Tom Leach is going to be posting a bi-weekly column during the season here on KSR to preview and review the UK games. We are excited to have the “Voice of the Wildcats” here with us and here is his first post about UK and Western:
With Kentucky counting on so many guys who either were not here last season or played only a little, it’s logical to think that Mark Stoops’ first UK team will make significant improvement between now and the end of the season. But there’s also no denying that this opening game is a huge deal for the Cats and Stoops has been quite candid in acknowledging that.
Former UK assistant coach Steve Ortmeyer was on my radio show last week and said he could see some of the Rich Brooks’ forthrightness in Stoops. And it seems clear to me that Stoops and his staff quickly made a strong connection with this group of players, who the coach has admitted were lacking in confidence. It’s hard to guage how much that positive vibe can translate into the matchups on the field but it has to help to some degree.
Turnovers were a big problem for UK in last year’s 32-31 overtime loss to Western, as the ‘Toppers picked off four of Maxwell Smith’s passes. But just as significant was how WKU controlled the trenches, out-gaining the Wildcats on the ground 163-41. Stoops told reporters this week that folks might be a little surprised at how physical Kentucky is and that proves true, it’ll be a major key to reversing the outcome.
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1) Kentucky D-line v. WKU’s O-line. The front four is one of the Cats’ biggest assets and Stoops’ defenses at Florida State excelled at geting pressure on the passer. Bobby Petrino has a reputation as an air-it-out guy but his best teams balanced that with a physical rushing attack, too. If Kentucky defense is controlling the line of scrimmage early, hopefully without having to bring an abundance of extra people into the box, it’ll bode very well for UK. The center and left side of WKU’s offensive line has 80 combined starts but the right side has only two.
2) Home run hitters v. the WKU defense. Since Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke left town, Kentucky has been more of a singles-hitting team. An influx of new talent at the skill positions should put the “long ball” back into UK’s offense, especially with Neal Brown’s Air Raid scheme creating one-on-one matchups out in space. And remember that WKU ‘s biggest personnel losses on defense came in the line so if the Hilltoppers have to blitz to get pressure, it could open up some big play opportunities if the QB handles that pressure, which leads us to the other key storyline…
3) The UK quarterback. Whoever it is that starts needs to forget about making those big plays and just let them happen naturally with those fast guys winning their matchups. Brown has repeatedly said things like making routine plays and taking easy yards should be the focus of the quarterback in this system. Two key stats for this game and the season for Kentucky quarterbacks will be a high completion percentage and a low interception total–like a point guard who is a facilitator for the talent around him. Dusty Bonner followed in Tim Couch’s footsteps and led Kentucky to a bowl game by following that script.
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— Kentucky had 146 plays last season that went for 10 or more yards, ranking 104th in the nation. Texas Tech (with Brown calling the plays) ranked third, with 257. And illustrating that “home run hitter” point, UK ranked 41st nationally in plays for 20-plus yards in 2010 (with Cobb & Locke) but fell to 120th the next year and 113th last season.
— Yards-per-attempt is a good stat to tell which offenses are biting off yards in large chunks. Kentucky ranked 123rd last year with 5.5 yards-per-pass while Texas Tech was 37th nationally at 7.8.
— Under Stoops, Florida State’s defense averaged 42 sacks per season while Kentucky’s average during that time was 22. The defensive ends keyed those numbers for Stoops and UK has a promising pair of DE’s in Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith. Incidentally, Dupree said this week that he and Smith knew other prior to their arrivals at UK, as they played AAU basketball on the same team in high school. Dupree described Smith as a Tim Duncan-type on the hardwood while Dupree says he’s more like Blake Griffin.
(stats courtesy of cfbstats.com)
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When these coaches walked in the door, they had a walk to them–all of them. You could just see it on them. They didn’t have to say anything. You knew they were about business and they knew what they were talking about.”–wideout A.J. Legree talking about the “swagger” the new staff has brought to the UK football program.
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THIS WEEK IN BIG BLUE HISTORY
It was this week in 1997 that the “Air Raid era” of Kentucky football took flight under new coach Hal Mumme. Kentucky jumped on Louisville for 21 first-quarter points and never looked back in scoring an 38-24 win over the favored Cards. That will always be one of my favorite UK football wins because it marked my first game in the booth as the play-by-play announcer.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network