Mark Stoops has been the head coach of Kentucky football since 2013, and it hasn’t been a pretty stint to this point. He’s 12-26 in four seasons and has started off the 2016-17 campaign 0-2.
The Wildcats lost to Southern Mississippi in Week 1 of the season, 45-35. At face value, that’s a tough loss for a SEC program to take. Yes, Southern Miss is 2-0 to start the season, went 9-5 last season and is one of the better programs in Conference USA, but it’s still a C-USA team beating a team from the SEC.
The optics look bad, but that doesn’t even account for the actual game.
At one point in the second quarter, Kentucky was up 28-7. Drew Barker and the Wildcats’ offense was rolling and it looked like there was reason to be excited about football in Lexington this season, if not cautiously optimistic.
Stoops’ team blew that lead and went on to give up 520 yards of total offense to the Golden Eagles.
Not a good look.
Week 2 was another rough one for the Wildcats, who had to travel down to “The Swamp” to take on a Florida program that won the SEC East last season. To put that into context: Kentucky finished fourth in the SEC East in 2015 with a 2-6 conference record. The only conference opponents the Wildcats beat last season were a South Carolina team on Steve Spurrier’s last leg and a Missouri program that only won one SEC game.
Flash back to 2016, and the Wildcats have unsurprisingly started 0-1 in SEC play.
Florida absolutely dominated Big Blue, winning 45-7. Again, context is important here, because it’s not just Stoops who has struggled with the Gators. Florida’s win over Kentucky was its 30th straight win in the series. That’s the longest active losing streak in major college football between two teams that play each other every year.
Not a good look.
The analysis of Kentucky as an overall football program is for another day, though. Right now, Stoops is the man with his name on the door and he’s the coach who is overseeing this mess. Kentucky was only able to notch 149 offensive yards down in Gainesville and the Wildcats gave up 564 yards on defense.
Kentucky’s defense allowed quarterback Luke Del Rio, in his second ever career start to throw for 320 yards and four touchdowns. Wildcat die-hards may want to point out that the defense was able to pick Del Rio off once, but Del Rio’s performance was the best passing performance by a Gator in an SEC game since Chris Leak put up 322 yards against Arkansas in 2004.
— Swamp Music (@Swamp_Music2) September 10, 2016
Del Rio even out-shined Tim Tebow in that category, much in thanks to Kentucky’s defense.
It’s not as if things were much better offensively for the Wildcats. Barker was 2-of-10 passing and he was picked off three times. Stoops gave Stephen Johnson a chance to get things going, but he only completed one pass in three attempts.
In fact, if it wasn’t for senior running back Jojo Kemp’s touchdown in the fourth quarter with 4:27 to go in the game — garbage time at its finest — Kentucky would have been blanked by Florida.
Yet again, it wasn’t a good look for Kentucky and it wasn’t a good look for Stoops.
In fact, it’s embarrassing.
“Very disappointed with the way we played. There is no getting around that,” Stoops said in his Monday press conference. “I had thought we had moved past that. It was not acceptable. We need to play better and we will. It will start with simplifying some things and getting our guys to play with that passion and energy that we need to play with. We are very disappointed and we will get back to work here today.”
Unfortunately for Stoops, he may not get many more chances to “get back to work here” at Kentucky.
Fan unrest is high — and it should be — and the results have been terrible with him as the head coach. Sure, nobody expected Stoops to take over and all of a sudden make Kentucky a football school, but there was optimism that he could turn things around in Lexington and at least make the football program respectable.
So far, that’s the last word one would use to describe Kentucky football.
When juxtaposed with the success of Kentucky basketball, Stoops’ 12-26 record is unacceptable if the powers that be in the Wildcats’ athletic department ever want to get the football program to a place of respectability.
Stoops isn’t the guy to get Kentucky to that spot, as the start to this season has clearly demonstrated.