This one could get real ugly real quick for the Wildcats unless the Georgia team that showed up against Vanderbilt and UAB makes a guest appearance this Saturday. Simply stated Georgia's defense is incredible; by far the best Kentucky will face this season and maybe even next.
In addition, as far as the Vanderbilt game or for that matter the past twenty years, and all of the whining and bellyaching from the Wildcat "Not-so-faithful." As my father told me, and one day I will tell my own children… It is hard work being a Kentucky football fan!
Here we go…
Georgia by: 21
Trenches: How is this for 2002 post-season honors: Honorable mention All-America by CNNSI.com, All-SEC (first team) by SEC Coaches, Birmingham News All-SEC (second team) by The Associated Press, all of that for none other than Kentucky tackle Antonio Hall. I guess Mr. Hall felt so guilty about his success he wanted someone else to garner the limelight. Because if Vanderbilt's Jovan Haye was not an All-SEC candidate before lining up across from #73, he is now! After making some progress the past few games, the Kentucky O-Line apparently forgot to pack their pass protection for the trip to Nashville last Saturday. The Commodore defense had their way with the big boys in blue, by far the worst pass protection the Wildcats have attempted all season. On a positive note, they did open some decent running lanes for tailback Arliss Beach, but in this conference, you cannot have one or the other, it needs to be both. Over the final two games, I expect to see more playing time for reserves Hayden Lane, Trai Williams, Michael Aitcheson, and Nate VanSickel. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Lane was the most impressive of this crew, opening some great holes for Beach as well as hustling down field for some nice lead blocks.
The Georgia offensive line looks like a crew that lost its starting five from 2002. Not only have they struggled establishing a running game, they have given up 32 sacks. The anchor of this unit is 6-foot-4, 340 pound sophomore tackle Max Jean-Gilles. Giles has great footwork but is still trying to sure up his corner protection. Freshman center Nick Jones has done an admirable job for the Dogs this season. It is not an easy task to come into the SEC and start as a true freshman, especially on the offensive line. Tackle Daniel Inman is the best of this unit and has made his presence felt this season compiling 24 "dominator" blocks. The Georgia offensive line is getting better but they still have enough holes that the Wildcat defense should spend plenty of time in Q.B. David Greene's face.
Quarterbacks: If Kentucky has any chance of upsetting either Georgia or Tennessee; Jared Lorenzen will need to find his accuracy through the air. I thought the first half of the Arkansas game was just a bad night at the office, but after several miscues against Vanderbilt, something is wrong. Georgia will not give up much by way of ground so the Cats will be forced to let it fly this Saturday. Lorenzen always seems to step it up against Georgia, in three meetings with the Dogs he has thrown for 1,113 yards and seven touchdowns. J-Lo, I have faith in ya, the question is… do you still have faith in yourself and more importantly, your teammates?
Kentucky fans had better hope that Shane Boyd's ankle injury heals up by this Saturday. Every year a Georgia quarterback has run all over the Kentucky defense, but with Georgia's DJ Shockley out for the year, I was having visions of Boyd turning the tables. If Boyd is healthy, he could be just what the doctor ordered to revive a Kentucky team that unhooked itself from the ventilator last Saturday.
Al the freshman hype from a year ago has died down as Georgia quarterback David Greene has struggled mightily this season. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore has struggled thus far with 8 touchdowns compared to 8 interceptions. In his defense, Greene is connecting on 60% of his throws and averages about 225 yards per game through the air. The way to shake any quarterback, especially Greene, is to bring the house. With a Georgia's running game struggling early in the season, opposing teams blitzed Greene like he made fun of their mama. Kentucky must pressure Greene into bad decisions this Saturday if they have any chance of the improbable upset. Greene must realize this is not the same Kentucky defensive backfield that gave up six touchdowns through the air last year. Greene is a tough kid and a proven winner under center. That being said, his lack of mobility and the absence of Shockley could hurt him this week.
Running Backs: Well it only took Kentucky nine games, but by-dag-gummit they have a 100-yard rusher! Arliss Beach showed glimpses of brilliant running against Vanderbilt last Saturday. Beach broke tackles, hit the hole hard, and turned the corner as if he was heading South on GA 400. Beach surpasses the century mark this week? No. Nevertheless, he can run hard enough to loosen things up for J-Lo? Yes. If you remember last year's contest between the Cats and the Dogs, Kentucky tailback Artose Pinner ran all over the Georgia defense in the first half. Of course ‘Tose was a great runner, but I believe the reason he did not fare as well in the second half was fullback Ronald "Rock" Johnson. In his first start of the 2002 season against the Bulldogs, Johnson was a blocking machine! It was tremendous blow to the Wildcat rushing game when the 6-foot, 245-pound Johnson broke his leg late in the first half. If Kentucky has any chance of mounting some kind of ground attack this Saturday; it will come behind the blocking of Rock Johnson. I expect Alexis Bwenge to get more reps this week, as Beach will need a rest after taking a pounding from the Bulldog "D."
