- The magical idea of an undefeated Kentucky season (yes, in football) is over, and there are questions left to answer if the Wildcats want to challenge Georgia for the SEC East.
In the span of less than six minutes of game clock, Kentucky regained control of its undefeated season in the most dramatic of fashions—and then lost it with a kick off the crossbar.
The fact that Miles Butler’s overtime field goal attempt came about as close as possible to good before clanging off the crossbar and out was irrelevant. Texas A&M was methodical as it marched down the field in the first overtime: nine-yard run, two-yard run, four-yard run, then Trayveon Williams’s 10-yard run for a touchdown. Even if the Kentucky field goal had crept over the bar, the game would have still gone to the Aggies minutes later. That’s little consolation for the best football team Kentucky has fielded in years.
With the 20–14 loss in College Station, Mark Stoops’s team falls to 5–1 and sees its status of one of 2018’s most pleasant surprises take a hit. That the Wildcats fell short on Saturday is made even more painful by their remaining schedule: Vanderbilt, at Missouri, Georgia, at Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and finally at Louisville. The Bulldogs will be a test, sure, but Kentucky with a win Saturday looked like it might get a shot at going undefeated, or at least contending with Kirby Smart’s team with an outside shot of getting the upper hand in the SEC East. Now, barring a meltdown elsewhere, their playoff hopes are close to dead, and the flaws revealed against Texas A&M cast plenty of doubt on their hopes for a trip to the conference’s championship game.
In the end, the Aggies were able to expose Kentucky’s offense, which gained just 178 total yards, didn’t run a play across midfield in regulation and struggled mightily in the run game. The Wildcats’ first score came on a Terry Wilson shovel pass that Lynn Bowden Jr. took 54 yards into the end zone, but that proved to be their only offensive touchdown of the night.
Kentucky got new life in the fourth quarter when safety Darius West capitalized on on a badly botched run play and returned a Texas A&M fumble 40 yards the other way into the end zone to tie the score at 14. In that moment, certainly, Kentucky’s defense looked its stellar self, but on the night, it allowed the Aggies to rack up 390 yards of offense; in its first five games, the unit had allowed an average of 288.8. That the game was as close as it was is a testament to that defense, but in the end, Kentucky needed an offensive spark it was never quite able to conjure.
Even with the loss, Kentucky still has a chance to do something it hasn’t since 1993: play in a major bowl game. Its manageable schedule down the stretch will go a long way toward achieving that goal, and a win over Georgia on Nov. 3 with no other slip-ups would still deliver an outcome. In the meantime, as they return to reality the Wildcats will need to find answers on offense—at least when it comes to their play-calling. Star running back and dark horse Heisman candidate Benny Snell Jr. finished with a season-low 60 yards and was held out of the end zone for the first time since Week 2. In the game’s crucial moments, he seemed forgotten in Kentucky’s scheme, and he didn’t touch the ball on the lone overtime drive. When the Wildcats look back at what should end up going down as a memorable 2018, those decisions may come back to haunt them.