Two straight losses and a crucial home stretch ahead, Kentucky’s bye week could not have come at a better time. UK sits at .500 after a half season of play…or as Rich Brooks so optimistically stated, “right on track.” This season thus far has showcased some promise, and of course, flushed that promise down the toilet. Nonetheless, Kentucky is still in line for a bowl, and Keenan Burton is still healthy. With help from the boundless mind and shiny hair of Rob Gidel, here’s how UK graded out in the first half of the season. Let’s hope it’s not as bad as the Wildcoast Clean Water Report Card above.
Part 1 of 3: Offense
Joker Phillips: 2004 was a season of perpetual anguish; 2 wins, 8 losses, and 0 progress had prompted the “resignation” of OC Ron Hudson days before a trip to Neyland Stadium. Brooks turned to his WR coach–a young, inexperienced but confidant recruiting extraordinaire, Joker Phillips. Phillips handled his baptism by fire in Neyland with the ease of a journeyman vet, letting the reins loose on Shane Boyd and Co; calling plays that signified an apocalyptic tomorrow. UK nearly pulled off the upset, and Joker was now permanent OC. Two seasons later, I’m still unsure if Joker’s hasty promotion was the right move. I think Joker knows his football, and really knows his players. He, along with QB coach Randy Sanders, has worked minor-miracles with Andre Woodson, and he’s showed this season that he can put together a solid game plan and have the confidence to stick with it. However, Joker matches up each week in the SEC against world-class DC’s with world-class experience, and I’m not sure if he has what it takes to outwit the best. He’s faltered a few times this season (not airing it out earlier @ UofL, not scoring against LSU), but for the most part he’s offered Woodson a consistent, easy to understand game plan. Most importantly, Joker realizes what this team can (throw) and can’t do (run), and has adjusted accordingly. At this point, Joker needs to continue to let it rain: ride Woodson and Burton like your Paris Hilton at the Pro Bowl, especially against better foes. I know the screens are our only hope at a running game, but please, no more on 3rd and long. Grade: B-
Offensive Line: “Major disappointment” might be a compliment to this unit. They’ve been both marred by injuries and overmatched all season. What was supposed to be the deepest, most experienced, and most-improved facet on the team, has instead been the polar opposite of the preseason hope. It started early: losing Aaron Miller to grades, and Gonzalez, Hennis, and Micah Jones to season-ending injuries. The one bright spot is former walk-on Trai Williams who filled in admirably at Center, a position he’d never played, while McCutchan was nursing a sprained ankle. This is a unit that will be outclassed in every game from here on out (save maybe UL Monroe), so it’s hard to expect better things in the second half. Grade: D-
TE: Jacob “the statesman” Tamme is as good as they come. I honestly can’t recall a dropped-ball from Tamme in the time he’s been at UK, nor during his tenure at Boyle Co. for that matter. His blocking has steadily improved each season, and with Tamme, you know you will always get 110% effort. Fr. TC Drake is giving UK fans something to look forward to for the next 3 season, and RS’s Ross Bogue and Zipp Duncan offer plenty of depth. Now that Tamme appears healthy, he’s been incorporated into the offense much more, and should be a primary target the remainder of the season. Grade: B
WR: Thought to be the weak link on Offense this season, the receiving corp. has been outstanding. Keenan Burton continues to prove that he belongs with the Meetchum’s and Rice’s of the league. He just does everything right. Dickey Lyons has come from the depths of suspension to second in the nation in TD catches. It’s still hard to fathom. DeMoreo Ford hasn’t had it thrown his way too often, but has really elevated his blocking. JUCO transfer Steve Johnson has disappointed, as has the continued demise of John Logan. Fr. Michael Strickland looks like he’ll be a player in this league. Grade: B
RB: It’s difficult to establish an effective ground attack without an adequate o-line. Joker has utilized Little and Dixon well with screens and swins. With their size and our o-line, it’s a moot point trying to run a between the tackles, which really hurts this offense. Both backs have protected the ball well, considering some of the licks they’ve taken. FB John Connor has been a rock. Great blocker, good hands, decent foot speed–everything you want in a fullback. With Little out for the time being, speedy Alfonso Smith will have to mature in a hurry, as he’ll be counted on in relief of Dixon. All that should be expected of Dixon is that he continues to turn a few screens into first downs and holds on to the ball. Grade: B-
QB: It’s no question that Andre Woodson has been the team’s MVP thus far. I can’t tell you how many times he’s made a positive play that just a year ago, would have been a disaster. He’s taking less sacks, generally making the proper reads and checks, and keeping the football in our possession. He’s had a few rough halves of football so far, but he’s also the sole reason Kentucky has 3 wins. Woodson’s luster has kept Curtis Pulley from taking snaps, but is beginning to flourish as a wide out. Woodson will continue to receive little help from the line and running game. Defenses will definitely continue to come after him, but hopefully, Joker will continue to play to his QB’s strengths and let his cannon fire. Grade: B+