Redshirt freshman Michael Cooper has been Georgia's most consistent running back this season. Cooper lead the Dog's versus Florida with 82 yards on 18 carries and is the team's leading rusher with 616 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. Freshman Kregg Lumpkin a Parade All-American out of Lithonia, GA has really come in the last two contests. Lumpkin lead the team with 149 yards and two touchdowns against Florida and Auburn. At 5-foot-8, and 167 pounds Sophomore Tyson Browning is comparable to Kentucky tailback Draak Davis. Browning has rushed for 237 yards this season and if healthy could be a very valuable weapon for the Dog's this Saturday. Unfortunately for Kentucky, they always seem to be someone's breakout game; this week it could be Lumpkin's turn.
Receivers: I was really disappointed in the Kentucky receivers last weekend; they looked as lethargic as the rest of the team and rarely had any pep in their step or crispness in their routes. The only bright spot was Chris Bernard who played hard to the very end. Bernard has been an unsung hero for the Cat's this season, pulling in 26 receptions for 472 yards and 5 touchdowns. Leading the team with 44 receptions Derek Abney continues to be Lorenzen's go-to-guy. Those numbers would be better had Abney not been on the receiving end of a few too many errant passes the past two weeks. 6-foot-3 freshman Keenan Burton has continued his steady improvement this season and should pull in at least three receptions this Saturday. Tommy Cook had a big game against the Bulldogs last year and something tells me if he gets the chance this Saturday, it could be deja vu all over again.
Fred Gibson and Damien Gary are capable of taking one to the house anywhere and at anytime. If Kentucky is going to win this game they must keep both Gibson and Gary in check, and that may be an impossible request. Gary is second on the team with 32-recepts, but has only found the end zone once this season. The 6-foot-4 Gibson has been struggling with injuries and although he pulled in a TD last week, has looked shaky since returning to the line-up versus the Gators. Reggie Brown has been Georgia's most consistent receiver this season and (of course) had his coming out party last year against the Wildcats. Brown has pulled in 38 receptions this season and has the ability to make you pay for a missed tackle of broken coverage.
Tight end Ben Watson has been a favorite target of David Greene and will be on the receiving end of at least five catches this Saturday. Under duress, Greene will look too quickly unload the football to his big tight end.
D-Line and Linebackers: If you are not a fan of Kentucky defensive end Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns, then you are just not a fan of the game. "Sweet Pea" has been the most consistent member of the Wildcat defense; his work ethic on the field is second to none. Burns will get his chances in the Bulldog backfield this Saturday, you can be sure he will make them count. Jeremy Caudill has been steady all year and could have a game reminiscent his performance against Louisville in 2002. At 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Caudill is a physical presence up front that will get his chance to play on Sunday next season. Ellery Moore and Lamar Mills continue to be a forceful tandem at nose tackle. Both have amazing quickness off the ball and have done a great job funneling the oppositions running attack to the Kentucky linebackers.
If last Saturday had been a Hee-Haw show, Kentucky linebacker's Dustin Williams and Chad Anderson would have been facing one another singing "Where O' where are ye tonight?" These sophomores could become two of the best linebackers in Kentucky football history, but they still have quite a way to go. Georgia will try to establish the run early against the Cats. Williams and Anderson have combined for 195 tackles this season, they will need to have the best game of their respective careers this Saturday. Still a big fan of true freshman Durrell White, he should be a great one before he leaves Kentucky. Outside linebacker Deion Holts played a decent game versus Vanderbilt, the Cats will need him to step it up big time this week.
David Pollack's sack numbers may be down from a year ago but only because opposing coaches finally figured out you couldn't block him with one man. Pollack has been doubled teamed most of the year but his amazingly explosive quickness off the ball is still allowing him to disrupt the opposing teams backfield. How disruptive has Pollack been this year? Enough that he has recorded 24 quarterback hurries, may not sound as good as a sack, but a QBH can be every bit as valuable, especially if it results in a turnover. Gerald Anderson has been a pleasant surprise for the Dogs since taking over the starting tackle position against Tennessee. The 6-foot-2, 318 pound Anderson is deceptively quick off the ball and leads the team with 3 forced fumbles. Defensive end Robert Geathers (yes he is related to Jumpy) has had a quietly successful junior campaign this season. Geathers is big and quick and just as capable of the aforementioned Mr. Pollack to cause havocs in the offensive backfield. If he can stay healthy, nose tackle Ken Veal could be the run stopper Georgia has been looking for this season. The 305-pound Veal has been a solid player throughout his UGA career, but has never quite played to his full potential.
