If there are two things that ESPN’s SEC Blogger, Edward Aschoff, enjoys in this world they are taking pictures of random alligators in his neighborhood and college football. While alligators are nice in their own regard let’s stay on the subject of college football. Throughout the past few weeks Aschoff has been running a continuing segment on SEC football called “One Good Thing” where he chronicles the most positive and negative pieces of respective teams and explains what could go right or wrong in either of those scenarios. He recently documented Joker Phillips’ Wildcats and cited that it will be the offense potentially lifting Kentucky to a bowl game in the “best of” scenario.
Kentucky will make a bowl game: Joker Phillips is more confident in the offense.
Last year, finding consistent, reliable playmakers in Kentucky’s offense was almost nonexistent. Wide receiver La’Rod King was the most reliable offensive weapon for the Wildcats last year, hauling in 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns. There were some bright spots in the running game here and there, but Josh Clemmons’ season-ending knee injury early in the year was a major blow. But this spring Phillips found more players to rely on offensively. For starters, quarterback Maxwell Smith impressed the coaching staff with a solid spring. Clearly, the starting quarterback job is his to lose.
At the risk of re-beating the dead horse we’ll avoid talking about Kentucky’s offensive struggles last season, but in order for improvement (and a bowl) there must be great strides made in that area (let’s face it 15.8 ppg won’t cut it anywhere, much less the SEC). There are good, young pieces in place like Clemons and Smith returning; as a true Freshman Clemons averaged 4.3 yards per carry which was slightly better than the national average, Smith averaged 5.3 yards per pass which was serviceable for a true Freshman in the SEC. But to have any semblance of offensive success and build upon their Freshman numbers the overall health of the unit must stay intact unlike last year’s injury ridden campaign. If the unit as a whole can avoid the injury bug there’s no reason to believe that this year’s Wildcats cannot score around 20 points per contest. While there should be improvement in the offensive side, Aschoff is quick to point out the most obvious potential pitfall of Joker’s third team.
Why it won’t: There are too many holes on defense.
Gone is Danny Trevathan, who was the SEC’s leading tackler and one of the league’s top linebackers. He wasn’t just Kentucky’s best overall player but he was the team’s unquestioned leader. The Wildcats have to replace not just his production on the field but his guidance in the locker room. Hybrid linebacker/safety Winston Guy, who was third in the SEC in tackles last year, is also gone. Overall, the Wildcats are replacing six defensive starters — four linebackers and two cornerbacks.
While unfortunate, the improvement of the offense likely will be overshadowed by the staggering losses on defense. Unless your team is named LSU or Alabama, it is nearly impossible to immediately replace an All-American/team leader like Danny Trevathan. There are good, young players on defense as well like Alvin Dupree and Avery Williamson, who combined for 70 tackles last season. But while these two look to be the replacements for Trevathan it doesn’t look as though they are ready to totally fill his enormous shoes. The unit as a whole may have lost a tremendous amount of talent, but Rick Minter’s scheme has proven in one year that he can mask those inefficiencies with scheme and deception. For any team to be successful there must be a balance between good offense and good defense, and while the offense looks to improve the defense will likely take a hit. The “One Good Thing” certainly looks like a glimmer of hope, but can it actually occur given the youth and depth issues?