Looking At The Good And Bad From The Past Season
Mark Stoops’ 11th Kentucky football team finished with a 7-6 record for a second consecutive year. In addition, they extended a school record making an eighth straight bowl game. While they accomplished some good things in 2023 ultimately the season is looked upon by many as a disappointment. Over the next week, we’ll run through the highs and lows for individual and team categories with our 2023 Kentucky Football Team Awards.
Five In A Row
Best Win- November 25th at Louisville- The Cats were a decided underdog against first-year coach Jeff Brohm and the Cardinals. In fact the Cards sat 9-1 and ranked ninth in the country. Trailing 17-7 UK needed a spark and they got it on a 100-yard kickoff return from Barion Brown. From there both teams went back and forth until Ray Davis put Kentucky up with a minute to go.
Louisville had one more chance but Jordan Lovett picked off Jack Plummer in the end zone cementing a 38-31 win. For the Cats, it was their fifth straight in the “Battle For The Governor’s Cup.”
September 3oth vs. Florida- You have to go back to the 1950s for the last time Kentucky won three straight over the Gators. Headed by a career game from Davis the Cats did just that. The running back ran for 280 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, he had another touchdown reception meaning he had a part of every Wildcat touchdown. His 280 yards put him third in school history behind only Moe Williams’ 299 against South Carolina in 1995 and Lynn Bowden’s 284 versus Louisville in 2019.
November 4th- At Mississippi State- Stoops ended a couple of long streaks in a 24-3 win. He had never won a road game against an SEC West opponent. In his final chance, the Cats got it done behind 156 yards passing and two touchdowns from Devin Leary. Furthermore, UK hadn’t won in Starkville since 2008.
Continuing with our 2023 Kentucky Football Awards let’s do a 180 and look at the worst loss.
A Season Long Trend
Worst Loss- December 29th- Clemson- Unfortunately for the Big Blue Nation there are several games we could choose from. For our purposes, we’re going with the most recent.
All season long Kentucky struggled with a couple of things. One was turnovers and the other was stopping teams on third down. Both played a big part in the 38-35 loss to the Tigers in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
Leading 21-10 heading into the fourth quarter the season-long issues came to light again. During one stretch UK had three straight turnovers letting the Tigers go from 11 down to up six. While the Cats came back to take the lead the defense couldn’t stop Clemson when they needed to. Converting on a third and 23 and third and 16 Phil Mafah’s fourth touchdown of the day gave Dabo Swinney’s club the lead. Leary was intercepted on the last possession as the Tigers held on for a 38-35 win.
Other Tough Losses
Not So Honorable Mention– October 14th- Missouri, October 28th- Tennessee, November 18th- South Carolina. Three losses with similar scenarios. Against the Tigers, Kentucky jumped out to a 14-0 lead and things were looking good. Unfortunately, the game turned on a Missouri fake put leading to a touchdown. Kentucky never recovered as the Tigers outscored them 38-7 the rest of the way in a 38-21 win.
The Wildcats were slow coming out of the blocks several times in 2023, one of those was against the Vols. Falling behind 13-3 quickly the Cats played catch up the rest of the night. A touchdown pass from Leary to Dane Key cut the lead to 26-24. However, they couldn’t get over the hump ultimately losing by six. Lastly against the Gamecocks UK fell behind 10-0 but ran off 14 unanswered to go up four. A 17-yard pass from Spencer Rattler to Xavier Legette gave Carolina a 17-14 win.
As we wrap up our 2023 Kentucky Football Team Awards let’s look at a couple of surprises, good and bad.
Biggest Surprise And Disappointment
For this category we’re going with the same thing, that’s the struggles of the Kentucky offense. During Liam Coen’s first go-round as offensive coordinator in 2021 the Wildcat offense finished fifth in the SEC averaging 33 points a game. In addition, Will Levis was sixth in the league with 2,826 yards through the air. Chris Rodriguez was second in rushing with 1,329 yards and Wan’Dale Robinson set a school record with 104 receptions. When Coen left to go back to the L.A. Rams the offense struggled under new coordinator Rich Scangarello.
Coen returned for 2023 and expectations were high. Unfortunately, Coen 2.0 didn’t hit like Cat fans hoped. Leary struggled with accuracy and turnovers. The wide receivers had trouble holding onto the ball. An offensive line that was awful in 2022 cut the number of sacks down from 46 to 22. However, they picked up too many costly penalties. Quite possibly the most alarming stat was the Wildcats’ pace of play. UK ranked 133rd in college football out of 133 teams averaging only 56 plays per game. That’s 12 less than in 2021.
If you haven’t been following what’s happening Coen’s name has been linked to two different offensive coordinator jobs, the Chicago Bears and Ohio State. While the OSU thing quickly fizzled the Bears are still a possibility. There’s been rumblings he and Stoops haven’t seen eye to eye as the UK headman doesn’t want to give the coordinator total control of the offense. While reports say that’s been resolved it remains to be seen whether Coen is another “one and done.” If he leaves you wonder about Georgia transfer Brock Vandagriff, who’s slotted to lead the offense in 2024.
Thanks for checking out our 2023 Kentucky football team awards here at Last Word On College Football. Next time we’ll hand out individual trophies.