Kentucky is one of the pleasant surprises in college football this season. Picked to finish in 5th place in the SEC East with virtually no chance for a winning season, the Wildcats have won five of nine contests to position themselves one win away from becoming bowl eligible. Wins over Texas State, Ole Miss, Central Michigan, Mississippi State, and Georgia outnumber losses to Louisville, Florida, South Carolina, and LSU. The Cats will conclude the regular season with a home game against Louisiana-Monroe and a road game at Tennessee.
Kentucky's strong suit is on this side of the football. The Wildcats can move the pigskin down the field and score some points. In their five wins, they have averaged 35 points per game. Florida and LSU shut the Wildcat offense down, but in the other seven games, Kentucky has averaged more than 31 points per game.
Let's take a look at Kentucky's statistics to date:
Scoring: 25.2 points per game ranks 6th in the SEC and 52nd of 119 in Division I-A
Rushing Average: 89.9 yards per game (2.9 avg) ranks 11th in the SEC, 105th in Division I-A
Passing Average: 244.1 yards per game ranks 3rd in the SEC, 25th in Division I-A. The Wildcats are completing 59.3% of their passes and averaging 7.6 yards per pass attempt.
Passing Efficiency: 140.9 ranks 5th in the SEC and 30th in Division I-A
Total Yardage: 334.0 yards per game ranks 9th in the SEC and 66th in Division I-A
QB Sacks allowed: 27 sacks in 9 games ranks 12th in the SEC and 108th in Division I-A
Turnover Margin: +9 in 9 games ranks 2nd in the SEC and 11th in Division I-A
Breakdown by Position
Keenan Burton (6-2, 195 Jr.) and Dicky Lyons, Jr. (5-11, 190 So.) form the anchors of a formidable receiving corps. Both can get open short, medium, and long, and both can hurt opponents with yardage after the catch.
Burton leads the Wildcats with 46 receptions for 678 yards (14.7 avg) and seven touchdowns. Lyons has caught 36 passes for 572 yards (15.9 avg) and eight scores. He is the son of a former Kentucky star who used to give Vandy fits. Dicky Lyons, Sr. was one tough hombre, and his son is a chip off the old block.
Curtis Pulley (6-4, 200 So.) is the Cats' version of "slash." He is the backup quarterback, but he also sees extensive time at a wideout spot. He has 16 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown.
DeMoreo Ford (5-10, 189 So.), David Jones (5-10, 185 So.), and Steve Johnson (6-3, 198 Jr.) supply depth at this position. None of the three will burn any Commodore deep, but they can catch the ball in a crowd. The trio has accumulated 16 receptions.
Jacob Tamme (6-5, 240 Jr.) is a better pass receiver than blocker. The highly intelligent player was originally a wide receiver who switched to tight end. Tamme has a great eye for the ball, and he can turn a five-yard pass into a 15-yard gain. For the season, he has 20 receptions for 202 yards.
The Wildcats have needed a MASH unit for their offensive line. Since the start of practice in August, five offensive linemen have been lost for the season, two more are injured but expected back before the season ends, and one was ruled ineligible.
Needless to say, this unit is not as strong as it could have been; they have problems opening consistent running lanes, and they give up too many sacks.
Left tackle Garry Williams (6-3, 283 So.) has started the last eight games for Kentucky. He should be an excellent, all-around blocker in another year. For now, he is better than average.
Left guard Christian Johnson (6-4, 325 So.) is a powerful and disciplined player who seldom makes mistakes. He isn't an All-SEC caliber lineman, but he holds his own in the trenches.
Center Matt McCutchan (6-3, 310 Sr.) is nursing a calf injury and will not be at 100% this Saturday. When totally healthy, he is the best lineman on the team.
Right guard Hayden Lane (6-6, 275 Sr.) has moved to guard after being a tackle for most of his career. The first team Academic All-American has already graduated and is enrolled in graduate school.
Right tackle Michael Aitcheson (6-3, 300 Sr.) is another graduate student who excels in the classroom. He moved to tackle after beginning the season at guard.
Andre Woodson (6-5, 232 Jr.) leads the Southeastern Conference with 20 touchdown passes. The strong-armed passer can throw deep with accuracy, and that makes secondary coaches nervous. Having two excellent deep options in Burton and Lyons, Woodson will force the Commodore secondary to retreat a few steps and give up a little more cushion than they would like.
For the season, Woodson has completed just under 60% of his passes for 13 yards per completion. Against Ole Miss, Woodson completed 22 of 34 passes for three touchdowns. Against Central Michigan, he was 20 of 32 for 266 yards and four touchdowns.
Against a team with a strong pass rush, Woodson might have some difficulties. He is not much of a scrambler, and he can be chased down and dropped easier than most of the other SEC quarterbacks.
When Kentucky uses a fullback, Terrell Bankhead (5-11, 220 Sr.) is the man for the job. He isn't much of a running or pass catching threat and will seldom get the ball for more than one play in a game. His forte is pass blocking.
Alfonso Smith (6-1, 190 RS Fr.) and Tony Dixon (5-9, 203 So.,) have split time at the tailback spot following the knee injury to all-conference back Rafael Little. Little was the Cats' leading rusher when he went down in the South Carolina game.
Smith and Dixon have combined for 471 yards rushing on 123 carries (3.8 average). Smith is the faster of the two, while Dixon is the more powerful. Both are weapons coming out of the backfield on passing plays.
