Finally. Our Kentucky football heroes will get back on the field this week after spending 13 days thinking about how lucky they were to spend their bye week undefeated and somewhat in one piece. Me? I’ve been lost like Dr. Jack Shepard and I’m just happy to have my Cats back. I need football in my life. I need it bad.
So, what vile enemy does the schedule bring to Commonwealth this week? What putrid opponent will be the victim of the fury of my pro-UK fury? Wait, what? We’re playing Western? Awww, but they’re so cute and adorable. We don’t really have to beat up on them, do we? Well, unfortunately, we do and thanks to Eric “the Red” and WKU fans coming out in droves to defend the cultural value of Sorority Boys, there’s finally a little fire in this matchup and the rivalry fires (or the closest we’ll ever get to them) are blazing.
In the last game for our beloved Cats, a little squad from Murfeesboro, Tenn. came into Commonwealth and got about 18 inches from and upset, so it’s fair to wonder if WKU has what it takes to throw a wrench into the season for UK. They do come to town running….cue ominous music….the spread offense! And, they did beat that team from Murfeesboro last year. Plus, this isn’t exactly their first road game against an SEC opponent. So, could the unthinkable happen? Can the Hilltoppers knock off the Cat?
Nope. Absolutely not.
MTSU gave Kentucky fits, as well as other teams running the spread, because they had athletes that could break big plays and had speed and athleticism at the key positions. WKU isn’t quite on that level in terms of playmakers. They will probably split time at quarterback between K.J. Black and David Wolke, but neither is really a threat to run, and neither have shown the ablility to throw the ball down field, which is going to make things very easy on an outstanding defense. By throwing the short passes and never making Kentucky defend the deep pass, the running game and the short passing game will become painfully predictable and very easy for the Cats to stop.
As far as Kentucky’s offense against the Western defense, it might be just as big of a mismatch. So far, Western’s defense has given up 41 points to Alabama and 31 to Indiana, although they did have good showings against Eastern and Murray State sandwiched in between. And, even though Kentucky’s offense has looked rough for the majority of the season, UK shouldn’t have any problem putting up points – maybe even more than the Tide did against the Hilltoppers. Why? Kentucky is coming out of a bye week where they’ve spent the majority of the time eliminating the mental mistakes and breakdowns from the offense.
The Cats have not failed to put points on the board because of play-calling. It’s been because of dropped passes, blown protection by the line and stupid penalties. Basically, they’ve left a lot of points on the field this season. In that MTSU game alone, if EJ Adams’ touchdown is wiped not wiped out by a penalty and Lones Seiber hits his field goals, we’re looking at a 36-14 game. And, if Mike Hartline doesn’t fumble the ball, we’re looking at a 36+ points game to 7. Kentucky dominated that game, but their mental mistakes almost cost them. Coming out of a bye week, I’d be shocked if these were not corrected.
Cats win, 41-9.
Things I am going to keep my eye on….
Since this is essentially the last “practice” game for the Cats and there are still some serious question marks, these will be all focused on UK.
1. Do the wideouts finally step up? – I’ve been extremely critical of Kentucky’s wide receiving corp this season – especially Kyrus Lanxter. The group has not played well at all this year and when Mike Hartline won SEC Offensive Player of the Week, it seemed like the spotlight got even brighter on this unit. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly fair of us to expect a lot this year early on and maybe we’re just spoiled by Keenan and Stevie and Jacob. An important thing to remember when looking at this unit is that it’s not only young, but it’s also filled with guys playing out of their positiong. Dicky Lyons is the leader and most proven player, but he should be a slot receiver, not a #1 guy. Then, you have a mix of true freshman, injuries and a large group of guys who are basically “athletes” trying to learn the position. This is basically who the UK receiving unit is. Kentucky doesn’t have the luxury of recruiting top wideouts, so they have to get athletes and mold them into receivers, which takes time. Even Keenan went through this. So, after three games and an extra week of practice, will this rag-tag group of pass-catchers finally show signs of development and will Kyrus “Rad Tad” Lanxter eliminate the mental mistakes and make the plays we know he’s capable of? Let’s hope or else things could get ugly in Tuscaloosa next week.
