Make it 11!
Here we go…
Kentucky by: 9
Trenches: It is time to take it back to high school when the only thing an offensive lineman had to think about was how come cheerleaders don't like fat guys, and which gap do I block. Seriously, the big boys upfront have obviously not picked up on the Ron Hudson's blocking schemes, so lets simplify. Gap A, Gap B, 2 hole, 4 hole… whatever you want to call it, I call it confidence building. This is unit that paved the way for the SEC's leading rusher last year and was supposed to be the foundation for this season's offense. This same unit has not seen one of their "running backs" break the 75-yard mark this season. It has to get better for Kentucky up front.
Much like the rest of the SEC, Mississippi State has some big ol' boys providing the protection up front. Not the biggest, but nonetheless their leader is 6-foot-6 302-pound right tackle, David "Big Country" Stewart. A rash of pre-season injuries have really hurt this unit's ability to gel and it has shown in the lack of pass protection for Bulldog quarterback Kevin Fant. Look for State to try and establish their running game behind the aforementioned Stewart and right guard Donovan Davis who checks in at a dainty 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds. Former walk-on center Blake Jones is the anchor of this decent but nothing-to-write-home-about crew and will have his hands full trying to match the speed and power of Kentucky nose tackles' Lamar Mills and Ellery Moore.
What do these two units have in common? You would have expected more at this juncture of the season, and what you have seen thus far is probably as good as it will get.
Quarterbacks: I feel a little sad, almost as if I have to break up with my high school sweetheart. Nevertheless, what hurts the worst is I know deep down inside, how much it must hurt her. No, Jared Lorenzen was not my high school sweetheart, but the confusion and hurt feels the same. How can I abandon the hefty lefty when I have championed his cause for the past two seasons? Most of Kentucky and the nation love the big guy, myself included. He laughed at the fat jokes, represents the state of Kentucky to the fullest, and more important, is a great quarterback, but alas, the mind overrules the heart. I will say it again and leave it at that… If Kentucky wants to win right now; Shane Boyd is your starting quarterback.
Senior quarterback Kevin Fant is averaging 230.7 yards per game through the air and 219.3 yards of total offense per outing, both marks rating him third in the SEC. Last week against Auburn statistics went out the window as the War eagles held Fant to a season-low eight-of-22 passes for 73 yards. The telling stat on Fant is his TD to Interception ration; he has thrown 12 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. Why is that such an important number? Opponents have scored 79 points off of 22 State turnovers (31.7 percent of points allowed), the most in the SEC. Fant is not fleet of foot and does not have the best judgment on when to exit a collapsing pocket. With a much-improved secondary and a tough front, Kentucky's defensive pressure should add to Fant's league leading interception count.
Running Backs: OK, seriously… what is going on in the Kentucky backfield? To rearrange an old Run DMC lyric, ‘not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning worse!' This crew has to get it together and fast. It could be lack of consistency on the coaching staff's part. Against Ohio U. the Wildcat backfield conglomerate consisting of Arliss Beach, Ronald "Rock" Johnson, Draak Davis and Alexis "bling-bling" Bwenge combined for 22 carries. That says to me that either the coaching staff has no faith in any of the above mentioned individuals, or nary a rusher has stepped up and said, "give me the ball 25 times a game." Why could I be a Kentucky offensive coach? Because I do not have the slightest clue as to how to get the Wildcat rushers off and running, Shane Boyd at tailback… Negative, the kid is a quarterback, as sorry as the Atlanta Falcons running attack is, would you put Mike Vick at tailback? I said I would like to see Monquantae Gibson get a shot at running the ball last week, and he did. Gibson had one rush for 1 yard, I think the kid has what it takes to be a big time running back, Kentucky fans should hope he gets more than one carry this week. In addition, I am begging the UK coaching staff; please leave Rock Johnson in at fullback.
Sophomore tailback Nick Turner has shown flashes of brilliance running the football this season. Turner rushed 13 times for 120 yards, a 9.5-yard per carry average, including a 77-yard touchdown sprint, against Auburn this past weekend. At 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, Turner is no bruiser, and is at his best working the corner of the defense. Turner's versatility is what makes him a real threat, he is presently the league's second-best all-purpose yardage man (146.1 ypg) He and 13th nationally. 6-foot, 192 pound Jerious Norwood will share reps with Turner this week as the Bulldogs try and soften up the middle of the Kentucky run defense. Norwood could be the home run threat that Norwood is, but it looks as if State has told him to square up his shoulders and run it right down the opposing defenses throat. A positive for State fans is that it looked as if the ground game was trying to make a revival last week against Auburn. This is rushing attack that is capable of big numbers, just not this week. The tandem of Turner and Norwood have been known to lay the ball on the ground, they better hold on tight this week as Chad Anderson and company come with chin straps buckled tight.
