Folks, we’re getting dangerously close to preseason camp. Following the mandatory Fan Day, Media Day, and Picture Day, actual football practice will eventually begin. Leading up to the opener against Louisiana Lafayette, I’ve had a few consistent thoughts about what I think might happen on 5 September. Here are seven early predictions. Seven isn’t just a random number, I like it more than five and it symbolizes a touchdown plus an extra point. Also, I’m superstitious:
1. Boom Williams will rush for over 100 yards. There’s been too much offseason scuttlebutt about Shannon Dawson’s emphasis on the power run. With that said, and to gain credibility with players and fans, I think that talk will turn into a reality. Kentucky’s rushing attack will be improved. To what extent is yet to be seen. An older; more experience offensive line, a veteran quarterback with audible capability, and a veteran group of running backs are just some of the reasons for the hopeful progress. This theory will be put to test against a physical ULL defense that will play with a Lake Pontchartrain size chip on their shoulders.
2. UK’s offense will start fast. I’m not so much referencing tempo. I can see Shannon Dawson going up top and trying to hit an early home run or two. Reasoning for this is that offensively, ULL will be excessively one dimensional. When I say one dimensional I really mean one player will be the focal point of their entire offensive game-plan. Elijah McGuire is the most versatile running back Kentucky will see this fall. I’m not saying he’s better than Nick Chubb or Jalen Hurd, but that his skill set is more diverse. As the team’s leading rusher and receiver, most every play will feature a McGuire threat. Back on subject. Scoring early points will take the Ragin Cajuns out of their game plan and force them to throw the football in order to play catch-up. A secondary result could be a pick-6 or an advent of Kentucky sacks. Against this opponent, a late throwing ULL offense is the DJ Eliot utopian plan.
3. UK’s run defense will be tested early and often. I think it will answer the bell. Number 15 Elijah McGuire. Get used to repeatedly hearing that name over the PA system. Melvin Lewis and his defensive line mates will need to control the point of attack along the line of scrimmage. This will allow the four linebackers to run free and make tackles. As we saw in 2014, tackling was not exactly the unit’s strength. Gauging its tackling progress will take all of one series. If we see a replay of the Mississippi State’s pinball effort, this will be a close game or worse, a possible Lafayette upset. Stopping the Cajuns rushing attack is priority one through ten.
4. Patrick Towles will look like a new man. I’m not talking about the Harry Potter stuff. I’m referring to his quarterback prowess. The list of first year Wildcat starting quarterbacks with a winning record is miniscule. Year two will be much kinder to the 250 pound junior. I think Patrick will be more poised and productive. Matter of fact, I see UK’s offense as a ticking time bomb ready to explode. IF the Cats score a couple early touchdowns and CWS begins to shake, we could be witnessing the start of a special year for the Highlands Wizard.
5. Ryan Flannigan will lead the team in tackles. In UK’s last two games of 2014, Flannigan finally looked like the game had slowed down for him. The result was back to back double digit tackle games against Tennessee and Louisville. The difference in a great linebacker and a good linebacker can be measured in the milliseconds of reaction time from snap to action. Instead of waiting on the play to develop, Flannigan will now be able to immediately analyze and respond. ULL’s scouting report will feature a heavy dose of Josh Forrest. The other inside linebacker may benefit.
6. An unfamiliar defender will have multiple sacks. I’ll explain. Unfamiliar defender meaning a player that we aren’t used to seeing on game day. This could be Farrington Huguenin, Alvonte Bell, Courtney Miggins, Denzel Ware, or Kengera Daniel. For a rookie pass rusher, opening games can be abundant hunting grounds. Once the newbie runs through the tunnel for the first time, they will experience an adrenaline rush like no other in life. And sadly, like no other they will ever experience in his post-playing days. With Dupree and Smith in the NFL, it’s the next man up as UK’s designated edge rusher.
7. IF UK scores 14 plus first quarter points the Cats will win by 25 or more. If UK scores 7 or less, this game will go the distance. I’m cognizant of ULL’s record and capabilities. I highly respect Coach Hudspeth and wouldn’t have been all that disappointed to have seen him named as Joker Phillips successor. But when I get serious and closely study personnel, ULL’s weaknesses are actually Kentucky’s assumed strengths. The Ragin Cajun’s vulnerable pass defense lost its top pass rushers to the NFL. Combine that with Shannon Dawson’s eagerness to impress, and that could possibly equal a UK rout. Furthermore, ULL will bring a new starting quarterback to lead an offense that lost its top receivers to graduation. I see no way that the Cajun’s offense can succeed other than behind Elijah McGuire’s running. Even with UK’s suspect run defense, this game screams of a Wildcat blow-out. Months ago, I didn’t have this enthusiastic outlook. However, I still say this game is extremely dangerous and unpredictable. I’ve discussed UK’s strengths but those are mainly in theory alone, not by proven entity.
We’ll see come 5 September.