UofL WRs v. UK Secondary
UofL's WRs are short on experience, but there seems to be quite a bit of talent that is ready to breakout. One thing is for sure, if you are a UofL wide receiver odds are you are going to play. The spread attack I expect to see on Sept. 4th will use multiple receiver sets and downfield blocking will be instrumental in having a successful offense.
Everyone knows that Doug Beaumont has never met a collegiate end zone. It's time for that to change. Beaumont is an exceptional athlete who needs to step into a leadership role and break behind the secondary and get several scores in 2010. Beaumont has been a reliable player for UofL over the course of his career, but he just has never risen above reliable. He has the most returning catches and is a good college receiver, it has been kind of frustrating watching him never really take the next step.
Troy Pascley is a breakaway guy that seems to be bugged by a self-esteem issue. For the most part you can rely on Troy being able to beat the corner, get behind the safety, and get to the ball but! Can you rely on him to catch it? To me, Troy has all the tools, he just needs to shake loose his mistakes and play the next play. Josh Bellamy has taken Troy's place in the top 3 WRs on the team. Bellamy has the size and apparent speed needed in this offense. Without really ever seeing him play, however, it is hard to evaluate. By all accounts Bellamy is primed for major college football, you just never know until a player actually sees game action.
The player I am most excited to see is Andrell Smith. Andrell has excellent size for a WR and was drawing rave reviews in fall camp last year. Unfortunately, Andrell's freshman year was virtually wasted on special teams. Replacing Trent Guy and Scott Long won't be easy. But while Trent was an exceptional playmaker and probably won the Southern Miss game by himself last year he did have timely mistakes and was uncomfortable over the middle. Also, Scott Long probably was one of the most skilled receivers UofL has had on campus over the past 10-15 years but injuries plagued his career.
Losing Michaelee Harris to injury probably knocks down the play making ability of this group a little, but there are plenty of stars that could emerge. Damian Copeland is an exciting prospect to take on a play-making role. There are other true freshmen that could also see the field this season like Senorise Perry, Jarrett Davis, Kai Dominguez but it is very difficult to rely on true freshmen to impact a unit. Dominguez and Davis are natural fits and will see opportunities early. Also don't forget about Scott Radcliff.
The UK secondary will likely be up to the task. Yes Lindley and Harrison have departed, and Paul Warford was declared academically ineligible. But Winston Guy comes back as a starter at Free Safety. Guy returns with 60 tackles from last season and will likely continue to be disruptive breaking up passes. Word out of Lexington is that Mychal Bailey is an exceptional talent that will fill the Strong Safety position, holding Taideo Smith off for the position. Smith had proven capable in a non-starting role last year and was the presumed incumbent until Bailey's arrival.
Losing Warford to academics isn't the worst thing that has ever happened. Warford has been "streaky" throughout his career going from outstanding one game (or even play) to the next being less than mediocre. Randall Burden had a better year than Lindley did last year anyway, and it will be interesting to see him take on the expanded role. On the other island I am thinking Martavius Neloms will likely take on the role after playing quite a bit as a true freshman last season.
UK's defensive backfield is probably a little top heavy as once you get past the starters you probably see a significant drop off, but in Game 1 that probably won't factor much. UK's first unit here is more than capable.
The Edge: Slight to UK. This is only because Winston Guy and Randall return. Mychal Bailey is going to have a lot to say during the 2010 campaign as well. UofL's WRs are led by a guy who has never scored a collegiate touchdown in three extensive years of playing receiver. The second option is a JUCO transfer in Josh Bellamy, and the rest of the guys the Cardinals will be relying on are unproven young talents. There is a lot of potential on both sides, and we'll see which side wins out. This will be interesting as it develops on game day.
UK WRs v. UofL Secondary
If your name wasn't Randall Cobb you probably feel like you are forgotten if you are a UK receiver. Last year's grind it out style meant a lot of blocking and not a lot of catching balls for the UK wide receivers. Still, that is more of an indictment of style and lack of trust in an inexperienced QB than it is of the ability of the receivers.
We'll see how often Cobb lines up at wideout rather than in WildCat, but wherever he is on the field he is a threat to score. Opposite Cobb is Chris Matthews who is an imposing target and a difficult match-up for any secondary. Another weapon I was impressed with last season was La'Rod King who will be a major major player at some point if UK can find someone to deliver the ball with regularity.
The free safety position is a complete surprise as Mike Evans emerged as the starter. Obviously having never seen Evans play, and thinking he was a corner in camp seeing his name as the #1 was a complete shock. It tells me that either we had to find the best defensive back we had to fill the void, or he really was playing well. It's impossible to know. I thought that Demar Dorsey would come in and fill this role nicely. But even if he is cleared to play today, it will be hard for him to get up to speed on all the calls and checks for the defense. I would say that Free Safety is probably the easiest position to "dumb-down" and coach around (defensive end is probably 2nd). But that takes away a lot from the defense by doing so. I doubt Dorsey would play extensively if he ever steps on the practice field before the UK game, and that is saying nothing about his game shape.