Odell Thurman has laid his claim as the top linebacker on the Georgia team, now he is trying to do the same throughout the SEC. The junior college transfer from Georgia Military College, ranks 3rd on the team in tackles with 83. Thurman has really come on the second half of the season; he has tallied Four straight games with double-digit tackles including 11 vs. Florida and 14 plus 2 sacks vs. Auburn. Oh yeah, he also had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against the War Eagles. After a 2002 season that saw him as a top reserve, Tony Taylor has amassed 50 tackles as a starter this year. The 6-foot-1, 220 pound Taylor may not be the biggest guy on the field but he gets to the ball fast, and lays the wood when he arrives. Arnold Harrison rounds out the UGA linebacker Corp. Harrison proved against Clemson that he can bring a big hit but after battling through injuries his first couple of years on campus, Harrison is still trying to find his potential.
Secondary: For a secondary that I have trumpeted as one of the most improved, and possibly, one of the best in the conference, sure stunk it up last week. Bo Smith will have his hands full this week as Kentucky's best cover corner lines up across from two of the best receivers in the college game. Mike Williams continues his solid play at strong safety, totaling 79 tackles and 3 sacks on the year. Corner Earven Flowers has stepped in and done a great job for the Cats this season. I have said it before, Flowers is nothing flashy on the field, but he always seems to get the job done. Kentucky could be in a world of hurt if free safety Muhammad Abdullah is sidelined with a bruised thigh this Saturday. Abdullah always seems to be around the ball and has made more than a few tackles this season neutralizing what could have been a big gain. The Wildcat secondary needs their folks up front to take advantage of a Georgia offensive line that is struggling, keeping the heat on Mr. Greene.
I advise any UK player with the ball, when you see #10 coming at you, get out of the way. Due to several Bulldog injuries this season, Sophomore Thomas Davis is a bone-crushing linebacker, but as the wonder twins would say "in the form of a free safety." Thomas leads the Bulldogs with 102 tackles and has a good nose for the ball pulling in two interceptions on the year. What Pollack was for the Dog's last year, Davis is this season. And it does not get any better for the Kentucky offense from here, because if #10 misses you, #6 will not. Strong safety Sean Jones is "Frazier" to Thomas's "Ali," both packing a big knockout punch. Jones leads the team with 5 interceptions on the season and is second on the team with 92 tackles. Jones sat out last week's game with an injured shoulder but should be back this Saturday. Corner Bruce Thornton came to Georgia as a celebrated running back; his senior year finds him on the other side of the ball. Thornton has 6 pass break-ups on the season and offers solid run support. Tim Jennings and Greg Blue round out a Georgia defensive backfield that with all of their injuries this season could be mistaken as a MASH unit. Blue has bounced back from a knee injury getting his first career start for the injured Jones against Auburn and had a career-high 10 tackles including seven solo stops. Jennings has stepped in for the injured Decory Bryant, compiling a total of 17 stops the past two games.
Special Teams: Mr. Abney… They are calling for you in the end zone and the record books! Kicker Clint Ruth should win some type of award for his touchbacks this season, his leg as been invaluable to the Kentucky defense. Punter, Anthony Thornton has really come on the past few games for the Wildcats. Thornton averaged 45 yards per kick against the Commodores, but his hang time was impressive.
Mr. Billy "I used to be automatic" Bennet has hit 22 of 29 field goals this season, but those misses have been huge. Bennet is still one of the best kickers in the league, but with his sudden case of the yips, I like the Cats chances in a close one. Kentucky must keep an eye on Sean Jones, he has blocked two field goals this season.
In A Nut Shell: Would I love to see the Cats pull out the win this week? Sure, but I just don't think it is going to happen unless ol' Coach Brooks tears one of those portable defibrillator machines off the wall at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and shocks his team back to life.
I guess I will just have to settle for a victory Friday night when Western Kentucky Men's Basketball coach Darrin Horn walks out of Auburn, Alabama with his first win as a collegiate head coach!
Comments, Questions, & Praise: UKPG2003@yahoo.com