to it, producing a Bulldog 29-17 lead. Then in another astonishing move by the UK brain trust, Whitlow’s earlier migraine headaches evidently subsided and he returned to play, leading the cavalry down the field for another TD and cutting the lead to five and another chance at overcoming earlier coaching moves to pull out the upset.


But at the end of the night there was just too much to overcome.


The Cats hit the road again this Saturday, visiting their new SEC east brothers over in Columbia, Missouri.


Annual Blue-White exhibition for charity this Wednesday


Now that the annual fan favorite Big Blue Madness festivities are behind us, Coach Cal will unveil his troops for the first time in a competitive scrimmage type situation at Rupp Arena this Wednesday at 7 p.m., and it will be televised live on Fox Sports South and UK’s IMG Network.


The match-ups of teams and players may not be equal in raw basketball talent across the board due to this team possibly not having the quality depth like recent UK teams. Coach Cal has already hinted that this team may be relegated to a six or seven-man rotation when all is said and done for the stretch drive the second semester. But expectations from BBN are just as high as any season In the past.


If you’re looking for a couple player match-ups that I’m sure will happen at some point in the scrimmage, my guess is the two freshmen big men, 6’ 10” Nerlens Noel and 7’ 0” Willie Cauley-Stein will knock heads somewhere along the way Wednesday night, and I’m betting new point guard Ryan Harrow will wrestle with senior Twany Beckham on most possessions. Freshman phenom Archie Goodwin will probably be checked by senior transfer Julius Mays on one of the wings for several minutes. Also, I would expect forwards Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress to check each other for several possessions as well.


But don’t expect Cal to put Wiltjer on the opponent’s best offensive forward this season unless all other options have been tried. That would be known as athleticism suicide in coaching terms.


Also, you might want to keep an eye in the early season months on junior wing guard Jon Hood and junior point guard Jarrod Polson, because there have been rumors coming out of the Joe Craft Center that their last three years of ugly battles in practice with all the NBA talent that goes thru=ough UK has finally paid off. Both may see a few more minutes earlier in games this season, especially in the preseason when the rotation is being set by Coach Cal.


One of coach Adolph Rupp’s most famous quotes was, “You only get better when you play against players better than you.” I’m thinking John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague and company will make you better if you go up against them every day. Either that or you will give up and quit, and I’ve never known of a Kentucky boy to quit. Nothing would please my heart more than to see either one of these two young men to succeed in the Blue and White.