I believe there is a higher reason for our sorrows. The University of Kentucky Football team is truly God's team. Much as the Jews have suffered for thousands of years, the Lord's chosen team has suffered for what seems to be a thousand years. Locusts, we have LSU. Plagues, we have Florida and Georgia. Famine, we have Tennessee.
Although I appreciate the fact that UK Football is God's chosen team, after Saturday (Florida game), I've decided it is a mixed blessing. Now, that is not to say that we are above temptation. Goodness knows, Curci and Mumme provided plenty of that. But we are surely closer to the Lord with the likes of Bradshaw and Curry.
I can appreciate now that I have discovered our truth, more so than before, the sweet tragedy. I can anticipate it and know that it is coming, no matter the size of the lead in the fourth quarter. The only thing we could do to bring us closer may be to play on Sundays.
If you hear me humming in the stands, the tune will surely be "Just a closer walk with thee."
Amen Brother Fooks… You have a witness in the congregation!
Here we go…
South Carolina by: 9
Trenches: I am the type of guy that has to see it more than once to believe it. What I saw against Florida was a Kentucky offensive line that was physical and controlled the line of scrimmage. Nate Van Sickel did a tremendous job filling in at guard for the injured Jason Rollins. Sylvester "Big Kat" Miller's off-season conditioning that produced his new svelte 265-pound frame looked great pulling and blocking down field. With all of that being said, the big boys upfront will need to continue their improvement this week against one of the best defensive lines they will face this season. It is imperative that the Cat's continue to open some holes for an inexperienced backfield. The South Carolina D-Line is a tough unit, so if I see it again this week, call me a believer.
The Gamecock front line has done an outstanding job opening holes for freshman phenom tailback Demetrius Summers. Granted it has not been that difficult considering Summers does not need that big of a hole to get through the line of scrimmage and into the secondary. Left tackle Travelle Wharton is an all-American candidate, the Gamecock's love to run it up behind the 6-foot-4 / 314 pound Wharton and will continue to do so against the Cats. The South Carolina O-Line has been good this year, but if the same Kentucky defense that held Florida to 93 yards rushing shows up in Columbia this Thursday it could be a long night for the Gamecock O-Line.
Quarterbacks: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." --From Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141). On one level this phrase has been interpreted to mean that fate is not what drives men to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition. So maybe it was not fate that directed Jared Lorenzen to throw an ill-advised interception against Florida. Maybe it was his "human condition," that more times than not drives him to make something out of nothing. The same condition that moved the big boy to run for 57 yards and a couple of crucial 3rd down conversions against the Gators. Lorenzen will win a big game this year, this week he puts the load on his shoulders and tries to will the Cats to a win against a tough South Carolina defense.
Kentucky fan's had a two-play glimpse against Florida of what the Kentucky offense will look like in 2004 when Shane Boyd takes over the reigns at quarterback. Honestly, the system is set up for a QB like Boyd, not Lorenzen. All of the rolling pockets and options are tailor made for an athlete like Boyd. The UK faithful should hope Boyd gets a few more reps at QB against the Gamecocks this Thursday; the wrinkle he creates could be fascinating to say the least.
Like Lorenzen, Dondrial Pinkins is physically big, but unlike Lorenzen, he is big in all the right places. Pinkins was almost benched two weeks ago, and without the emergence of Summers, he might be starting this Thursday's game on the bench. Pinkins has been less than stellar since the Virginia game; this season he has thrown five interceptions versus only three touchdowns. Pinkins struggle throwing the ball has been a huge concern for Lou Holtz and the rest of the South Carolina coaching staff. I stated last year that if Kentucky were going to beat South Carolina they would need to shut down the gamecock ground game and force then quarterback Corey Jenkins to win the game with his arm. And that is exactly what the Cats did during the first half holding the Gamecocks scoreless by shutting down their rushing attack and allowing only 36 yards through the air. The second half, Jenkins came out of nowhere to throw for 163 yards and one touchdown. Kentucky needs to come in with the same game plan as last year but finally do what they have struggled with on more than one occasion, completing the game. Pinkins is not a top-notch passer and will struggle against one of the better secondary units in the SEC.
