Sports journalists strive to not become part of the story. I failed when it comes to the University of Kentucky’s upset of Auburn in Alabama Saturday night. When the decision came on whether I would travel to Auburn to write about the Wildcats or stay home and write something else, there was considerable discussion. In the end, it was decided that because the game would end too late to make our state editions of the paper, and because I’m fatigued from writing “UK loses” and “U of L loses” game columns, I’d just stay home.
This, in a karmic sense, virtually assured a UK victory, much like me carrying an umbrella assures a sunny day. This is a dangerous admission by me. Having seen the advantage of my absence, I fear schools may begin to deny me credentials based solely on some kind of “jinx” factor. Nonetheless, with the victory safely recorded, some thoughts on UK’s win over Auburn . . .
You can say that Auburn wasn’t ranked, that it has been slowed by injury, that it is losing steam. You can say, and some are, that the SEC is down (for folks who do, I’ll take Florida and Alabama and give you any two teams from one league in the country, and we’ll see who winds up on top.)
You can say all that, but it doesn’t matter. When UK came from behind to beat Auburn 21-14 Saturday night, it was the second-biggest win in Rich Brooks’ tenure.
I can’t put it above UK’s upset of No. 1 LSU two seasons ago, a win that brought ESPN’s College GameDay to campus and marked a major breakthrough for the program.
But I can put it above all of the others.
A down SEC? It doesn’t look down from where UK sits. In consecutive weeks, it played No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Alabama and No. 17 South Carolina. When your easiest game in a month is a trip to Auburn, that’s not a down year. No team in the nation has faced a tougher stretch of schedule.
Injured? How about losing your starting quarterback? How about starting a true freshman on the road in the SEC? How about playing without All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley? How about the bumps and bruises of playing against ranked teams in three straight weeks?
And then, how about this? How about what was on the line for UK?
A loss at Auburn and UK’s hopes for a fourth straight bowl, while still alive, might’ve looked like they were slipping. A loss at Auburn and people start talking about how the program, after building momentum for three years, now is sliding back in the other direction. A loss at Auburn and, fair or not, people start wondering if Brooks hasn’t maxed out the good he can do at UK.
Instead, the Wildcats averaged nearly 6 yards per carry at Auburn. You don’t see that too often. They held the Tigers, who were averaging 38 points per game — in the top 10 nationally coming in — to 14 points.
And Brooks showed he still has a few things left up his sleeve. He admitted, after the game, that maybe for the first time since coming to Lexington, he purposefully misled the media when he said that he was letting Will Fidler and Morgan Newton battle it out for the QB spot all week. He actually tabbed Newton, the freshman, early in the week and didn’t look back.
He can be forgiven for running a little misdirection. He’s probably one of only a handful of coaches in the country who worries whether what he says publicly is accurate or not.
It was a good weekend if you’re a UK fan. You saw the glitz and glamor Big Blue Madness on Friday night when John Calipari introduced his first Wildcat basketball team.
And on Saturday, you saw some old-fashioned courage and determination.
I wasn’t there to see it, but you can feel the reverberations from this one all the way back in the Bluegrass State. They’re going to be feeling them for a while to come, in fact, from a night when a banged-up bunch of Wildcats went to Alabama, and despite some daunting obstacles, refused to let things go any further south.