PREVIEWING THE SEC: Kentucky

After going 3-8 and finishing last in the SEC east last year, fourth year head coach Rich Brooks and the Kentucky Wildcats will look to bounce back in 2006, returning seven starters to each side of the ball. Brooks has compiled a 9-25 record while at Kentucky, as in 100-134-4 in his 21-year head coaching career.

On offense, Andre' Woodson (6-5, 240, Jr.), is slated to lead the Wildcat's at quarterback for the second year. Last season, Woodson threw for 1,644 yards and six touchdowns while giving up six interceptions.

 

Challenging Woodson for the starting job will Curtis Pulley (6-4, 203, So.), who complied 208 yards as the backup last season, and the highly-touted incoming freshman Will Fidler (6-4, 205), who enrolled at Kentucky in January and competed alongside Woodson and Pulley during spring training.

 

Whoever gets the nod at quarterback will be joined in the passing game by returning lettermen receivers Keenan Burton (6-2, 195, Jr.), DeMoreo Ford (5-10, 189, So.), Dickey Lyons (5-11, 190, So.) and John Logan (6-0, 189, Jr.). Burton was second on the team last season with 365 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

 

Jacob Tamme (6-5, 240, Jr.), who started out as a wide receiver in 2004, will also return as a second-year starter at tight end. Tamme caught for 251 yards and one touchdown last season.

 

The most prominent returning player the Kentucky squad in 2006 is Rafael Little (5-10, 198, Jr.). The All-SEC tailback led the team last year in both the rushing and receiving game, with 1,103 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as well as a team best 449 receiving yards.

 

Also playing a potential role at tailback will be Tony Dixon (5-9, 208, So.) who started at the position in six games for the Wildcats in 2004 before missing last season due to injury.

 

The fullback role looks to be filled this season by red-shirt freshman John Connor (5-11, 243), who was slated to play on the special teams as a true freshman last season before being sidelined due to injury.

 

Also competing with Connor for the fullback job are Terrell Bankhead (5-11, 220, Sr.) and newcomer Maurice Grinter (6-3, 253, Fr.).

 

The Kentucky offense line will bring back four of last years starters, including Trai Williams (6-4, 286, Sr.) and Michael Aitcheson (6-3, 300, Sr.) at the guards and tackles Hayden Lane 6-6, 283, Sr.) and Fatu Turituri (6-3, 290, Sr.),  though Turituri could be moved to guard this season.

 

Gary Williams (6-3, 288, So.) is the leading candidate to take over at the left tackle spot previously occupied by Turituri, but the position could also be filled by Aaron Miller (6-5, 300, So.), who missed the 2005 season for personal reasons.  

 

The role of center is still up in the air, as last year's starter and top Wildcat offensive lineman Matt McCutchan (6-3, 310, Sr.) is awaiting an appeal to allow him a sixth year to complete his eligibility due to injury. Should he not be allowed to return, the position will be filled by Travis Slaydon (6-3, 290, Sr.), who saw action in four games last season.

Defensively, Kentucky returns all three linebackers this season, as well as two members of the secondary and two defensive linemen.

 

Coming back at linebacker will be Joe Schuler (6-3, 233, Jr.), Wesley Woodyard (6-1, 212, Jr.) and Braxton Kelley (6-0, 226, So.). Woodyard led the defense and earned sophomore All-American honors with 100 tackles, one interception and four fumble recoveries last season, while Kelley compiled 44 tackles in seven games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. Schuler earned his starting role mid-season, getting the nod in each of the Wildcat's SEC matchups.

 

The Kentucky secondary will return Bo Smith (6-0, 190, Sr.) at cornerback and Roger Williams (6-0, 200, Jr.) at strong safety from last years starting squad, which allowed 243.3 passing yards per game and 24 touchdowns through the air. Smith had a team high two interceptions in 2005, while Williams was third on the team with 56 tackles.

 

Filling in the other two spots in the defensive backfield will likely be Karl Booker (6-1, 190, Sr.) at free safety and David Jones (5-10, 194, So.) at the other cornerback.

 

On the line, the Wildcats bring back a starters at two positions, including left end Durrell White (6-3, 260, Sr.) and right tackle, where Jason Leger (6-1, 288, Jr.) and Myron Prior (6-1, 307, So.) both received time last year. Prior is currently the top candidate for the starting job.

 

The other defensive end will likely be Nii Adjei Oninku (6-1, 245, So.), while Ricky Abren (6-2, 285, Jr.) is the favorite to step in at left tackle.

