'Stop the run!'
Hard as it might be to believe, we have reached the midpoint of the college football season for many of the SEC teams. We look at what's happened to each of them and where they might go from here.
Every year seems to go about the same in Lexington: Card some impressive wins against a questionable nonconference schedule, fade against the upper tier and even mid-tier teams in the SEC, but pick up the six or seven wins needed to make a bowl. And here Kentucky is again.
It's not that Kentucky is generally a terrible team. It's just that the Cats always seem to have trouble catching up with everyone in the East save Vanderbilt. And "everyone" means just that. South Carolina is on a lengthy winning streak against Kentucky, and even Tennessee's two down years at the end of the Phil Fulmer Era couldn't break Big Blue's tough luck against the Vols.
This year has been true to form. Kentucky won it's opening three games against Louisville, Western Kentucky and Akron by a combined 133-54 -- and even that margin includes a 23-16 victory against Louisville.
Then, the SEC schedule started, and the wheels seemed to come off. It started with a 48-14 waxing in Gainesville, continued with a loss to an Ole Miss team that had lost to an FCS team and Vanderbilt and continued through a heartbreaking, three-point home loss to undefeated Auburn at home this past weekend.
The good news for Kentucky is that the hardest part of their schedule is almost over. After playing South Carolina in Lexington this weekend -- and the Cats always play the Gamecocks close -- the games left on the slate are Georgia, at Mississippi State, Charleston Southern, Vanderbilt and at Tennessee. Even accounting for Kentucky's difficult beating the Vols and an improving Mississippi State, the odds are good that the Cats can find at least the three wins they need to make their first trip to the postseason of the Joker Phillips Era.
But only if they can stop the run. The Wildcats are dead last in rushing defense in the SEC, allowing more than three times as many yards a game as league leader LSU. And unless you're thinking that most of that can be blamed on playing from behind in three SEC games, one of those against Auburn and Cameron "The Brinks Truck" Newton -- Kentucky also allowed 190 rushing yards against Louisville and 187 against Western Kentucky. That gives hope not just to the Marcus Lattimores of the world; it gives Vanderbilt a reason to believe that it can get some yardage on the ground. And there's reason to believe it would be reasonably successful.
All that said, there's no reason to believe that Kentucky won't make some sort of bowl game this year. Of all the streaks that Kentucky fans have to talk about every year, the most encouraging is the years that they've now spent going to the postseason. It might also prove to be one of the most lasting.