Running Backs: Fullback Ronald "Rock "Johnson could be the jump-start a sputtering Kentucky running game needs. Alex "Bling-Bling" Bwenge is a great running fullback but his blocking leaves something to be desired. At 6-foot and 245 pounds Johnson is a big load that can take on and seal any inside linebacker in the league. Arliss Beach turned in a respectable showing in his first collegiate start against the Gators rushing for 47 yards and three touchdowns. Like I mentioned earlier in the season, Beach is not strong enough to take the pounding he will receive playing an SEC schedule. If Kentucky is to establish a ground game someone else must step up and take some of the load off of Beach's shoulders. Bwenge will continue getting 8 to 10 carries a game from the fullback position, but another tailback is what this team is missing. Did Monquantae Gibson do enough in Kentucky's JV game against Georgia Military this past Thursday to warrant a serious look against the Gamecocks? I say yes, but then again, I don't think Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks gives a didley-squat about my opinion. The Kentucky backfield MUST do a better job at picking up the blitz and making the block, they were terrible against Florida.
Two things I love to watch, a great defense and great tailback. Just so happens I'll get to watch two pretty good defenses and one tailback on the verge of greatness as freshman tailback Demetrius Summers leads the Gamecock rushing attack this Thursday. Summers was nothing less than spectacular against an overrated Tennessee two weeks ago rushing 27 times for 158 yards. The question that begs an answer, is Summers as good as he looked against Tennessee or against UAB when he racked up over 160 yards rushing? I believe he will be that good, but this week Kentucky's run defense continues where they left off against Florida. The Cats will not shut down Summers, but they will keep him under the century mark. Ok, so now you shut down Summers, that's it right? Nope, don't forget about sophomore Daccus Turman who ran all over Virginia and one the best linebacking corps in the country. Turman has only had 21 carries compared to Summers 48 over the past two games but is still a threat in the red zone and is one of the best receivers out of the backfield in the SEC.
Receivers: True freshman Keenan Burton continues to mature on the field, he made a couple of big catches against Florida including a huge 12 yard gain on third and nine in the second quarter. I expect Burton's numbers to increase as the youngster becomes more comfortable in the UK offense. Chris Bernard has staked his claim as Kentucky's most consistent receiver this season as well as showing off the speed that garnered him second-team junior college All-America honors in 2001. With much company at the wide receiver position, Glenn Holt has seen his number of receptions drop over the last two games. Holt is a playmaker that needs to become more involved in the offense as opposing defenses key on Derek Abney the rusher not the receiver. Abney has rushed this year mostly on the end around and reverse for an impressive 19.8-yard average. I keep expecting there to be a Tommy Cook sighting, maybe this is the week it happens? Cook is a great downfield blocker and has been solid on special teams; let us hope talent as a receiver will not be wasted the entire season. How loaded is the Wildcat receiving unit? Standout true freshman Maurice Marchman who has been impressive on the special team coverage units has been moved to free safety.
It was not one of Kentucky's burgeoning wide receivers that had a breakout game against the Florida Gators; it was the tight end duo of Winn Gaffron and Bruce Fowler. Gaffron was brilliant against the Gators pulling in four receptions for 46 yards, including a delicate sideline grab and an amazing reception in the middle of the field that would have made Lynn Swan proud. The little used Fowler had one catch, his first of the season for 20 yards. With the injury to Jeremiah Drobney, the 6-foot-4 270-pound Fowler could end up being a diamond in the rough this season. Fowler worked some this summer at fullback, that experience should help him seal the corners from his tight end position helping spring the UK tailbacks outside the tackles. Gaffron's acrobatic catch in the middle of the Florida secondary proved two things, he is quickly becoming a great receiver and there are just so many advantages to being 6-foot-5. Kentucky needs to continue throwing to the tight end down the middle of the field, especially when the opposing defense is running cover-2, which is the coverage Florida was in all day.
