Kentucky good enough to be a problem

Marvin Westwestwords

We interrupt exciting conversation about the forthcoming Georgia game, the October version of the Heisman Trophy and national playoff possibilities with this fair warning:

Beware of the Kentucky Wildcats, Saturday evening challenger at Neyland Stadium. They are about to get their act together.

In July, media experts said the Big Blue was No. 2 in the East division of the Southeastern Conference, behind only the defending national champion Bulldogs and in front of the Volunteers.

Tennessee fans were justifiably concerned. The secondary was weak, there was a linebacker shortage and the forthcoming NCAA penalty might actually cause regression in Josh Heupel’s second season.

Oh my, and Kentucky was in the pre-season AP poll.

Change was coming. Word leaked out that UK star runner Chris Rodriguez had supposedly been suspended for motoring under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and something called careless driving – as if DUI wasn’t enough.

Something else, an unresolved incident which had been private, came to light. Whatever the misdeed, it probably wasn’t as bad as the rumors.

A light case of hoof in mouth that should have been a joke turned into a distraction. Kentucky coaches foolishly debated whether Kentucky was a football or basketball school. John Calipari thought everyone knew.

Rodriguez missed four games, was reinstated for Ole Miss and Kentucky lost. Bigger surprise was a Lexington upset, South Carolina 24, Kentucky 14. Rodriguez rushed for 126 yards but the Wildcats had to play without quarterback Will Levis. He had a leg injury.

Good news: Levis got well, Rodriguez ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns and down-to-22 Kentucky topped up-to-16 Mississippi State, 27-17.

Levis is a shooting star. Twenty-one NFL scouts came to see him at the Florida game. He is a finance major and NIL darling who spoke at a national summit. He was invited to the Super Bowl. He walked the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby. He was a counselor at the Manning QB camp.

He is represented by the same marketing agency as LeBron James and Steph Curry. He did a commercial for a Ford dealer and received a new Bronco. He has 139,000 followers on TikTok. For money, he ate an unpeeled banana.

UK coach Mark Stoops eagerly awaits another comparison between his quarterback and Tennessee’s quarterback. The coach has been waiting a year for what comes next – the opportunity to do to Tennessee what Tennessee did to Kentucky. The Vols put a serious scar on the Wildcats’ 2021 worksheet.

Kentucky was favored. It was going to a big bowl. It racked up 612 yards and 35 first downs and set a record with 99 plays. It possessed the ball a staggering 46 minutes and eight seconds. That set another record.

Never before had a team had the ball for 45 or more minutes and lost.

Stoops fretted about Hendon Hooker throwing a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play, before Kentucky was ready. The coach frowned on Alonte Taylor’s interception and 56-yard TD run. He was really ticked by what happened at the end. Tennessee blitzed and Levis threw four consecutive incompletions.

I know for a fact that one of Stoops’ relatives said “Just wait until next year.”

That threat is bulletin board headline material. This is low-key stuff, Monday westwords, an honest effort to balance the outlook between “no problem” and a devastating upset.

Fact: This is the Tennessee team that knocked off Alabama.

Point to ponder: Kentucky may not be scared.

Advantage Volunteers: Tennessee almost always beats Kentucky … Tennessee has Heupel … it took 10 years for Stoops to get his career coaching record to .500.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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