This Mystery is probably a Louisville fan.
We’re just a few days from the kickoff of the Governor’s Cup and the only thing that anyone is certain of is that there is nothing certain about this game. There is no decided favorite. There are no returning stars. In fact, nationwide, this might be the most off-the-map UK – U of L game in quite some time. What we do know is that whatever happens in this game will determine the fate of both teams for the remainder of the season and, perhaps, the remainder of their coach’s tenure. For Rich Brooks, his ride off into the Big Blue Sunset is at stake and Steve Kragthorpe is just trying to keep himself employed.
Both teams are faced with a number of questions entering Sunday’s game, but here are the most pertinent for each squad.
1. What kind of production can you expect to get at QB? Let’s be honest. Michael Hartline is not Andre Woodson and he probably will never be him (at least not anytime soon). But, if he can manage the game properly and keeps from making mistakes, the short passing game and a strong UK running game can put enough points on the board to keep them in games – especially this one. However, if Hartline gets happy feet in the pocket and forces throws, the game could be over for Kentucky before it even starts.
As far as Randall Cobb goes, I’m torn. I love to hear all of the reports out of camp that he’s playing well and that the players have confidence in him. But, if I told you that UK was going to enter the U of L game with a true fresham who was playing wide reciever just a few weeks ago taking significant snaps under center, what would you say? I know that I’d be concerned. But, with that being said, I’d love to see Cobb take a few snaps (as Brooks has said that he will) because he provides exactly the type of threat that Ron English defenses have had trouble stopping in the past.
All in all, this position is a mystery. It’s tough to give a forecast on a guy (Hartline) who’s career stats are 4-6 with one interception for a passer rating of 41.7, but I think Kentucky fans might be pleasantly surprised with how Hartline plays in his third year in Joker Phillips’ offense. Mix in a dash of Randall Cobb, and I think Kentucky will put up some points in this game, but they might be hurting in the long run.
2. Who is going to catch the ball? Let’s just go ahead and say that Hartline and Cobb are prepared and capable to be solid quarterbacks for the Cats. That still raises the issue of who is actually going to be catching the ball when they throw it. You have Dicky Lyons, who established himself over the past two seasons as an excellent slot receiver, but is he really the kind of guy that can be a #1 on a good team? Based on his size and skill set, the answer would be an emphatic “no”, but Dicky would never admit to it and I’d never count him out. But, IF he is capable of being the #1 guy, then who fills out the rest of the spots?
The rest of the receiving corps and tight ends offer a whole lot of the “who?” factor. Outside of Lyons, Kentucky’s top returning pass catcher is running back Tony Dixon, who caught 13 balls for 91 yards last season and the returning wideouts and tight ends had a combined line of 14 catches for 85 yards. While that’s definitely a cause for concern, it might not be reason to panic yet because Kentucky’s pass-catchers last season were exceptionally strong and experienced.
Both Demoreo Ford and Kyrus Lanxter are battling injuries and their ability to contribute in this game is up in the air at this point. Junior EJ Adams opened some eyes with a good spring, including a breakout performance in the spring game, but he’s spent his career playing defensive back until this season. Outside of those two, the Cats have a group of promising freshman, but that doesn’t exactly make you sleep well at night. Big receiver Matt Roark is apparently going to get a lot of action opposite of Dicky at this point, and speedy freshmen Eric Adeyemi and Gene McCaskill could find a way to contribute, as well as Lexington’s Aaron Boyd, who recently returned to practice, but is still recovering from mono. But, there still isn’t a lot of production to hang your hat on. Potential? Yes. Production? No. This position is a huge mystery right now.
This is another massive question mark for the Cats heading into Sunday.
3. Is the defense really capable of carrying the team? Kentucky’s defense has been lauded in the offseason as the cornerstone unit, leaving people all across the bluegrass to bend over and look for pigs flying out of their you know whats. With eight starters returning to an aggressive unit, hope are high that Steve Brown’s squad will continue to improve in his second season as defensive coordinator.
The defensive line is arguably the best in the SEC and and the linebackers are, at the very least, in the discussion when it comes to top units in the conference. The secondary, despite losing Paul Warford of the year, still brings All-American candidate Trevard Lindley and group of seniors in Marcus McClinton, Shomari Moore, David Jones and Ahmad Grigsby to the table. So, Kentucky fans are certainly justified in having high hopes in the unit. But, is it a type of unit that is capable of carrying a team with a struggling offense?
My knee-jerk reaction is no. Despite all of their improvement last season, Kentucky still gave up just under 30 points per game (29.6) and they found themselves giving up 390 yards per game, with a lot of the yardage coming from the 95th ranked run defense in the nation (191 ypg). Those are not the numbers of an elite defense, so it’s safe to say that the offense needs to step up in order for Kentucky to be competitive. Even when you take into account that there will be improvements with experience and another year playing in Brown’s system, it’s easy to say that Kentucky’s defense will be good – but not nearly good enough to carry the team on its own.
While there are several other key questions for the Cats, if they can find answers to these problems, then they each might just be on the right path of giving their fan base the kind of season that they’re hoping for. But, one thing we do know is that Kentucky must win this game to have a shot at making a bowl this year. If they tumble out of the gate here, it could be a long season.
***UPDATE: You might notice that there are no questions posed for Louisville. It seems that last night, I got a bit distracted between writing this, playing Playstation and deleting those innuendo-filled text messages that Evan was sending me and I managed to not save it correctly. We’ll get to the Filthy Cards later this evening or tomorrow.