LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Five things to watch and look for in
Kentucky's football season-opener tomorrow against Louisville:
1) EFFORT AND HEART
Anyone who saw the movie "Shawshank Redemption" had to love the memorable scene in which Tim Robbins' character finally escapes prison and raises his arms in triumph and relief while celebrating his freedom. That might be how UK football players feel now that they've escaped the smoke-and-mirrors philosophy of the previous staff. Will the new system of Guy Morriss allow the Cats to compete in big-time college football? Specifically, watch tomorrow to see how much fire and intensity UK displays, which usually is seen in hitting, blocking, hustle and desire. Morriss promised to bring those things back to UK football. Tomorrow would be a good time to start.
2) OH D.J., WHERE ART THOU?
It's been said --- to the point of nausea --- that it's time for the UK defensive end to "step up." Cliches aside, tomorrow really would be a splendid time for Dennis Johnson to live up to the hype. Granted, he was thrown to the wolves as a freshman and plagued by injuries early on. Now the junior from Harrodsburg (once considered the top defensive prospect in the nation by Sports Illustrated, among others) needs to be the leader of the pack for a Kentucky defense desperately seeking difference-makers. Understandably, the Cats are concerned about slowing down Louisville's high-powered offense. One way to do accomplish that is to put Cardinals' quarterback Dave Ragone on his back. D.J., are you out there?
3) DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT
Simply put, will Kentucky play some semblance of defense under new coordinator John Goodner? It certainly couldn't get any worse than it was the last four seasons. In the last two games against Louisville, the Cats
have surrendered 106 points, including 56 the last time the Cards visited Lexington. That can't happen tomorrow if Kentucky wants to take itself seriously as a football team. This just in: Good teams play good defense; bad teams do not. Will we see some defense, tackling and hitting from the Cats tomorrow at Commonwealth Stadium?
4) SMASHMOUTH FOOTBALL
Morriss promises to keep throwing the football. But the hunch here is that Kentucky will run the ball early and often tomorrow and test Louisville's two young, new starters at defensive tackle. Last week, Louisville's porous run defense made New Mexico State look like Vince Lombardi's Packers. Meanwhile, UK insists it will have a better ground attack under Morriss, especially when it counts. If the Cats can't establish a running game tomorrow, it should be taken as a bad sign. UK's big offensive line needs to set the tone early, which in turn will only help Jared Lorenzen throw the ball down the field.
5) ISN'T THAT SPECIAL!
Kentucky's special teams have been, shall we say, less than special in recent years. New special teams coordinator Mark Nelson can earn every dime of his salary by getting this area even close to Southeastern Conference standards. Watch tomorrow to see if the Cats can put the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, cover kickoffs and force Louisville to begin drives at the 20-yard-line instead of the 40. A special teams collapse last year cost UK a win over Louisville. Watch this area closely.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The "Friday Five" is a new weekly feature for Big Blue Den produced by Brett Hait, our new contributing writer. Hait has covered UK sports since the mid-80s.