Troy Williamson, who was an SEC All-Freshman selection a year ago, is still South Carolina's biggest threat and most consistent receiver. Williamson has 16 receptions and two touchdowns on the season, averaging 15.5 yards per catch. Following behind Williamson are Mikal Goodman and Mathew Thomas averaging 14.6 and 19.6 yards per catch respectively. At 6-foot-3 Goodman is a big target with plenty of speed, and Thomas can turn a short gain into a long touchdown. The move of the year for the Gamecock's was the conversion during the summer of Taqiy Muhammad from defensive back to receiver. Muhammad only has six catches this season, none for a touchdown, but he is a tremendous athlete that is a serious threat to score ever time he touches the ball. South Carolina's receivers form a strong unit that matches up well with just about any team in the conference, but the reverse x-factor is Pinkins. With a much-improved Kentucky secondary and a quarterback with a powerful yet suspect arm, it could be long night for the Carolina receivers.
Hart Turner is a very good tight end and is second on the team with nine receptions. Turner has not seen very many throws come his way the past few weeks, but when you are running the ball well; there is no need to put it in the air. If Kentucky can shut down the Gamecock running game, I look for Pinkins to find Hart in a hurry.
D-Line and Linebackers: As a combined effort, the performance against Florida was this season's finest hour for the Wildcat defensive line. Lamar Mills was outstanding from his nose guard position, his motor never quit, when the ball went away from him, he was making tackles six and seven yards down field. Though the statistics do not show it, I believe defensive end Jeremy Caudill had one of his best games in Kentucky blue against the gators. Caudill was a consistent disrupter in the backfield and played square to the line of scrimmage, which had been a problem for him early in the season. Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns is a warrior, playing on a sprained knee most of the game, he still managed to lead the team in tackles with eight from his defensive end position.
With his first start against Florida, Middle linebacker Chad Anderson is quietly starting to live up to the hype he received out of high school. As a senior, Anderson was named to the SuperPrep list of All-America linebackers for the 2000 season. If he stays healthy, Anderson will be one of the top linebackers in the SEC by season's end. True freshman Durrell White continues to be impressive at outside linebacker and without a doubt will be a member of the All-SEC freshman team at year's end. Dustin Williams is an aggressive middle linebacker that has played up to his potential so far this year. As the Cats hit SEC play, it is time for the 6-foot-5 / 245 pound Williams to kick it up a notch and play beyond his potential. Deion Holts needs to come out and play hard against every team he faces this year, not just when the coaching staff challenges him. Holts is a great athlete whose size and speed at outside linebacker create a serious match-up problem for opposing defenses. Mike Archer has done a tremendous job with the entire defense this season but his work with the Linebackers has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Averaging 6-foot-4 / 285 pounds, the strength of the South Carolina team lies within its defensive line. Defensive ends George Gause and Moe Thompson are the anchors of this impressive crew. Thompson has picked up right where he left off in 2002 when he was a Freshman All-American selection. Gause and Thompson have combined for 28 stops this season including six quarterback hurries and five sacks. Look for Darel Slay to step in if Gause is unable to go this week due to a knee sprain. 6-foot-5 / 295 pound nose-guard Freddy Saint-Preux is not only physically impressive in the middle, he is a definite run stopper. Junior college transfer Darrell Shropshire completes this unit and has had an immediate impact for the Gamecocks at defensive tackle. Kentucky will have it's hands full trying to run through the heart of the SC defensive line. The Cats best bet is trying to work the corner as well as the fullback trap that was so successful against Florida.
Once you hit SEC play, you can be sure of one thing, you will continually face some of the best linebackers in the country, and this week is no different. Much like Alabama and Florida this unit is not very big, but they are fast and have a nose for the ball. As a Freshman All-American selection in 2002, Lance Laury was expected to be one of the best linebackers in the country this season. Although Laury is hampered by a knee problem that has required two surgeries since last fall and has seen limited action this season, he is seventh on the team with 18 tackles. Even at 70%, Laury is better than most linebackers' Kentucky will face this year. Taking up the slack for Laury has been junior college transfer Marcus Lawrence who leads the team with 41 tackles and will no doubt be all over the field this Thursday. Rounding out this impressive crew is Senior Jeremiah Garrison. Garrison is the leader of this defense, and what he lacks in size he more than makes up for with heart and speed.
