After his Kentucky Wildcats suffered a fifth loss in six games, this time to a four-win South Carolina team, Mark Stoops struggled to put the comedy of errors into words. His team outgained the Gamecocks in the Cockpit, 293 to 257, and flexed an iron jaw by taking an early punch on the road. South Carolina jumped up 10-0 right away out of the Sandstorm concert, but Kentucky responded with a first-quarter touchdown and then took the lead shortly after halftime.
Those were the only fourteen points the Wildcats would score. Overthrown go balls, an interception in the end zone, a fumble, another fumble, and several other missed opportunities kept Kentucky from finishing the job when on top in the second half. South Carolina put together the winning drive in the fourth quarter, and now Kentucky has to win the Governor’s Cup in the regular season finale for a winning record.
In his postgame radio comments from Columbia, Stoops admitted it’s a low point in his career.
“This one really bothers me because we had so many opportunities and couldn’t put it away,” he told Tom Leach. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and this one is about as rough as it gets because I just felt like there were so many opportunities for us out there. And we just left it on the field, left plays out there, the turnovers–you just can’t turn the ball over.”
Kentucky turned the ball over three times: a bad interception in the end zone by Devin Leary, a fumble in scoring territory by Dane Key, and a late-game fumble by Leary in the longshot comeback attempt. South Carolina made no such mistakes. Kentucky’s defense couldn’t get off the field on 3rd-and-7, 11, 11, 15, and 9.
“It’s just killing us,” said Stoops. “You sit there, and you’re up four, and there were so many opportunities to extend that.”
“Heartbreaking when we had them”
Mark Stoops opened his postgame press conference saying, “I’ve been doing this a long time in this league and at Kentucky, and that’s about–it’s a very difficult loss for us right there. I feel very disappointed for our players that we didn’t do a better job of putting them in a position to be successful.”
Stoops said it came down to situational football, and South Carolina made the winning plays to win the game. The go-ahead drive was the knockout.
“The plays on the possession where they scored were really the key,” Stoops explained. “To give up a second-and-extremely long, and then they converted on that possession and go down and score the touchdown, was a killer. We were playing really good in stretches, but you got to finish it off.”
He added, “It was such a weird game because we played such good defense at times. And then to give that one drive up on the extra long yardage, it’s just heartbreaking to give them the score when we had them.”
An Ongoing Issue
Kentucky’s 17-14 loss to South Carolina isn’t the first time Kentucky Football has cried over missed opportunities. The second-half collapse is one of many times Kentucky was in a position for a positive outcome, but undisciplined, self-inflicted wounds like penalties, missed tackling, dropped passes, off-target throws, bad playcalling, or, you name it, cost the Wildcats in the end.
Remember Missouri? Of course you do. Kentucky went up 14-0 right away, then lost a lead not once but twice. Somehow, the 14-point lead turned into a 17-point home loss to a comparable program.
The Tennessee game. Kentucky was in scoring position in Kroger Field with a shot to take the lead in the third quarter, but couldn’t find points. Later in that game, a missed field goal when down by two.
Like Stoops said, they’re killing Kentucky.