 

Kentucky's kicking game will by a pair of sophomore place-kickers in J.J. Housley (5-10, 186) and Tommy Brummett (6-2, 210), neither of which have seen playing time as a Wildcat.

 

Tim Masthay (6-2, 200, So.) will return at punter, punting 54 times last season with an average of 36.4 yards per kick.

 

Rafael Little will once again be the teams punt return man, returning 21 kicks for 355 yards last season, while David Jones is the probable candidate for kickoff returns after gaining 328 yards on 15 returns a year ago.

 

QUICK FACTS: KENTUCKY WILDCATS

 

All-Time Series: 37-15-1

 

Stadium: Commonwealth (67,606)

 

First Meeting: 1949, Kentucky 19, LSU 0

 

Last Meeting: 2002, LSU 30, Kentucky 27

 

Head Coach: Rich Brooks, 9-25, 3 years

                      100-134-4 overall, 20 years

 

2005 in Review: 3-8, 2-6 SEC

 

Final '05 Ranking: Not ranked

 

Off. / Def. Systems: Multiple / 4-3

 

Returning Starters: 15; 7 offense, 7 defense, punter

 

Last Bowl Appearance: 1999 Music City Bowl

 

Last Conference Championship: 1976 co-champs

 

 

RETURNING LEADERS

 

Rushing: Rafael Little – 197 rushes, 1045 yards, 9 TD

 

Passing: Andre Woodson – 253-146-6, 1644 yards, 6 TD

 

Receiving: Rafael Little – 46 catches, 449 yards, 0 TD

 

Tackles: Wesley Woodyard – 100 TT (75S, 25A)

 

 

STAT BREAKDOWN

 

Total Offense: 297.5 (10th - SEC / 107th - NCAA)

 

Rushing Offense: 128.6 (8th - SEC / 79th - NCAA)

 

Passing Offense: 168.8 (10th - SEC / 101st - NCAA)

 

Scoring Offense: 21.7 (9th - SEC / 88th - NCAA)

 

Total Defense: 439.5 (12th - SEC / 103rd - NCAA)

 

Rushing Defense: 196.3 (12th - SEC / 102nd - NCAA)

 

Passing Defense: 243.3 (12th - SEC / 84th - NCAA)

 

Scoring Defense: 34.1 (12th - SEC / 107th - NCAA)

 

Turnover Margin: -9 (12th - SEC / 105th - NCAA)

 

 

2006 SCHEDULE

 

Date                 Opponent                     '05 Result

 

S-2                  at Louisville                    L, 31-24

 

S-9                  Texas State                  ---

 

S-16                Ole Miss                        L, 13-7

 

S-23                at Florida                      L, 49-28

 

S-30                Central Michigan            ---

 

O-7                  South Carolina              L, 44-16

 

O-14                at LSU                         ---

 

O-28                at Mississippi State        W, 13-7

 

N-4                  Georgia                        L, 13-45

 

N-11                Vanderbilt                     W, 48-43

 

N-18                Louisiana-Monroe           ---

 

 

VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE:

 

While almost all the attention has been focused on who Kentucky will play at quarterback, the biggest storyline for the Wildcats this season is defense. The defensive line had trouble stopping the run and rushing the passer, one reason the secondary gave up 24 touchdown passes. Injuries forced UK to play numerous young players on defense last year, and that could provide needed depth and experience this year.

 

Rising star: Versatile running back Rafael Little had almost 2,000 all-purpose yards last season, ranking fifth in the nation. He can run, catch and return kicks. He has the ability to score any time he touches the football. If Kentucky's quarterback and offensive line do their jobs, he could put up even bigger numbers this year.

 

Best unknown player: Sophomore defensive tackle Myron Pryor was the star of spring practice. He has the power, size and speed to stop the run and rush the passer. He's not only lost weight — 43 pounds in one year — but he's also stronger. Plus, he figured out his constant leg cramps last year were caused by not drinking enough water. "I used to drink Gatorade a lot. I thought that would keep me hydrated real well. But then I would notice when I would drink a lot of water, I wouldn't get the cramps. It was as simple as that," Pryor said.

 

Player to watch: Freshman linebacker Micah Johnson is Brooks' most highly publicized recruit ever. He could even play some running back in short yardage situations. Johnson had a rigorous off-season workout that included doing yoga with his brother, sophomore lineman Christian Johnson. "We don't tell everybody that we did that, but it really helped us both," Micah Johnson said.

 

- Larry Vaught, Kentucky Sports Report


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