Well since nothing has changed with either of these programs since my final report of 2002, I'll get straight to business.
What… New coaches? J-Lo lost weight? Louisville, the 2002 Pre-season national title favorites (in the Jefferson county area) and perennial Conference USA powerhouse is ranked 5th in the 2003 pre-season C-USA polls? Kentucky Football season tickets will cost how much next year?
Both of these teams have spent the off-season talking many shoulda-woulda-couldas from the 2002 season. Kentucky's senior class wants this season in a bad way; so, it is all aboard the Battleship Lorenzen. Kentucky football will prove resilient in 2003 serving notice to the big boys in the SEC East with the Dennis Leary line made famous via MTV: "I think ya hear me knockin' and I'm comin' in!"
Here we go…
Kentucky by: 10
Outside of quarterback, the Offensive Line is Kentucky's strength. Senior RT Antonio Hall has started every game since his freshman year in 2000 and will be the anchor of what could be one of Kentucky's most talented O-Lines in quite some time.
The other bookend at LT will be seasoned junior Matt Huff whose 2002 campaign was cut short by a knee injury. Huff and Hall are as solid as any tackle duo in the SEC and will provide the extra time needed as J-Lo and Boyd look to throw the ball down field in offensive coordinator Ron Hudson's wide-open offense. Guards Jason Rollins and Sylvester "Big Kat" Miller will plug up the middle along side one of the best centers in the country and 2003 Dave Rimington Trophy nominee, Nick Seitze. Kentucky's O-Line should have no problem handling the Card's talented yet inexperienced defensive front.
Even though they are the same players, don't expect the same offensive line that almost put Dave Ragone on the quarterback extinction list last year. Jerry Spencer at guard and 6-foot-6 / 310lb tackle Renardo Foster will flank senior center Dan Koons on the strong side. Sophomores Travis Leffew and Jason Spitz will man the weak side, though only sophomores, the duo of Leffew and Spitz are destined to be star linemen for the Cards. Koons is the leader of this much-improved group but will have his hands full calling blocking assignments against a defensive scheme he probably hasn't seen since grade school. This is an offensive line much improved from last season but they are still not ready for the Cat's D-Line or blitz packages created by the 3-4.
Kentucky fans should thank Coach Brooks for finding the "J-Lo scales" Guy Morris threw out the window in 2002. Moreover, for realizing that even if it means two quarterbacks on the field at the same time, you find a way to get one of your best athletes in the game!
My new name for the leaner Lorenzen will be "J-sweet-n-Lo" (sorry but it made me laugh). Lorenzen is the real deal, and Lorenzen at a svelte 265lbs is a legit Heisman candidate. J-Lo was overshadowed last season by his weight, and Artose Pinner's breakout year. One 2002 stat that will get your focus back on J-Lo: 24 touchdowns against 5 interceptions, ‘nuff said!
Under center Boyd is a young Mike Vick and no defensive back in the country is going to commit to deep coverage with Boyd rolling out of the pocket. He has the athleticism and smarts to play anywhere on the field, do not be surprised if he leads the cats in total offense this week. Boyd will get his limelight under center next season, this year J-Lo breaks some records, and some hearts in the SEC East!
Look for Lorenzen to throw for at least two touchdowns and over 300 yards against a young Cardinal secondary.
Last years pre-season hype that was the Louisville quarterback fell silent on September 1, 2002. You hear that? It's silence, I hate silence! Yet, that is all we have heard regarding Stefan LeFors. Most Kentucky fans probably don't even know LeFors is the Cardinals starting quarterback. Don't be fooled by the hush, LeFors may be an untested D-1 quarterback, but he is a tremendous athlete. He has a decent arm; great speed and Louisville's coaching staff loves his leadership of the Cardinal offense. LeFors speed will test Mike Archer's 3-4 defense; but if forced to rely on his arm it could be a long night for the Cards. Forced to throw, the Cardinal's will call in backup Justin Rascati who can throw the ball with power and accuracy.
I doubt you will see freshmen phenom Mike Bush under center this week (but maybe somewhere else), and did Cardinal fans really think Petrino would baptize the youngster by fire? ESPN2, In-state rivalry, first game of the season, a new defense yet to be scouted. Give the kid a chance; before it is all over Cardinal Fan's, Bush will win you some Conference USA games. However, it is Conference USA so I might be able to step in as quarterback and win you some games.
I took the liberty of putting together some potential nicknames for Draak Davis: Lowercase "d", The Compact Cat, Lil' Diesel Draak, and my personal favorite… The Knee-hi-Fly-by. 5'7 Davis may be the smallest Cat on the field, but he's all about BIG things this season. Most of you have heard the stats from his 2002 campaign at Solano Community College in Vallejo, Calif., where he rushed for 1,846 yards and 23 touchdowns. I know, "so that's Junior College, this is the SEC." Right you are, but for opposing defenses, finding Davis behind the line of scrimmage will be a tough task. I'm not joking, outside of his speed, one of Davis's strengths will be the fact that it's hard to spot him behind the likes of Hall and Huff each a respective 6'5 and over 300 lbs. Arliss Beach has the tools to be a good SEC runner, the thing he needs most is for Davis to stay healthy, Beach does not have the strength to take the weekly poundings dished out in the SEC.
