It only took one Louisville sized pothole to lighten the Kentucky Football Bandwagon! Now the proverbial flat is fixable, but the alignment is definitely going to need some tweaking if Kentucky fans are going to trust bus driver Brooks to get them to the land of Milk, Honey and SEC competitiveness.
On the way to Tuscaloosa next week the Cats had better pick up a set of safety tires, you know, the kind that can have a hole in them but still get you to your destination. This week they make it by on a doughnut spare.
Here we go…
Kentucky by: 17
Trenches: The only thing more shocking than the score of the Louisville game was the play of the offensive line. What should have been the strength of the Kentucky offense was an exploited weakness. In short, the play of the offensive line was awful! Will things be any better this week as Antonio Hall likely sits out with an injury and Matt Huff is replaced by left guard Jason Rollins, making room at guard for reserve and former defensive tackle Nate Van Sickel. Guy Morris is a great line coach, and as head coach, he made sure he stayed hands-on with the Cats' O-line and it showed. Rich Brooks made a point this pre-season to be hands-on with the punters, hmmm.
Anyway, the big boys rebound, but have their hands full in the first quarter with a scrappy Murray State D-Line that doesn't realize they aren't supposed to be competitive with an SEC team. Don't fret Cat fans; reality pays Murray State a visit in the second quarter.
If Kentucky's offensive line was bad on Sunday; Murray State's unit was exceptionally bad on Saturday. Unlike Kentucky, the Racers have a legitimate excuse in that they had to replace the entire starting offensive line from their 2002 OVC championship season. Even with the excuse, there is no excuse, Valparaiso; a non-scholarship football program stymied the Murray State rushing game, holding them to an average of 2.3 yards per attempt. The Racer front-five average 6-foot-3 / 280lbs, by far the smallest offensive line the Cat's will face this season.
How much time will ‘Sweet Pea' Burns spend in the opposing backfield this Saturday? If not for the Blue and White of Kentucky, folks might assume him a member of the Murray State offense.
Quarterbacks: In the immortal words of Paula Abdul, against Louisville J-Lo was two words "phenom - enal". Now for the whole truth and nothing but: You do not have one of the best arms in college football running the option or split wide at receiver. Could Michael Jordan have played Center? Sure he could have, but he would not have become the greatest basketball player of all time. If you allow Lorenzen to utilize his strengths you have a legitimate Heisman hopeful, and if the system is harnessing the talents of your best player, you change the system not the player. I still believe Boyd can do some great things this season, like exploit the corner on an option, which Lorenzen will never do.
Lorenzen only needs 66 yards this week to pass Tim Couch's career record of 8,435 passing yards, I might be going out on a limb here, but J-Lo gets the record this Saturday. Lorenzen picks apart a very talented Murray State secondary that gets their first and maybe only taste of what a NFL defense experiences on Sunday.
Leading the Murray State offense will be fifth-year senior quarterback Stewart Childress. Childress is a steady Q.B., his completion rate was over 60-percent last season, and his efficiency rating was 134.94. Nevertheless, as Jared Lorenzen can attest, talent means nothing if you have a defender in your face, or in J-Lo's case, hanging on your back. Childress is not fleet of foot but has no problem tucking the ball and running, which may be his only option this Saturday. Look for Childress to turn in a gutsy yet unspectacular performance against the Cats.
Running Backs: It was good to see Rock Johnson back on the playing field! Johnson is a throwback fullback; he is big, fast and can block for days. If Kentucky is going to have any success on the ground this year; they had better hitch it up behind the Rock! Alexis "bling-bling" Bwenge is a solid and valuable runner that needs to toughen up his blocking skills. OK, we get the point! Davis can run the ball inside the tackles, but again we ask, ‘is that playing to the strength of his talents'? The ‘Knee-hi-Fly-by' is still my man; he has the capability to break the big one every time he touches the ball. The story against Louisville was Arliss Beach, he ran with surprising power and speed, averaging six-yards per carry. As a unit the Kentucky rushers averaged 3-yards per carry, you would think with those numbers Beach would have touched the ball more than four times against Louisville. I expect Beach to get a few more touches this week as he rushes for over 100-yards.
