If you listened to this morning’s edition of Kentucky Sports Radio, you heard fans call in with their pessimistic/realistic opinions on Saturday’s game. Before I get to all of the reasons why you should be positive, here are a few reasons why I was filled with anxiety last week over which way Kentucky’s first game will go.
A Slow Start from Drew Barker
There are many reasons to be skeptical of Drew Barker. You begin with off-the-field issues and you end with how he ended last season — terribly. Against Louisville Barker was 6-22 for 128 yards before he was pulled in the third quarter. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
That slow start was unlike his first appearance of the season against Vanderbilt. He began by throwing a 42-yard bomb to Jeff Badet on his first pass, only to follow it up with a touchdown to Ryan Timmons.
The Vandy version of Barker wasn’t enough for a win, but I’d take the fast starting Barker over the slow starter we’ve heard about from the first two scrimmages.
Barker is a talented thrower with a ton of talent around him; he doesn’t need to be great, just good. I fear that his biggest problem could be between the ears and we could have a football-version of Alex Poythress.
Eddie Gran’s In-Game Adjustments
There’s one element I’m confident Eddie Gran will add to the sideline: game management and organization. There will be a scripted flow to the game, but what if that scripted flow is interrupted?
After Gran was hired, I spoke to a few Cincinnati fans and their biggest complaint was that the Gran/Hinshaw combo was slow to react and adjust in the middle of games. Mark Stoops hasn’t exactly been known for his in-game or halftime adjustments as a head coach. The Cats can’t afford for Gran to be stubborn. The offense must keep defense on their toes by being dynamic.
Ito Smith is Great
How great is he? Pro Football Focus graded last season’s performance as one of the top three from running backs outside of the Power 5 conferences.
Smith was one of the most elusive running backs in the nation and stood out both as a runner and as a receiver. Smith has the second highest elusive rating (124.9) in the nation as he forced 61 missed tackles on 194 touches.
A great pass-catcher and a vertical running back with 1,218 yards last season? It gets even worse when you consider this:
Questions on UK’s Interior Defense
If you were compiling a scouting report on Kentucky, the way to beat UK is simple: run it right down their throat. There are few known quantities in the middle of the defense.
- Matt Elam’s played sparingly while in poor shape.
- JUCO transfer Courtney Miggins didn’t play until halfway through last season.
- Adrian Middleton has only recorded 8 career tackles.
- Eli Brown and Jordan Jones have primarily performed on Special Teams.
- Courtney Love has received plenty of praise as a leader, but has not played a down in blue and white.
If Courtney Love is a bust, this defense is in trouble. There’s been no confirmation either way, but if they don’t have the ability to stop the run up the middle of the field, teams will keep it simple and crush Kentucky in the vertical run game, removing UK’s greatest defensive asset — the secondary — from the equation.
Mullens is the Best Pocket Passer Kentucky will Play
He’s graded out as one of the most proficient passers in the country and was selected as the C-USA’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Nick Mullens threw for 4,476 yards last year, a school record, even though he missed two starts.
If Shannon Dawson’s statement is true — “Typically, if I have a good quarterback, I’m a pretty good coach. And typically, if I don’t, I’m not a very good coach.” — then he’ll be much better as a play caller this season than he was last season.