Rock Johnson is the best blocking fullback on the team and has shown flashes of speed in the spring. Listed as the starting tailback, I expect Alex Bwenge to spend more time at fullback this season. My reasoning is that Kentucky's coaching staff expects their lead blocker to be able to run the ball on more than the occasional third and short.
The Knee-hi-Fly-by has a big opening night for the Cats; he does not break the century mark rushing, but will dazzle with two touchdowns, one going for over 40 yards.
At 6-foot-3 / 245lbs, Eric Shelton is the real deal, he could be for Louisville in 2003 what Artose was for Kentucky in 2002, or he could be a bust. Shelton has all of the physical necessities you want in a running back: strength, speed, vision and good hands. The question is does he have the maturity that it takes to play D-1 football? He clearly had issues at Florida State and if he fails to see immediate and substantial playing time with the Cards will he cry foul? How will he bounce back after a poor performance? If Shelton proves he can handle adversity, he could be one of the top tailbacks in college football.
Junior Lionel "L-Train" Gates has yet to play up to his potential, but will split time with Shelton this week. Senior T.J. Patterson has good hands and could be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Bottom line: If the Cardinal's backfield gets rolling it could be a long night for the Wildcats!
Those of you that kept up with my reports last season remember my excitement over then true freshman Glen Holt. Holt is the real deal, and under the tutelage of Joker Philips, Holt is primed to become an all-American wide receiver, shake your heads now, the talent is there! Expect more of the same and some extra as Derek Abney the receiver climbs back towards his 2001 career high of sixty-six catches. Chris Bernard needs to be on the field as much as possible; he is an Aaron Boone type of receiver that can make the big play. 6-foot-2 Freshman Keenan Burton will play early and often as will Freshman Maurice Marchman. With Tommy Cook out this week, Bernard and Burton need to step it up in a big way.
Not sure what to tell you about the tight end position other than the thing I loved most about Hal Mumme was his understanding of how important the tight end position is, and the wrinkle it creates for opposing defenses. In 2002, the tight end was Kansas States third leading receiver, coincidence or will Ron Hudson look to utilize Kentucky tight ends Jeremiah Drobney and Win Gaffron? I guess we will all know the answer to that question Sunday night.
J.R. Russell, Broderick Clark, and Joshua Tinch will be LeFors main targets this week. Clark is the Cardinal's home run threat, Tinch always seems to find an opening, and at 6-foot-3 with great speed, Russell could have a breakout season in 2003.
Tight end Rhonnie Ghent has been all-conference since his freshmen year and that probably won't change for this his final season. A knee injury prematurely ended Ghent's junior season, but he is back full strength for this week's game. Stepping in for the injured Ghent last year was then junior Richard Owens who made quite a name for himself in 2002 hauling in 20 catches and 2 touchdowns the final six games of the season. One thing about Petrino, he likes to throw to his tight ends. The Kentucky linebacker's better keep an eye on these two, guaranteed the ball will be coming their way.
D-Line and Linebackers
Jeremy Caudill, Sweet Pea Burns, Lamar Mills, Ellery Moore and true Freshman Ricky Abren will be one of the top defensive line units in the SEC. Do not let the three-down lineman scheme fool you; most of the time outside linebackers Deion Holts, Raymond Fontaine and true freshman Durrell White will be on or close to the line of scrimmage, the 3-4 relies on athletic outside linebackers that can blitz and cover the short pass.
Middle Linebacker is a big question mark for the Cats. At 6-foot-5 / 245lbs, Dustin Williams has the size of a Southeastern Conference MLB, but will reoccurring concussions end his season and/or career? Starters Justin Haydock and Chad Sumerall are an interesting pair, Haydock is a former walk-on, and Sumerall tips the scales at 215 lbs. The coaching staff has been impressed with Summerall's instinct for the ball and Haydock's physical play, I am just not sure that either one of these guys can be the run stopper Kentucky desperately needs. By mid-year I expect either Kamaal Ahmad or Chad Anderson to be starting opposite Williams. Bottom line: this unit must improve a rushing defense that gave up an average of 174.3 yards a game on the ground in 2002.
Montavious Stanley has good strength and is fast off the ball, we will see how much he learned as the number two man behind all-world defensive end Dewayne White in 2002. Speedster Marcus Jones will provide the other D-Line bookend, he is lightning off the ball which makes up for his lack of size. A pair of 300-pounders by the names of Tyrone Saterfield and Scott Lopez will clog up the middle of the defensive line. Back from offseason surgery is reserve tackle Bobby Leffew who garnered all-American honors as a freshman in 2000.A strong unit, but young in quarters played, this athletic group will challenge the Wildcat O-Line as they buckle em' up and come after Lorenzen.