Juniors Ron Lane and Ulysses Odoms were supposed to be the strength of the Racer backfield in 2003 but true freshman Oscar Walker is making a case for the starting tailback position. None of the above mentioned had anything close to a stellar performance versus Valpraiso, but rarely is there a place to run when the line doesn't open holes. How bad was the Murray State running game on Saturday? Nine different Racers rushed the ball! Now that is what I call tailback by committee. As bad as the Kentucky defense was on Sunday, I do not expect any of the nine Murray State rushers to eclipse the century mark this week.
Receivers: Granted, Tommy Cook missing the game on Sunday hurt the Cats, but I am not a Kentucky coach so I will stop the excuses. It seemed from my vantagepoint that the young receivers i.e. Maurice Marchman, Jeremiah Drobney, and Keenan Burton were out-of-sync running routes. It could have been the fact that J-Lo was constantly scrambling for his life and they were breaking off their routes to try to expedite a completion. I do not know, but what I do know is until Abney's hamstring is 100% someone has to step up and become the go-to-guy. My vote is for Holt, following a close second is true freshman Burton who showed us in one leaping touchdown grab what his coaches and teammates have been seeing all summer. I would like to see more slip screens and hitches to Holt, Marchman, and Burton, utilizing their athletic ability, turning a short catch into a big gain.
The tight end seam and post looked to be uncovered most of the night against Louisville. Neither Jeremiah Drobney nor Winn Gaffron has the size of a SEC tight end but they need to up the ante and become playmakers for this team. Interesting how the coaching staff has the UK tight end stand upright, I assume it keeps the defensive end from tying them up at the line of scrimmage.
Deandre Greene only had three catches against Valpo but he made them count, totaling 105 yards and one touchdown. Flanker Andrew Nowacki is a solid receiver who also pulled in one touchdown last Saturday. Terrence Biggers is slight of size but quick of foot and will spend his time trying to make something happen underneath the Kentucky linebackers. I would not be surprised to see defensive back Laroni Galishaw line up at receiver this week. My reasoning is that none of the above mentioned have the necessary speed to beat the Wildcat secondary deep, and Galishaw is one of the most gifted athletes on the Murray State roster. The Kentucky secondary should have no problem matching up against the size and speed of the Racer receivers
Tight ends Jimmy St. Louis (with a name like that he should be on the Soprano's not on the football field) and Brandon Roddy have good hands and could cause problems for the UK linebacker's, especially the 6-foot-5 St. Louis.
D-Line and Linebackers Sweet Pea's motor never stopped against Louisville; he disrupted the Card's offense so much that in the second half they almost completely stopped running the ball to his side of the field. Contributing only one solo tackle and an assist, Jeremy Caudill's play against Louisville was disappointing to say the least. As a senior, Caudill needs to prove not only to his teammates but also to NFL scouts that he has heart and drive to match his physical abilities. Nose tackles Lamar Mills and Ellery Moore will have their hands full all season with double teams, as one of my old coaches used to say "boys you better buckle em' up tight!"
Freshman Durrell White will start in place of Deion Holts at outside linebacker. Holts has been fighting the injury bug, whether that was the reason the Louisville offensive line manhandled him, I just do not know. Raymond Fontaine made a good showing at the other outside linebacker and should progress into a solid player by mid-season. Middle Linebacker is still a question mark for the Cats. Justin Haydock looked good leading the team with 10 tackles, but in a 3-4 scheme the linebackers should be the leading tacklers. John Sumerall is all guts and heart but just does not have the size to play middle linebacker and it showed against the Cards. If Dustin Williams can stay healthy, he could become a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the Kentucky defense. Cat fan's should cross their fingers and hope that Williams can stay healthy this season. If not, it could be a very long year for a Kentucky team that lacks a true athlete at linebacker in a system that relies on athletes as linebackers.
The strength of Murray state is their defense, they held Valpo to two first downs and 45-yards of total offense. I do not care that they were playing a school with no scholarship players those two stats are amazing. The cornerstone of the Racer D-line is 6-foot-1 300-lb tackle Brandon Dixon. As a sophomore, Dixon was a big reason for the success of the Racer's 2002-championship team. At the other tackle is another 300-pounder by the name of Matt Dennis, his backup is Sophomore Marcus White who transferred from Auburn after his freshman season. Like Louisville, Murray State's defensive ends are small but quick, look for the duo of Brian Moss and Greg Blake to take a cue from Louisville's Marcus Jones, revving it up and coming after J-Lo.
