In honor of the Cats making the trip to Tuscaloosa this weekend to visit the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, Kentucky Sports Radio was welcomed into the home of Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. While we were surprised that the place didn’t smell nearly as much like the combination of mothballs, gravy and Lectric Shave that we expected, it was equally surprising to find out that Coach knows his way around the kitchen and he offered to share one of his favorite recipes with us. So, read up my fellow UK fans, and enjoy Rich Brooks’ favorite recipe: The Upset Special.
***Before starting this recipe, make sure that you have all of the ingredients. Simply leaving one out of this concoction negates the flavors of the others and ruins the whole recipe, leaving you with a sour taste in your mouth. They should all be mixed together in a 1:1 ratio, all parts combined for maximum goodness.
If Kentucky wants to win against the Tide — or even keep it close — they have to win the battle of the clock and make this a low-scoring affair. It’s no secret that Kentucky’s strength is its defense and keeping them fresh and from being forced to make plays the entire game is paramount. The key to doing this is running the ball, which obviously burns the clock, but also wears down the Alabama defense, which has given up 47 of its 67 total points allowed this year in the second half. If the running game stalls, screen passes will become more important as Kentucky strives to keep the Tide defense huffing and puffing. It seems like a fairly simple concept, but the execution is the key. It’s time for the O-line and the backs to step up to the plate.
For all of the negative attention that Lones Seiber has received so far this season, the special teams of UK as a whole are actually quite solid. Tim Mastay averages just under 42 yards per punt and his kickoffs are rarely returned, which are huge in a game where you hope field position is very important. Ryan Tydlacka seemed to be just fine on his two made field goal attempts against WKU and he’s looked good as the pooch punter. But, where the biggest impact might be felt due to offensive ineptitude so far, is the return game. The stats might be fairly skewed so far because of poor competition, but UK ranks 48th in punt returns at around 11.5 per return and first in the nation in kickoff returns with 38.5 yards per return (Bama ranks 29th and 93rd). Ideally, we’d only have to return a kickoff once in this game, but picking up yardage whenever the Cats can is going to be huge. But, as we said before, if Kentucky is going to keep this as a low-scoring affair like they need to, the special teams are going to have to continue to be special and help control the field position.
I feel like I should just post links to everything that we’ve written about this team so far this year rather than a paragraph because this has been touched on more than a tween at Neverland Ranch. But, instead I’ll do an impression of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as I write for the 5th time in a row that UK must limit the mental mistakes in order to establish themselves as a good team. But, as they say, “it is what it is”. Too many times this season, UK’s offense has looked like a comedy of mental errors with a wrong route here or a dumb penalty here and more dropped passes than I’ve ever seen out of one team. In order to beat an Alabama squad with a significant talent advantage, Kentucky can’t beat themselves. That means looking the ball in before trying to run upfield, running that route properly and getting your correct blocking assignment. If the Cats can’t handle the basics and the wideouts start zigging when they should have zagged or they waste an opportunity to move upfield and control clock by dropping an easy one, it’s going to get very ugly, very fast for our heroes in blue (well, white this game).
Prevent the big play
For as dominant Alabama has been this year, they’re only winning the time of possession battle by about 5 minutes per game over their opponents. But, they’ve managed to outscore them by nearly 24 a game. What does that mean? Yes, the big play. Alabama’s offense is explosive partly because of their extremely talented skill players, but also because of their massive offensive line gives a very average quarterback time to make plays. Already this year, Alabama has 16 plays that have gone for over 20 yards — 7 of them being of the touchdown variety. Amazingly, the team that played them the closest was Tulane and they allowed ZERO plays over 20 yards in their 20-6 loss to the Tide. For Kentucky to make this a reality, they cannot miss tackles and they must get pressure on QB John Parker Wilson, making Bama earn their yards and possibly frustrating them in the process. The Cats likely won’t have Micah Johnson or Ricky Lumpkin and will definitely be without Ashton Cobb, who forgot the main rule of texting girls (only send Ying-Yang Twins lyrics), so it’s time for guys like Sam Maxwell, Johnny Williams and Matt Lentz to prove that this “depth” we keep hearing about isn’t just on paper.
Win the turnover battle
This is just common sense. You turn the ball over more than your opponent, you’re probably going to lose. You turn the ball over more than an opponent that is significantly better than you, then you’re going to be their pretty little lady all day long. Kentucky has been efficient to an almost painful clip this year, choosing to err on the side of being conservative so far this season. While they’ve received a lot of hell for not putting up a lot of points, they’re also tied for 11th (along with Bama) in the nation with only 5 turnovers. The celebrated UK defense has nine takeaways so far leaving them with an average of +1 a game. That stat is good for 20th in the nation and tied with….you guessed it, Alabama. These are two teams efficient in managing the +/- differential but it’s far more important for UK to win this battle because they don’t have the breakout offense that can quickly makeup for turning one over.
***If all of these ingredients are properly mixed together, the Upset Special is a nourishing and filling meal for any Kentucky fan. It’s also recommended to be served alongside Alabama Humble Pie and when prepared properly, it fits perfectly into a bowl – most likely Music City or better.
So, we’d like to thank Coach Brooks for letting us into the kitchen and promise the next time that we’ll kiss the cook like he demanded. In the meantime, we’re counting on you, Coach, to serve up a delicious dish this weekend. Don’t disappoint.