Shenard Holton who saw limited action late in the season last year was the obvious choice until the Evans revelation. The good news for the safeties is that they probably won't be in coverage very much and will likely be focused on stopping the Cobb/Locke show (but that's also the bad news).
At corner, Johnny Patrick is back after starting all 12 games last year. Patrick has proven reliable and if he is improved could be set for a breakout year. Patrick would also be helped with any pressure on the quarterback for the first time in his career at UofL. Patrick is not only a good coverage corner, he also is very helpful at stopping the run around the edge and shedding blocks from receivers.
Opposite Patrick is anyone's guess, but I'm leaning towards Bobby Burns starting over the course of the season with a lot of time going to Preston Pace as well. The second corner has been an issue at UofL for sometime now. It's time that someone step up and become consistent. For the year I'm going with Burns because while he doesn't really do anything that stands out he also doesn't make the mistakes that cause him to standout either.
In the UK game it will probably come down to whoever is the most physical corner to play opposite Johnny Patrick. The big receivers and physical running game will likely require your toughest corners, which may actually be Preston Pace. Darius Ashley by all indications is coming along in the secondary and I'm hearing he will primarily be playing Nickel in 2010.
The Edge: Kentucky. Randall Cobb pushes this match up over to the Wildcat side. He changes a game by himself and is difficult to contain. However, UofL's secondary is not as bad as some might believe. If UofL had better answers at FS and the second corner spot this could easily switch. Chris Matthews for UK is probably sitting on a big year, and King's development probably takes a giant leap forward.
The tight end position for UofL is a little easier to figure. However, how the TE is used is going to be dramatically different in 2010 from 2009. Cameron Graham was invisible to UofL QBs in the middle of the field in 2009, I don't think they'll be able to ignore him much longer. In my opinion, Graham could have easily had 20 more catches and 200+ more yards if the QBs had just delivered the ball to the open receiver. Graham's hands are reliable and he is agile for his size.
Missing from this position is Stephon Ball who went down with the injury. Ball is probably the best example of what the coaches were hoping for in a Tight End in this offense, which is why 6-9 Josh Chichester made the move from WR to TE.
Chichester is an imposing figure that stands out on the football field due to his size. He was a mismatch physically at WR, and he is still a mismatch at TE. The reason why Chichester didn't have big numbers in 2009 was two-fold. First, his hands became a liability. It seemed that Chichester wanted to run or avoid the hit before the ball arrived which created drops. Secondly, I noticed that he seemed to quit on his routes especially when he knew he would not be getting the ball. The best receiver of all time (Jerry Rice) is constantly preaching fundamentals to young receivers and the biggest one is going hard all of the time. When a receiver is constantly indicating that he is not going to get the ball it allows the defenders to move onto other responsibilities. Conversely, when a receiver is indicating (after indicating that he would not be getting the ball) that he is likely getting the ball it allows the defender to place his sole focus on the QBs target. Josh is a junior and is now playing a much more physical and dynamic position. I expect that he'll thrive in this role especially if he changes his bad habits.
From what I am hearing Pete Notcha is likely out for an extended period of time, which is a shame, but UofL has never been able to rely on his hands. It's time for Nate Nord to make some noise. Nord came in highly touted and hasn't made much noise since his arrival. He seems to fit the part physically with what UofL is trying to do on offense at the tight end position, but we've yet to see him much on the field.
For UK, the tight end position was all about blocking in 2009. UK used double tight ends throughout 2009 and most often whenever running their wildcat formation. TC Drake led all tight ends for UK with 7 receptions last year. He is gone, as is Maurice Grinter and Ross Bogue. It's hard to measure their production, but make no mistake if UK is going to run the same type of offense the TE and FB (which I will discuss later) positions are imperative in 2010. The one guy returning I can pick out is Alex Smith, who redshirted last season but came to UK highly regarded nationally. As for the other tight end UK is going to go with on the opposite side, you could probably argue a couple of options. But I would go with Nick Melillo who has added some weight to take on the added role.
The disparity between the use of the TE from one program to the next is very interesting in this game. UofL is looking to get the ball to playmakers as TEs, whereas UK is concentrating their TEs specifically on blocking assignments.
The Edge: Louisville. Clearly the tight end position is important to both schools, but in vastly different ways. UofL rates the best due to returning experience and past production. UK does have a highly touted prospect who is about to cut his teeth in major college football, but they are replacing 3 of 4 in last year's two deep.