Secondary: Sophomore free safety Muhammad Abdullah is always around the ball. Ask any defensive coordinator, and they will tell you that is the tangible they wish every player had. The hard-hitting Abdullah leads the SEC with four interceptions this season and had a huge fumble recovery against the Gators. I have said it just about every game this season; Bo Smith is Kentucky's best cover corner. Smith had a big time interception against the Gators and a couple of nice pass breakups. I look for Smith to shadow South Carolina's Troy Williamson all night, either way it goes it will be a great match-up. Corners Earven Flowers and Leonard Burress continue to be solid and will need to buckle it up this Thursday as they are forced into run support mode. Outside of Abdullah the big story in the Wildcat secondary has been the play of Strong Safety Mike Williams. Williams brings the thunder with every hit and has the speed to cover the flats. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer loves using Williams as a fifth linebacker and will keep him close to the line of scrimmage against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina's pass defense is ranked eighth in the nation and leads the SEC. The rankings are in large part due to the outstanding play of the Carolina defensive backfield. The unit is lead by senior cornerback and preseason All-SEC candidate Dunta Robinson, who led the team with four interceptions in 2002. Robinson has one interception on the season and seven pass breakups, Kentucky will need to look away from #32 when throwing this Thursday. Teddy Crawford will man the other corner, a great run stopper totaling 28 tackles on the season. The safeties are Andrea Gause and Jamaica "me wana dance like Michael" Jackson (sorry I couldn't resist). Although he is slight of frame, Jackson packs a good wallop and does a respectable job playing the ball. Lorenzen will have to be on point this week if he wants to crack 200 yards through the air.
Special Teams: OK… I said I would talk about Derek Abney when he returned a kick this year, and he did, it just did not count. The thing I love about Abney the return man is that he commits to his return. So many times you see return men dancing around looking for an opening. The discipline Abney shows on returns is the reason he was a Pre-Season All-American selection. Taylor Begley, I am not even going to talk about the fact that he is two of five on the year for field goals. What I am going to talk about is the fact that as a kicker you have one responsibility! You do not have to read the blitz, the linebackers, make coverage calls or audible at the line, you have to kick the ball! You spend all practice kicking the ball! Kickers are not going through goal line or pass coverage drills; they do nothing all practice but kick the ball. So to imagine that Begley would miss so badly on what would have been the game tying kick against Florida was inexcusable, and if you won't say it I will, pathetic! I think it is time to try the powerful leg of Clint Ruth on field goals this week against the Gamecocks. Much like last week, if Kentucky has any chance against the South Carolina it will come down to a couple of long field goals. Now that Sevin Sucurovic has figured out how to catch the snap, could there be some competition at punter again this week? Sucurovic averaged 45 yards per kick with a long of 53 yards against Georgia Military. I doubt there will be any competition between Sucurovic and the incumbent Anthony Thorton, but it is good to know the punt game is finally in good "hands."
Gamecock place kicker Daniel Weaver has been unpredictable at best this season and can not be counted on to make the big kick. How bad has Weaver been this year? Lou Holtz almost broke a hip jumping up and down with excitement after Weaver's game tying field goal verse Tennessee. Josh Brown and Joey Bowers have shared punting duties this season, Bowers has the stronger leg but is not as consistent Brown. South Carolina is ranks second in the SEC on kickoff returns averaging 25.7 yards per return. The kick return game should not even be a factor as Kentucky's Clint Ruth booms it out of the end zone, even if he doesn't, the Kentucky kickoff coverage team is holding opposing teams to a 15.8 yard return average.
In A Nut Shell: The Kentucky fans and coaches always talk about how they do not have the athletes to contend in the SEC. And that is true, so now is the time to go out and look not only for athletes, but athletes that come from winning programs. Joker Philips and the entire Kentucky coaching staff need to go out and find kids that do not know anything other than how to win and expect to win because they are from winning programs. Right now, the mentality of players and fans alike is that they expect to lose the big game. Why? Because throughout their careers that is all they have done or seen. Bring in some kids that come from major high school programs and watch the mentality start to change.
I wish I could say things will get better this week, but I just can not imagine the devastation of the Florida loss has yet to leave the hearts and minds of the Kentucky team. For three-quarters it was Christmas in September, all the excitement of Christmas morning, only to find a lump of coal under the tree. Nevertheless, maybe, just maybe, the burdensome weight of the Florida loss will compress that blue colored piece of coal into a shiny diamond.
Comments, Questions, & Praise: UKPG2003@yahoo.com