2. Will UK ever have a running game? – Lost in the “Bench Hartline” and “Our receivers suck” message board talk is the fact that the one given on the offense headed into the season, the running game, has been non-existant to this point and is really putting more pressure on the inexperienced group mentioned above. Sure, UK ranks 92nd nationally in pass offense and 30 spots higher in rushing offense, but this is a unit that ranked 4th in the SEC last year and could burn the clock and move the ball when the Cats needed it. This year, nothing. And Tony Dixon is getting a lot of the blame, which is deserved. Dixon has the most carries on the team….but the fourth most rushing yards. He’s averaging 2.4 yards per carry (29 carries for 74 yards), which is bad enough, but it’s downright awful when compared with Derrick Locke’s 6.2 (25 for 156), Alfonso Smith’s 4.7 (18 for 84) and Moncell Allen’s 6.8 (12 for 81). We got another promise this week that Dixon is healthy and we’d see a new, fresh Tony Dixon but I’m not putting much stock in it. If he plays well, then God bless him. If he doesn’t, then sit him down for the rest of the year and let the other guys get loose.
BUT…..let’s not let the offensive line shirk any blame here. They’ve taken a massive step back since last season and it might not be a stretch to say that the problems in the running game are mostly the fault of poor blocking. I can’t give you stats on it, so I’m not going to make that bold claim. But, I do know that I’ve been supremely disappointed (as has the coaching staff) in the lack of progress from this unit since camp. They need a big confidence boost today to get them going headed into the SEC slate. No sacks and a 100-yard rusher should do the trick. Is that too much to ask?
3. Will we score anything worth three points? – Well, the Lones Mother F’ing Seiber era ended quietly this week when Coach Brooks announced that Ryan Tydlacka will “share time” – which means kick Seiber’s field goals. I’ll admit I always kind of enjoyed my love-hate relationship with Seiber and his status as the leading voice of emo in college football made him mildly intriguing, but after the MTSU game, I was over it. Here’s to Tydlacka knocking ’em down and Seiber putting down the Morrissey and razor blades and getting into the Jonas Brothers.
Big Game Picks
(24) TCU at (2) Oklahoma – Oklahoma seems to be slipping through the cracks of the national media a bit. We hear about Ohio State. We hear about USC. We hear about Georgia. We hear about Tim Tebow’s team (he does play on a team, right?). But, Oklahoma just sits there at number 2 and slumps through the season, something they seem to do every year. This game with TCU isn’t quite getting the pub that I think it deserves and folks better be ready for a heck of a game. TCU famously knocked off the Sooners three years ago and, doing what every small conference contender should, they’re traveling to Norman again. OU’s offense is averaging 55 points per game and TCU has a very strong defense, but I don’t think the Horned Frogs’ offense has enough to hang with Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray and Co. The Sooners edge it out in the end, 34-24.
(8) Alabama at (3) Georgia – What day is it? GameDay! Uh! GameDay is in Athens for the big game so Corso is pissing people off, Herbstreit is making the panties fly and Desmond Howard is stu-stu-stuttering like crazy. Ahh, it’s another big day of football in the South. I’ve been impressed with what Nick Saban’s team has been able to do so far and I don’t want to knock them, but are they really 8th-best team in the country? They surely have the talent, but they are also young in several key positions and I don’t see them being able to get it done between the hedges. Did I mention that Matthew Stafford might be the best quarterback in the country and Knowshon Moreno is likely the best running back? Things are going to be nuts in Athens tonight and the Dawgs win 26-20.
(22) Illinois at (12) Penn State – Wait, this is a big game? How did Illinois get ranked? Anyway, as completely unimpressed as I am with the Illini and the suddenly human Juice Williams, I’m equally impressed with how Penn State has played to this point. They first got my attention when they won the national championship on my Playstation dynasty and they’ve done nothing yet to make me doubt their claim as a quality team. They even get arrested! Meanwhile, Illinois is slipping and they only saving those two twos next to their name is being in the Big 10. Penn State lays the smack down in Happy Valley, 41-14.
****And, because it’s all about me, check out Rob Gidel’s pre-game show on 1300 WLXG if you’re in Lexington today. As usual, I’ll be his guest and try to stutter my way into making sense. I’m still a long way from signing emails as an “on-air personality”.