Scouting the Wildcats

You can bet that the boys in Crimson will be tired of the color blue by Saturday night. After a hard fought loss against the top team in the land, a lot of Tide players were black and blue and a lot of fans left the stands feeling blue.

The Tide doesn't have long to lick wounds, though, as another wave of blue will roll into Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend when the Kentucky Wildcats come to Tuscaloosa for Alabama's Southeastern Conference opener.

Derek Abney is All-SEC returning kicks and equally dangerous as a wideout.

The Wildcats have played Alabama 34 times, with their first meeting coming in 1917. Of those 34 games, Kentucky has walked away victorious only twice, with one of those wins coming in their last dance with the Tide in 1997.

In that game, led by now NFL-quarterback Tim Couch, UK pulled out a 40-34 win in overtime, marking its first win over Alabama in 75 years. In overtime Alabama fumbled on its possession. Couch then threw for a 26-yard touchdown. Wildcat fans immediately stormed the field and tore down the goalposts.

Kentucky, 0-7 on Bama's campus, is searching for its first win in Tuscaloosa. UK's last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium was a 35-7 loss in 1996.

Former Tide Head Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant coached Kentucky for eight seasons, leading them to what is still their only SEC title in 1950. Bryant remains to this day the winningest head coach in Wildcat history. Interestingly, Bryant never defeated his alma mater.

Jared Lorenzen could be the toughest quarterback to tackle in the country. (Getty Images)

Head Coach Rich Brooks is in his first year at Kentucky, but has a long and impressive resume. His first head coaching job, at Oregon, was extremely long for the high-turnover world of Division I football. Brooks was the Top Duck from 1977 until 1994, when he became head coach of the St. Louis Rams in the NFL. His tenure in St. Louis was, obviously, not what he had amassed in Oregon, and he became the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator in 1997, where he served until this season.

Brooks and Tide Head Coach Mike Shula (then offensive coordinator at Tampa Bay) went head-to-head several times in the '97 through '99 seasons.

Brooks looked to the NFL for some of his assistants; Mike Archer, previously the linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, serves as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator. Steve Brown, defensive backs coach, had the same role with St. Louis when the Rams won the Super Bowl. Defensive line coach Michael Gray and assistant head coach Steve Ortmayer also have pro coaching experience. Based on the backgrounds of these coaches, this may be the most familiar coaching staff that Alabama Coach Mike Shula­a 15-year NFL coach­will face all season.

When one thinks of the Kentucky Wildcats of recent years, the standout is quarterback Jared Lorenzen. The senior would be a standout in just about any situation as he is a whopping 6-4, 260 pounds. Lorenzen outweighs his own tight end, Jeremiah Drobney (6-4, 245, So), by 15 ounds. But while conversation is frequently centered on Lorenzen's size, there is no question that the big man is a dangerous player under center. He was second team All-SEC last year by both the SEC Coaches and the Associated Press and was a semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.

Last season Lorenzen had pressure taken off of his shoulders by his talented running back, Artose Pinner. Unfortunately for Kentucky, Pinner is now a Detroit Lion, and diminutive junior college transfer Draak Davis (5-7, 170, So) is left to handle the tailback duties.

The biggest scoring threat on the Kentucky squad is wide receiver and kick returning phenom Derek Abney (5-10, 175, Sr). Abney was voted first team All-America by a slew of polls for his work as a kick returner, and Brooks has vowed to get him more touches on offense as well. As a testament to his versatility, if Abney is on track to become only the third player in the history of college football to have 2000 yards receiving, 1000 yards returning punts, and 1000 yards returning kickoffs in a career. (Anthony Carter of Michigan and Tim Dwight of Iowa have done it.). Earlier this season Abney broke the UK career record for all-purpose yardage and the UK career record for kickoff return yardage.

Offensive tackle Antonio Hall is a pre-season All-SEC pick.

Kentucky gained a reputation during the Hal Mumme administration as being a throw-it-every-down team, but that is not the case under Rich Brooks. Although Lorenzen's arm is still their main weapon, Abney is the leading receiver on the team this season with just six catches for 83 yards. This has not resulted in better results from their running game, however: Davis and backup running back Alexis Bwenge (6-1, 215, So.) both have under 70 yards each for the season.

Defensively, the Cats are a little different than most SEC teams. Showing the NFL experience of the Kentucky coaching staff, the boys in blue run a 3-4 defense, a set that is very common in the NFL but is rare in college football. This means the Cats' defensive line consists only of two ends and a nose tackle. At left end, Kentucky has experienced senior Jeremy Caudill (6-3, 295). Caudill is perhaps a step slow for a defensive end, being a converted tackle.

Converted from tackle, Jeremy Caudill now plays defensive end.

Because of the switch to the 3-4 scheme, starting outside linebacker Raymond Fontaine (6-4, 215, So) finds himself at a new position this year. Fontaine was a defensive end last year, but is now adjusting to playing behind the line. He is joined by fellow outside linebacker Durrell White (6-3, 234, Fr), who has an even bigger adjustment to make: he graduated high school in 2001, but did not enroll due to a knee injury he suffered practicing for the Tennessee-Kentucky High School All Star Game. White has rehabilitated the knee, and won the starting spot in fall practice.

Senior Leonard Burress (5-11, 188, Sr) is the only returning starter at cornerback for the Cats, but he will be helped out by four other lettermen. Although there isn't much starting experience, the position is deep. Strong safety Mike Williams (5-11, 184, Jr), had over 50 tackles and two interceptions last season, and has shown a nose for the ball with five pass breakups. Free safety Muhammad Abdullah (6-0, 200, So) only saw work in a back-up role last season, but charged in front of the more experienced Claude Sagaille (5-10, 185, Jr) in spring practice to win the starting job.

The "Hefty Lefty"

Discussion of Wildcat special teams usually starts and ends with Derek Abney. However, in the situations where teams don't have to kick the ball at Abney, the Cats aren't quite as solid. Taylor Begley returns as Kentucky's kicker after a decent freshman year where he hit on 9 of 14 field goals. He hit his only attempted field goal so far this year, and is yet to miss an extra point this season.

Punter Anthony Thornton is averaging a respectable 39.2 yards a punt this year, and also handles the holding duties for Kentucky.

Alabama leads the series record against Kentucky, 31-2-1.


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