The Murray State Linebacker unit consisting of Brian Moss, Patrick Schultz, Dylan Evans, and Rohan Goodson are an average unit that is not ready to take on the Kentucky O-Line or fullback Rock Johnson.
Secondary: The Kentucky defensive backfield did a good job against Louisville. The only long pass play against the Cats was on the first series of the game and was actually great coverage by Bo Smith. Sometimes a quarterback does what they are supposed to and beats the defense with an incredible throw, which is exactly what LeFors did when he connected with Broderick Clark for 31-yards. The only problem for the UK secondary seemed to be communication; too often, the defensive backfield was still unsettled at the snap. Mike Williams proved he is the leader of the defensive backs, he should be utilized more in blitz packages, the kid has a nose for the football and is not afraid to hit. Not sure where Claude Saigaille is on the depth chart but he is another big hitter that could provide support as teams take it out of the air and put it on the ground against Archer's 3-4 defense. Andre Jones has been slowed by injuries but should gradually make it into the defensive backfield rotation by the Alabama game. The Murray State offense will come out trying to establish their running game, when that fails Kentucky pulls down two interceptions, taking one back for a touchdown.
The Murray State defensive backfield is a talented unit featuring four D-1 transfers: Laroni Galishaw (Louisville), Clarence Young (Indiana), Stanford Simmons (Auburn), and Michael Hanley (Indiana). Corners Galishaw and Hanley have the talent to play for just about any team in the country and either individually or together always seem to be around the football. Safeties Bobby Sanders and Demetrick Westbrook are solid players helped by the fact that against most teams Galishaw and Hanley run man coverage. With the addition of Young and Simmons, the Racer DB's will be a serious challenge for the inexperienced Kentucky receivers as they line up without senior leader Derek Abney.
Special Teams: Derek Abney had better not set foot between the white lines this week, actually I would not even let him in Commonwealth stadium for fear he might somehow end up on the field. If an upset is even to be thought of next week, Abney needs to be at 100%; an win against Alabama will call for all of the heroics a healthy Abney can muster.
All I can say about the Kentucky punters is, ‘bad', and not ‘bad' like Run DMC, but ‘bad' like 2-year-old milk. The bright spot for UK special teams was the kickoff coverage unit lead by Andrew Hopewell. If things do not improve for the UK defense, the 5-foot-10 Hopewell should switch sides of the ball and take a shot a middle linebacker (wink, wink). Seriously, the coverage team did an amazing job against Louisville, holding last year's second leading return man in the country to an average return of 15.2 yards. Not sure if freshman John Logan is redshirting this year, if not, expect to see him this Saturday returning kickoffs and punts.
Racer Place Kicker Jesse Ohliger is steady but does not have the power or accuracy too consistently nail a field goal outside of thirty-five yards. The one thing Murray and Kentucky definitely have in common is punting woes. Murray State's James Gaither averaged 27-yards punting last week with a long of 32-yards. The big break for the Racer coverage unit this week is Derek Abney will be standing on the sidelines and not running down them.
In A Nut Shell: Less than 24-hours after his first game coached at UK, and I already have an issue with Coach Brooks! I do not like when a coach singles out any one player much less his quarterback during a live call-in-show. After the gut and heart that Lorenzen left on the field, that his head coach would say one of the main reasons for his offensive line getting their butt whooped was Lorenzen not checking off his calls at the line of scrimmage, that is amazing to me.
The rant continues… I can not stand when an excuse is slyly slipped in to a casual remark like this one during Brooks Tuesday press conference "Louisville has the edge on us: they have more scholarship players." Or this from the same press conference "I just feel that we are a team in transition right now - we're a team that needs to be better athletically. We need to have more speed, size, and strength. We have work to do, but I knew that when I came here." You knew it, I knew it, the whole country knows it, so stop using it as an excuse and put together a game plan that takes advantage of the talents you do have!
I am paraphrasing but I remember in the Q&A section of the UK Media Guide Coach Brooks said "The only way to change the mentality about Kentucky football is quit making excuses," sounds good to me coach.
Kentucky does not make the mistake of looking past Murray State, not because of focused discipline, but because the Cats don't want to see what awaits them in Tuscaloosa.
Kentucky wraps this one up by the end of the third quarter!
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