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Mark Coomes: Pigs fly, the Iraqis greet us with flowers and UK beats Florida

by Mark Coomes

A statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein falls as it is pulled down in central Baghdad April 9, 2..As prognostications go, picking the University of Kentucky to finally beat Florida at football is right up there with Dick Cheney predicting that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators.

Except Cheney probably had a better chance of being right.

Wishful thinking is to critical thought as a Powerball ticket is to a 401(k). It’s more “I have a dream” than “I have a plan.”

UK beating Florida? That’s more Langston Hughes than Dick Cheney – a dream deferred.

On Saturday night, UK lost to Florida for the 27th time in 27 years, a stretch of futility unmatched in the current annals of major college football.

I declared last week that it would be different this time, that the Wildcats would eke out a 20-16 win. I thought Florida’s offense was bad enough – and its mighty defense weakened by injury enough – to let Kentucky spring an upset.

I was not alone in that misbegotten conviction. We all should be ashamed. Faith before reason is a swell idea at Sunday go-to-meeting, but it makes a man look silly on Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference.

Picking UK to beat Florida required conveniently ignoring that, no matter how compromised the Gators might be at the moment, UK’s offense is even worse and its defense even weaker.

It required believing that Fate might do UK a solid. That it might bless the usually luckless Cats with timely turnovers, fluky touchdowns and a nervous breakdown by the Florida quarterback who was making his first collegiate start.

It required a familiar act of cognitive dissonance.

It’s an act of addlepated, heartfelt groupthink that is second nature to anyone who roots for Big Blue in the fall. Kentucky football fans, loyal and long-suffering, are the embodiment of an admirably optimistic yet slightly deluded ideal:

The triumph of hope over experience.

The future looked rosy last week, what with Florida having looked so comically mediocre in its clumsy win over Tennessee and UK coming off a bye week that would allow its ingenious new coaching staff to hatch a bold and crafty plan.

Which it did.

The Courier-Journal’s Tim Sullivan described the Cats’ strategy to a T:

UK’s head coach, Mark Stoops, met conventional wisdom with a defiant pancake block. He played percentages more often associated with a roulette wheel. He sized up a personnel disparity that encouraged drastic action and he made drastic look dull.

Midway through the first quarter, already trailing 7-0, Stoops rolled the dice on a trick play.

As kicker Joe Mansour ostensibly eyed a long field-goal attempt, holder Jared Leet took the snap and flipped a no-look pass straight out of the Book of Magic Johnson. It fell straight into the arms of Mansour, who raced 25 yards for a touchdown that shocked the Gators and electrified the home crowd.

The boys in blue were greeted as liberators. After 26 years, the shackles were slipping away. Despotic Florida was fixing to fall like Saddam’s statue.

Or not.

Wishful thinking soon gave way to remorseless running and tackling – by the opposition, of course. This is not a vintage Florida team, but as clearheaded types already knew, the Gators possess more and better players than UK. And they methodically ground out a 24-7 win.

Despite being depleted by injuries and graduation, the Florida defense held Kentucky to a measly 173 yards, the lowest total since Bill Curry’s last team mustered just 67 in a 65-0 loss back in 1996.

Despite losing starter Jeff Driskel to a broken ankle last week, Florida’s quarterback play actually improved. Backup Tyler Murphy ran for one touchdown, threw for another and completed his first 11 passes.

The kid only missed three throws all night. One was intercepted by a Wildcat, but Murphy atoned by making a touchdown-saving tackle.

Of course he did. That’s what Gators do. They make big plays. They beat Kentucky. And so it ever shall be until Kentucky starts stockpiling swift brutes who make big plays too.

Recruiting analysts swear that help is on the way. Until it gets here – in quality and quantity alike – I won’t be issuing any upset alerts involving Stoops’ troops.

But their day will come.

Really it will.

Here’s hoping it comes before ol’ Dick welcomes home the last American soldier from Iraq.

•••••

At the other end of gridiron success, the University of Louisville’s seventh-ranked team was on hiatus last week. But that didn’t stop us from learning something new about star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

GoodGuyTeddyBridgewaterOn Dan Patrick’s national radio show, Bridgewater revealed, against all odds, that he’s an even nicer guy than previously thought. He not only sang in the choir as a lad, he was chaplain of his congregation’s usher boys.

Unlike many college kids, Bridgewater didn’t ditch his churchy ways after matriculating. Even now his favorite tunes are gospel songs by Kirk Franklin and Kurt Carr.

“Sometimes I’ll sing ‘Melodies from Heaven’ or ‘We Lift Our Hands in the Sanctuary,’” Bridgewater told Patrick. “Those songs, it gives me motivation every day.”

Bridgewater also vouchsafed his plans for the NFL money that seems sure to come his way next spring. The first thing he’s going to buy is a pink Cadillac Escalade.

With pink rims.

For his mom.

If Bridgewater was Catholic, the Vatican might be scouring canon law to see if it’s possible to beatify a living creature.

•••••

The University of Southern California fired football coach Lane Kiffin in the wee hours Sunday after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State.

If you’re not familiar with the oft-traveled, rarely successful Kiffin, here’s all you need to know, courtesy of ESPN talk radio wag Paul Finebaum:

Lane Kiffin is the Miley Cyrus of college football. He has very little talent, but we simply can’t take our eyes off him.

I can think of only one good reason to lament Kiffin’s demise: It sends Mike Summers to the unemployment line. Again.

Summers, the son-in-law of former UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall, is a well-regarded offensive line coach. He lost his job in Lexington when Joker Phillips was fired last year.

USC is looking for a new coach and maybe the guy will retain Summers. That’s unlikely. Here’s hoping Summers finds a new gig that lets him put some roots down.

•••••

Not all of my upset picks are horrendous.

Back in May, I picked Close Hatches to win the Kentucky Oaks. She finished, like, 27th

But horse racing is like horseshoes and hand grenades. Coming close counts for something – provided you bet it right.

The filly I picked second, Princess of Sylmar, won the Oaks at a whopping 38-1. The cognoscenti dismissed her victory as a fluke in which she capitalized on a blazing pace.

Au contraire.

urlPrincess of Sylmar is undefeated since, with wins in three major races. The latest came Saturday, when she stepped up in class and waxed the champion mare Royal Delta in the Beldame Stakes.

The Princess is a lock to be named champion 3-year-old filly. She could promote herself to queen of the entire gender by winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 1.

Unfortunately, owner Ed Stanco probably won’t enter. He’s afraid of overdoing it with the Princess. He wants to race her next year.

It’s a laudable sentiment in some ways, but it also smacks of the fussbudget conservatism that has plagued American racing in recent years. Old-school owners and trainers believed in the “strike while the iron is hot” theory.

The Princess is hot. Send her to Santa Anita and let her prove her mettle.

On the other hand, there’s Orb.

The Kentucky Derby champ is 0 for 4 since the first Saturday in May. He’s not just winless but listless. And in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday at Belmont Park, he was virtually lifeless, finishing last by a country mile.

A cautionary tale lies within:

Orb had hardly cooled down from his Derby win before folks started handing him the Triple Crown. Horse races aren’t won by acclimation, thank heaven. The critters are required to actually run.

This often leads to surprising results, and that’s what makes horse racing such a fascinating sport. Because on the Sunday after Derby, who would’ve dreamed that Orb, not Princess of Sylmar, would wind up looking like the fluke?

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