Receivers: Tommy Cook is back, well I do not know if two receptions justifies you as being back, or getting the starting nod over Chris Bernard, but it was good to see him take one to the house last week. Just ask my wife, sometimes I cannot let things go, and that is the case with Glenn Holt. I realize overall passing attempts are down, but Holt should be a featured receiver in the Wildcat scheme. Maybe there is something going on I do not see, maybe he's not pulling his weight or running the best routes, all I know is that the kid is an explosive receiver, find a way to get #4 the ball. Derek Abney has shown me that he is every bit the receiver this year, as he was a return man last year. Abney leads the team with a 14.1 per catch average and four touchdowns. Abney turned in maybe the game of his career against State last year, but is he healthy enough to do it again this Saturday? I expect Chris Bernard to get back in the flow this week, pulling in at least three receptions, one for a touchdown. Keenan Burton needs to shake off the personal emotions from a questionable block against Ohio and get ready to catch the ball this weekend. Football is a vicious and violent game, unfortunately there will always be casualties.
State is led by senior receiver Justin Jenkins, who continues to be the SEC's leader in receptions (6.7 rpg) and receiving yardage (104.4 ypg) this week. He ranks 14th and 7th nationally in those categories, respectively. Jenkins caught a team-best seven passes for 113 yards, and scored one touchdown, against Auburn. How good is Jenkins at finding the end zone? He has hauled in at least one touchdown reception in every game this season. Fist of all, any player whose name is Ray Ray, becomes an immediate favorite of mine. State's Ray Ray Bivines is second on the team with 21 receptions this season. Bivines actually lead the State in receiving last year, but has seen his numbers drop as Jenkins gets back into his '01 season groove. If Kentucky concentrates too hard on Jenkins, Bivines could burn them for a long touchdown. McKinley Scott is still trying to transform raw talent into game time excitement. Scott will probably not do much, but #1is a player to keep your eye on this week.
Tight end Aaron Lumpkin is a short yardage specialist that will try to slip behind the Wildcat linebackers for a little extra yardage this Saturday. Kentucky needs to be weary of the 6-foot-4 Lumpkin in the red zone.
D-Line and Linebackers The Kentucky defensive line was outstanding last week against the Bobcats. Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns, Jeremy Caudill, Lamar Mills, Ellery Moore and Trey Mielsch played the option to perfection. The Cats will return to a 3-4 alignment this week but with a banged up linebacking crew, the showing by the defensive line against the Bobcats should help Mike Archer sleep a little easier this week. The Wildcat D-Line will need to use their speed and athleticism to maneuver around and through a formidable Bulldog offensive front. Look for "Sweet Pea" Burns to get at least one sack this Saturday.
Middle linebackers Chad Anderson and Dustin Williams are quietly becoming one of the best linebacker tandems in the SEC. Williams shook off his lackluster outing against South Carolina, totaling 8 stops against the Bobcats. Anderson is the real deal and will only get better as the season progresses. The thing that Anderson brings to the table is attitude and swagger, something that has not been seen wearing Kentucky blue in a long time. His is a mind set that will not accept mediocrity, "almost" is not all the way and praying for six wins is not acceptable. Preach on Brother Anderson, you got a couple of "wells" and "Hallelujah" from this parishioner on the front row. Good to have Deion Holts back this week. Being a former walk-on, Holts has a rightfully earned chip on his shoulder, the path from walk-on to starter is a long dark, and sometimes lonely road. It is time to take that chip and put it to use on the field, Holts has all of the tangibles to be an All-SEC caliber player before he leaves Lexington. This weekend should tell us if he is ready to step in and serve notice that Deion Holts the scholarship player is on the verge of becoming what he believes he could be. Durrell White has been the surprise performer of this unit and the Wildcats need him back this weekend to help shut down what could be a tough Mississippi State running game. The only thing that will make Kentucky fans feel better about their offense is the Mississippi State defense. State's defense allows 485.9 yards per game, last in the SEC and 112th nationally. 6-foot-6, 303-pound senior defensive end Tommy Kelly has adjusted to his off-season move from defensive tackle leading the Bulldogs with 8 TFL's and two quarterback sacks. DT Ronald Fields played end last season, but at 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, his lack of mobility suits the move inside. From his defensive end position, Willie Evans is the Bulldogs main pass rushing threat, you can be certain his speed will disrupt the Kentucky backfield this week. It looks like either true freshman Andrew Powell or the undersized former fullback Lennie Day will man the other tackle. Neither of these two has shown that they are ready to step in and become an impact player for the Bulldog defense.
