TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Kentucky Wildcats

Today is the sixth installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight Kentucky. Tomorrow, we focus on the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

In 2006, the Kentucky Wildcats enjoyed their best season in over 20 years, finishing with an 8-5 record, and winning five of their last six games.


The team also achieved a 4-4 mark in the SEC to finish third in the eastern division, and topped Clemson in the Music City Bowl to give the school its first bowl victory since 1984.


Now entering his fifth season at Kentucky, head coach Rich Brooks hopes to continue building upon last year's success during the 2007 campaign, but will have to overcome a tough schedule in order to improve on their 8-5 record.


This season's schedule includes matches with powerhouses Florida, LSU, Tennessee Georgia and Louisville; although the Wildcats will have the benefit of playing four of those five contests at home. They will also have to travel to emerging power Arkansas, who could be a contender for the top spot in the SEC West.


Returning this year to lead the Kentucky offense, which finished fifth in the conference with 4,879 yards in 2006, will be seven of veteran starters.


Headlining the list is senior quarterback Andre Woodson, the defending SEC passing leader who threw for 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns while tallying just seven interceptions as a junior, finishing the year with an average of just over 270 passing yards per game.


Also coming back in this year's passing game are both starting wide outs from last year, led by senior Keenan Burton, who caught 77 passes for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the team last year.


Junior Dicky Lyons, who finished behind Burton with 50 receptions for 822 yards and nine scores as a sophomore, will be back in the other starting wide out slot, while Steve Johnson, DeMoreo Ford and David Smith, who combined for 439 yards and three touchdowns in 2006, will be back as talented fill-ins for the receiving game.


At tight end, senior Jacob Tamme will be back in the Kentucky blue after hauling in 32 catches for 386 yards last year to earn All-SEC honors.


On the ground, senior tailback Rafael Little returns as the team's starting tailback.


Though injuries kept his numbers reasonably low last season, Little was an All-SEC selection during the 2005 season, where he rushed for 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns.

Returning as Little's backup this season is junior Tony Dixon, who accumulated 303 yards and a team-leading four rushing touchdowns in Little's absence last year.


The starting fullback position is up in the air for 2007, with the leading candidates for the job being sophomores John Conner and Maurice Grinter, who put up similar numbers during their freshman season.


The question mark for the Kentucky offense this fall is on the offensive line, which lost starters at three of five positions from last year, when the Wildcats allowed an SEC-high 39 sacks.


Returning to the offensive trenches are junior left tackle Gary Williams, and junior left guard Christian Johnson, both of whom started the last 12 games of the 2006 season.


Looking to fill in the gaps on the line will be either senior Eric Scott or Jason Leger at center, junior college transfer Jess Beets at right guard and junior college transfer Josh Winchell at right tackle.


The Kentucky defense, finished at the opposite end of the spectrum than the offense did in 2006, allowing 453.3 yards per game and 48 total touchdowns, ranking the Wildcats last in the SEC in both categories.


Returning to the defensive line this season will be junior tackle Myron Pryor and sophomore end Jeremy Jarmon, who had five and four sacks, respectively, to lead the attack on the quarterback last year.


Joining them in the front four looks to be sophomore Corey Peters at the other tackle, and junior Nii Adjei Oninku at the remaining end. The pair had a combined 30 tackles and one sack a year ago.


The most experienced portion of the Wildcat defense in 2007 will be at linebacker, where all three starters are returning. Anchoring the unit of linebackers will once again be senior Wesley Woodyard, who has been Kentucky's leading tackler the past two seasons, including a 122 tackle season last year.


Junior Johnny Williams comes back as the starter opposite Woodyard after accumulating 35 tackles last year, while junior Braxton Kelley will once again fill the role at middle linebacker. He was the team's second-leading tackler with 82 tackles last season.


Kentucky's defensive backfield returns starters at three of four positions this fall, including junior free safety Marcus McClinton, who led the team with four interceptions and was third in tackles with 65 during his sophomore season.


Also coming back to the secondary is senior strong safety Roger Williams and sophomore cornerback Trevard Lindley. Both Williams and Lindley recorded two interceptions last year, while Lindley led the Wildcats with 12 broken up passes on the year.


The remaining spot at corner could be filled by a number of players, including two-year letterman Shomari Moore and sophomore E.J. Adams, both of whom picked of one pass in 2006.


Perhaps the most dangerous part of the Wildcat squad is the special teams, which ranked tenth nationally in kick off returns and first in punt returns last season. Both of the team's top return men will return this season, with Raphael Little fielding punts and Keenan Burton handling kick return responsibilities.