The strength of the cardinal's defense is their Linebacking core lead by Rod Day and Robert McCune. Day, the team's second leading tackler after recording 101 stops in 2002, is one of only four returning starters on defense, and the only returning starter among the linebackers. My Scary stat of the week: McCune can incline-bench press 490 lbs., those of you that have ever seriously lifted weights are thinking you just spotted a typo, no, he can incline-bench press 490 lbs. Robert McCune is a physical presence with great speed and will make himself known to the Wildcat running backs early and often. Sophomore Brandon Johnson is the smallest of the trio, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for with speed and instinct. It will be important for Kentucky to keep a body on this impressive crew the entire game.
I hear ya… Kentucky's defense is young; they lost seven starters, blah blah blah! Remember these guys? Bo Smith, Claude Sagaille, Antoine Huffman, Earven Flowers, and Warren Wilson. Big time playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for Kentucky last year, and not one of them were a starter! Leonard "taco" Burress, Mike Williams, and Muhammad Abdullah along with the above-mentioned cast should be the strength of the Wildcat defense. Kentucky's secondary the strength of the defense? I know, I can't believe I said that either. Here is the reason for my optimism, Last season the Wildcat defense held opposing offenses completion rate under 50%. The problem was Kentucky gave up an average of over15 yards per catch, and 220 yards per game. The defensive backfield will play more zone coverage this season allowing them to spy the quarterback improving upon last year's ten interceptions as well as stopping the long catch and run. Keep an eye out for newcomer Andre Jones, he may be the most athletic Kentucky DB and should crack the starting line-up by seasons end.
Senior Josh Minkins is the Cards lone returning starter from 2002; he has no choice but to be the leader of an inexperienced secondary. Gavin Smart swapped sides of the ball and will be starting this week; as a former receiver he knows how to read the offense, the question is does he know how to react like a defender? Safeties Brent Johnson and Kerry Rhodes will be called on to sure up this shaky unit as they struggle against one of the best guns in the game. True freshmen reserve William Gray is a tremendous athlete and will get a taste of his first college action Sunday night.
I can't figure it out, you can't figure it out and teams across the SEC have no ideal where to begin. All I know is that out of pads Derek Abney wouldn't make my four year-old nephew flinch, but like Superman's phone booth, so is the locker room for Abney. More than once last year I thought I spotted a blue cape fluttering from underneath his jersey. The secret to Abney's success is acceleration; he can get from zero to sixty faster than a Ferrari. Kentucky needs to find a second return man as opposing teams kick away from Abney, my vote if for true freshman John Logan. Check out Logan's high school stats: Returned 15 kickoffs for a 35.8-yard average, including four for TDs, two of them during his senior year. Not impressed with two touchdown returns his senior season. What if I told you he only had four returns attempted that year.
I really like sophomore Taylor Begley, he could break some records before he leaves campus and his leg will probably win Kentucky a couple of close ones this season. Clint Ruth can boom the ball; the Cats need his kickoffs to keep Louisville's offense pinned deep in their own territory, more specifically keeping the ball out of the hands of return-man Broderick Clark. Cat fans cross your fingers and hope that Coach Brooks hands-on approach with punters Anthony Thornton and Sevin Sucurovic pays off.
In case you have forgotten, there is another return man in the game who could very easily steal the limelight from Mr. Abney. Louisville's Broderick Clark is the real deal, and he can flat out fly! As the No. 2 kick returner in the nation last year Clark garnered freshmen all-American honors. In the blink of an eye he could shift the momentum of this game.
If that is not enough to worry about, the Cards blocked 12 kicks in 2002, including a nation leading nine blocked punts. Kentucky's green behind the ear-hole punters better get ready as Louisville brings the house. Senior Nate Smith, a three-year veteran of the kicking game, heads into his senior campaign on pace to finish his career ranked second on the U of L all-time scoring charts. In 2001 punter Wade Tydlacka averaged 40.6 yards per kick, Tydlacka gets back in the groove for 2003, and the question is… Does he put the ball anywhere near Abney?
In A Nut Shell:
Two of Kentucky's most important stats of last season must be duplicated if they plan on any post-season action. The first is Average drive start, in layman, a term that means field position. Through the first six games of 2002, Kentucky's average start was their own 39, while their opponents was the 23. The second is turnover ratio; Kentucky was plus seven in this department last season.
It is no secret that I love defense, but this game is going to be about the big "O". Kentucky offensive coordinator Ron Hudson's 1998 Kansas State team led the nation in scoring at 48 points per game, and last season Kansas State was No.2 nationally with 45.8 points per game. Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino has been the mastermind behind three different teams that lead the nation in total offense including the 1998 Cardinals. This week comes down to which defense bends without breaking, experience gets the nod as the Cats bottle up the Cards offense.
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