The antics of University of Kentucky players prior to the annual football game against the University of Louisville last season had to be the worst display of poor sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. It remains to be seen whether UK coach Mark Stoops has learned anything from that episode.
Fans were in a state of disbelief as too many UK players to count waved their middle fingers and upside-down L’s toward the stands during pre-game warmups at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Predictably, some of them stomped on the UofL logo at midfield.
Then several of them brazenly wandered to the Louisville side of the 50-yard line, getting into the faces of UofL players, pushing and shoving, as if seeking to ignite an all-out rumble. So many UK players on UofL’s side of the field, more intent on conflict than any concern about the upcoming game.
Anyone who witnessed that had to be concerned about what would happen on UK’s home field this year. The situation is strikingly similar to last year, with Kentucky again needing a win to become bowl eligible. The Wildcats are backed into a corner, they’re desperate, and they are in their own den. If they could do what they did at an away game, who knows how far they will take it Lexington? On their home field?
In his pre-game remarks Monday, Stoops seemed to accept responsibility for the extracurricular activities. He said the emotions may have hurt his team and there will be no repeat of the histrionics. “We don’t need to do that, we need to worry about playing football,” he said.
Hopefully, that’s true. But that should have been obvious to the UK coaching staff last season, instead of encouraging their players to be aggressive. Embarrassing themselves while insulting both UofL and UK fans. Why would he have lowered himself to that level in the first place?
Stoops is going to have to prove he can control himself and his players this Saturday. Some of these UK players, including starting quarterback Drew Barker, were among those involved in a brawl at Richmond bar in which an Eastern Kentucky University football player was seriously injured. No significant legal action wasf taken as a result of that incident, nor were any UK players dismissed from the team.
Among the UK players to keep an eye is C.J. Johnson, a senior defensive tackle, who wears No. 67. Johnson told reporters, “A lot of players from Kentucky hate them, hate them (Louisville) a lot.” Strong emotions and words for someone raised in South Carolina. If Johnson’s attitude is typical of his teammates, Stoops may have difficulty controlling his troops.
UofL players restrained themselves pretty well before last year’s game, considering UK’s silliness came as a total surprise. College teams just don’t come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and act like that. Any effort by UofL fans to respect the visiting team that day was wasted, the UK coaching staff and players tarnishing their school’s image in a major way.
Louisville players will not be caught off guard this weekend. The hope is that they will continue to maintain their focus on football. The worst thing would be to actively respond to the gutter-sniping. Give them what they want, but do it to them on the football field.