Little averaged 22.6 yards per punt return with one touchdown on 14 tries last year, while Burton averaged 24.7 yards per kick off return on 31 attempts and added a touchdown of his own.


Also coming back to the special teams are both starting kickers in place kicker Lones Seiber and punter Tim Masthay. Seiber went 11-19 on field goal tries and 33-34 on extra points in 2006, while Masthay averaged 39.2 yards per punt on 50 tries.






All-Time Series: LSU leads 38-15-1

First Meeting: 1949, Kentucky 19, LSU 0

Last Meeting: 2006, LSU 49, Kentucky 0


Location: Lexington, Ky.

Stadium: Commonwealth (67,606)

Head Coach: Rich Brooks, 17-30, 5th year; 108-139-4 overall, 22 years



2006 Record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC (T-3 East)

Final '06 Ranking: Not ranked

Returning Starters: 17; 7 offense, 8 defense, punter, kicker

Last Bowl Appearance: 2006 Music City Bowl – Kentucky 28, Clemson 20

Last Conference Championship: 1976 co-champs



Total Offense: 375.3 ypg (5/31)

Rushing Offense: 98.6 ypg (12/101)

Passing Offense: 276.7 ypg (1/8)

Scoring Offense: 26.7 (5/43)

Total Defense: 453.4 (12/118)

Rushing Defense: 184.5 (12/108)

Pass Defense: 268.9 (12/118)

Scoring Defense: 28.4 (12/99)



Rushing: Rafael Little – 140-673, 3 TD, 4.8 ypc, 74.8 ypg

Passing: Andre Woodson – 419-264, 3515, 15 TD, 7 Int., 270.4 ypg

Receiving: Keenan Burton – 77-1036, 12 TD, 79.7 ypg

Tackles: Wesley Woodyard – 122

Interceptions: Marcus McClinton – 4

Sacks: Myron Pryor – 5

Tackles for Loss: Wesley Woodyard – 9.5




Date                    Opponent                                 '06 Result

S-1                  EASTERN KENTUCKY              ---       

S-8                  KENT STATE                         ---

S-15                LOUISVILLE                           L, 28-59

S-22                at Arkansas                          ---

S-29                FLORIDA ATLANTIC                 ---       

O-4                  at South Carolina                   L, 17-24

O-13                LSU                                     L, 0-49

O-20                FLORIDA                               L, 7-26

O-27                MISSISSIPPI STATE                W, 34-31        

N-10                at Vanderbilt                          W, 38-36

N-17                at Georgia                              W, 24-20

N-24                TENNESSEE                             L, 12-17



Offense at a glance:


The offense features quarterback Andre Woodson, receivers Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons, running back Rafael Little and Tamme. All the players are seniors except Lyons, who is the only one not to have earned all-conference honors.


Keeping Woodson healthy obviously will be a huge key because redshirt freshmen Mike Hartline and Will Fidler are not close to being in Woodson's league yet. Woodson has that rare combination of size, power and accuracy that should make him one of the nation's top quarterbacks.


Burton is a game-breaking receiver who probably would have been a third-round draft pick if he had left UK. He's also a dangerous kick returner. Lyons emerged as a reliable receiver last year, especially if teams paid too much attention to Burton. Look for senior Steve Johnson to also play a pivotal role this season. Tamme gives Kentucky a big-play threat at tight end. He's stronger and faster because he's been healthy for a year.


Kentucky has to run the ball better. Little is a dangerous runner and receiver and has capable backups in Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith, the team's fastest running back.


The offensive line still has questions. Eric Scott, a converted tight end-defensive end, was No. 1 at center in spring practice. Starting guard Christian Williams missed spring practice because of academic reasons. Several other players being counted on were out because of off-season surgeries.



Defense at a glance:


New defensive coordinator Steve Brown inherits a team that ranked last or near the bottom of the SEC in almost every statistical category last year. However, he has experienced players at most positions.


Tackles Myron Pryor and Corey Peters figure to improve and redshirt freshman Ricky Lumpkin was impressive in spring practice.


Leading tackler Wesley Woodyard is back at one linebacker along with Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams, the other two starting linebackers last year. Kelley figures to be much better after having trouble last year rounding into form because of a 2005 knee injury.


Cornerback Trevard Lindley, the team's biggest surprise, is back to anchor the secondary and UK also has starting safeties Marcus McClinton and Roger Williams back. But the Cats must find another reliable cornerback.


However, Brown is not as worried about pass coverage as he is making tackles and pressuring the passer.


- Larry Vaught, Kentucky Sports Report

Tiger Blitz Top Stories