Senior inside linebacker T. J. Mawhinney was a pre-season second-team, All-SEC pick, and is leading State with 64 tackles. Mawhinney was credited with eight tackles against Auburn. He had registered double-digit tackle games in each of the first four games this season. If Kentucky wants to run the ball against the Bulldog's they will have to neutralize Mawhinney who is as tough nosed as they come. Marvin Byrdsong will man weak side backer this Saturday and has lived up to his pre-Dog hype as one of the most heavily recruited prospects of the 2001 class. Byrdsong has 40 tackles on the season, he gets to the ball extremely fast and is a big hitter. Jason Clark was named second-team, all-Southeastern Conference on the defensive line by the Associated Press following his junior campaign but made the convert to strong side linebacker this spring. Clark is a natural defensive end but has done an admirable job at linebacker this season.
Secondary: Still a big fan of this unit and the job that former NFL cornerback and current UK defensive backfield coach Steve Brown has done this season. Free Safety Muhammad Abdullah had a big game against Ohio U. leading the team with ten tackles, which is not that surprising against an option oriented offense. I have a feeling that Abdullah will pull down his fifth interception of the season this Saturday. Even with a broken hand, Bo Smith is still the Wildcat's best cover corner and one of the team's best open field tacklers. Smith will have his "hand" full shadowing State receiver Justin Jenkins this week. Claude Sagaille had a stellar season in '02 but an aggravated groin as well as the fact that the only real area of depth on the Wildcat roster is defensive back has hampered his play. Mike Williams continues his solid play at Strong Safety and will continue to spend time around the line of scrimmage as the Bulldogs try to take to the ground against the Cats. Corner Earven Flowers has been steady all year, nothing flashy from Flowers, just good cover skills and smart football.
The absence of senior corner back Demetric Wright turns what was a good defensive backfield into an average unit at best. Sophomore free safety Kevin Dockery has been State's most consistent defensive back as well as one of their leading tacklers. Corner Odell Bradley has emerged as State's best cover corner and is second on the team with 52 tackles on the season. Darren Williams is a true free safety forced into an uncomfortable role at strong safety this season. Williams is one of State's big hitters, but his speed and a nose for the ball suits him best playing deep. True freshman corner, Quinton Culberson has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs this season. Defensive coordinator Ron Cooper likes to bring Culberson on the corner blitz and will do so while Lorenzen is under center.
Special Teams: Draak Davis turned in a respectable showing returning kickoffs last weekend and if given a chance this Saturday, he could break a big one. Clint Ruth is an ace in the hole, his touchbacks are as important to the Kentucky defense as any tackle for a loss. Honestly, I do like Taylor Begley and think he has the leg to be a great field-goal specialist before his Wildcat career is finished. However, if he misses another field goal this season, I give Ruth the chance to take his job. Derek Abney had two kick returns against State last season, this game could get tight, Kentucky fans had better hope Abney breaks the pre-season hype hex this Saturday.
Named second-team All-SEC last season, Senior place-kicker Brent Smith has made 15 of his last 16 field-goal efforts, dating to Week 7 of the 2002 season. Smith has a string of 32 straight points after touchdown. Smith has a big leg; he has nailed kicks of 52 and 53 yards and hit a 63-yard bomb during a spring scrimmage. Kentucky needs to have this one in the bag late in the fourth quarter, they do not want to have their hopes resting on Smith missing a game winner.
In A Nut Shell: I know it probably seems as if I do not like Coach Brooks the football coach, I will only say that my opinion on when and how you say things probably differs a great deal from his. Nevertheless, I am tired of hearing him complain about things that a coach should be responsible for correcting. However, this week, he caught me so off guard with a comment that I had to read it twice to make sure he really said it. "Everybody has different ways of getting ready, but our offensive players need to address how they're getting ready, because it isn't working," Brooks said. "It's at the point to where you have to do some soul-searching." "The defense has taken the preparation part of it to heart," Brooks said. "The preparation for the (Ohio) game was as good as it's been all year."
I have a one-word answer that will sum it all up…
It is time to let us see what ya got Coach.
On a personal note… I have to give credit where credit is due… My buddy JD calls for the Flea-Flicker every game, no matter who is playing, and I laugh… great call last week JD, I heard a rumor the call in the huddle was the J-deezy-Fleezy on two.
Comments, Questions, & Praise may be emailed: UKPG2003@yahoo.com