Not that long ago, Kentucky was 6-0, the only SEC team aside from Alabama without a loss in the league. Three weeks and a pair of losses later, the tide has definitely turned. Losing to Georgia 30-13 was disappointing, but not exactly surprising. Nobody has figured out that Bulldogs defense, and though UGA’s offense isn’t exactly glamorous, it is surprisingly efficient, a collective of 4- and 5-star players doing enough to not lose games. But after a bye week, Kentucky’s 31-17 loss to Mississippi State … well, it’s downright concerning.

First, the good news. At 6-2, Kentucky has a puncher’s chance at winning out. A 10-2 season would likely still end with UK in a New Year’s 6 bowl game and ranked somewhere around the bottom of the national top 10. Kentucky’s toughest remaining games are next week at home against Tennessee and the season finale at Louisville. If the Wildcats can refocus and play the remaining games on a full emotional tank, the ugly loss at Starkville is a footnote.

But the bad news is that it’s far from certain that UK can refocus. On offense, the Wildcats were brutal, coughing up 4 turnovers, including a couple of drive-snuffing interceptions from Will Levis. Levis had avoided interceptions in wins over Florida and LSU, and even against Georgia, but he threw the ball to MSU 3 times on Saturday, which played a big part in turning a 10-0 UK lead into a 31-10 deficit. Chris Rodriguez Jr. was the SEC’s leading rusher, but he had a 2nd consecutive game in which he was ineffective, and he even lost a fumble on his own. Wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson is outstanding, but he can’t do it alone. Kentucky had its 4th game of the season with 3 or more  turnovers, and while it somehow won the first 3 of those games, it couldn’t pull off this one.

Defensively, Kentucky was awful, watching Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers set a single-game SEC mark for passing accuracy by completing 36 of 39 passes, mostly against air rather than Wildcats defenders. MSU routinely picked up 6,7, 8 or 9 yards on easy 1st-down passes, and it absolutely walked the ball down the field against the Wildcats. Kentucky couldn’t vary the patterns with any turnovers, as UK has forced just 4 in the 8 games it has played all season. State even outrushed UK 94-66.

Going into the season, a 10-2 regular season would have been considered the ceiling for Kentucky’s squad. Even an 8-4 or 9-3 season might well have been a pleasing development. But that was predicated on the difficulty of beating Florida at home for the 1st time in more than 30 years, of surviving a home game with a talented LSU team, even of traveling to South Carolina. Those 3 wins being money in the bank, Kentucky fans expect more.

If Kentucky comes out next Saturday and handles Tennessee, that 10-2 season is right back in the realm of possibility. Vanderbilt and New Mexico State are unlikely to present much of a challenge, and while the Louisville game is something of a wild card, particularly on the road, a 9-2 Kentucky team would likely be in a better place than a Louisville team that is likely to come into that game at 5-6 or 6-5.

But Tennessee will watch Saturday’s tape and see a Kentucky secondary that was simultaneously scared to take chances and unable to slow Rogers without doing so. The Vols will see a once-proud rushing game that was reduced to rubble, and a Kentucky quarterback whose top passing options against MSU were Robinson and a bevy of Mississippi State defenders.

Kentucky has a golden opportunity to right the ship and finish a historic season. But it has to flip the script right now.