On this side of the ball, the Wildcats are somewhat better this year than last year. Then again, it would be hard not to be, as the Cats gave up 34.1 points and 439 yards per game in 2005.
Here is a look at Kentucky's defensive statistics for the season:
Scoring Defense: 29.6 points per game allowed ranks 12th in the SEC and 99th in Division I-A
Vs. The Run: 182.9 yards allowed per game (5.0 avg) ranks 12th in the SEC and 108th in Division I-A
Vs. The Pass: 265.3 yards allowed per game ranks 12th in the SEC and 117th in Division I-A. The Cats allow 57.6% of enemy passes to be completed and allow a whopping 8.6 yards per pass attempt. They have intercepted 6.3% of enemy passes, which is quite an impressive statistic (but still not as much as Vandy).
Quarterback Sacks: Kentucky has recorded 17 sacks in nine games which ranks 9th in the SEC and 71st overall.
Opp. Passing Efficiency: 145.1 ranks 12th in the SEC and 99th in Division I-A
Opp. Total Offense: 448.2 yards ranks 12th in the SEC and 116th in Division I-A
Tackles For Loss: The Wildcats have recorded 46 TFLs this season which ranks 10th in the SEC and 82nd in Division I-A
Turnover Margin: +1 per game ranks 2nd in the SEC and 11th in Division I-A
Kentucky has some issues in the defensive interior, but not nearly as many as they have with the offensive line. Defensive end Durrell White (6-3, 260 Sr.) probably won't play against the Commodores after injuring his left shoulder against Georgia. White is the Cats' best defensive lineman.
In his place, expect to see Jeremy Jarmon (6-3, 250 RS Fr.). Jarmon started three games at the other terminal position, registering 17 tackles so far. He is better against the pass than the run.
At the other end position will be Nii Adjei Oninku (6-1, 245 So.). He has 10 tackles on the season, half of those coming last week against Georgia.
Kentucky has some depth here. Dominic Lewis (6-3, 258 Jr.) has 21 tackles with four going behind the line and two being sacks.
The Wildcats have depth at defensive tackle. Starters Myron Pryor (6-1, 300 So.) and Lamar Mills (6-1, 285 Sr.) have combined for 46 stops. Pryor leads the team with four sacks, and he has forced four fumbles.
Backup Ventrell Jenkins (6-2, 280 So.) started the LSU game (made six tackles) and has seen action in all nine contests. Jenkins has 4.5 tackles for loss so far this season.
As has been the case with most opponents this season, Kentucky's top two tacklers are linebackers. Weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (6-1, 212 Jr.) leads the Cats with 79 tackles, 6.5 for losses. He's forced two fumbles and recovered two, and he has broken up three passes. He has speed similar to a secondary player. Woodyard should contend for All-SEC honors.
Middle linebacker Braxton Kelley (6-0, 226 So.) is second on the team with 59 tackles. 4.5 of those tackles have been for losses. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors last year.
Strongside linebacker Johnny Williams (6-3, 235 So.) has just 27 tackles on the season, but he has been a spot starter. He recorded six tackles against Georgia last week. Backup Ben McGrath (6-2, 230 So.) has 13 stops.
This is one area where there has been some consistency this year. Cornerback Trevard Lindley (6-0, 175 RS Fr.) is going to be something really special in a couple of years. He is already the best defender on the back line. He leads Kentucky with nine passes defended and has made 37 tackles. Last week against Georgia, he made seven stops with one of them being a sack.
Opposite cornerback Karl Booker (6-1, 190 Sr.) has 31 tackles and has broken up three passes. Booker was responsible for making the game-saving play against the Commodores two years ago when he batted away Jay Cutler's long pass that was headed into the hands of Erik Davis late in the game.
Strong safety Roger Williams (6-0, 200 Jr.) is third on the team with 41 tackles. He's intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles this season. He delivers punishing blows when he makes a tackle.
Free safety Marcus McClinton (6-1, 210 So.) leads the Wildcats with three interceptions and has eight passes defended for the season. He's also forced four fumbles.
Kentucky leads the SEC in punt returns and is third in kickoff returns. Burton has a 100-yard kickoff return this year and averages 26 yards per return. As a punt returner, he averages 12.2 yards per attempt. Here is where the Cats miss Little, who was averaging almost 20 yards per return when he was healthy.
Punter Tim Masthay averages 39.2 yards per boot, while place kicker Lones Seiber is a perfect 20 for 20 on extra points and six of nine on field goals with a long of 48.
Vanderbilt will need to be on their toes again this week. Kentucky has blocked two place kick attempts this year. "Slash" himself, Pulley, is the designated blocker.
Kentucky is not going to be confused for Ohio State, but the Wildcats are an exciting team that will be playing in December this year. They give up a lot of yards, but they come up with big plays when they have to. The defense has 22 takeaways, and combined with excellent special teams play, it has allowed Kentucky to outscore five teams out of nine played so far.
For Comparison Purposes, here's how Vandy ranks in the offensive and defensive statistical categories. The first number in parentheses represents SEC rank and the second number represents D1A rank.
Scoring Offense: 22.8 ppg (9 & 68)
Rushing Offense: 151.1 yds per game (4 & 43) and 4.7 avg (5.3 w/out sacks)
Passing Offense: 186.2 yds per game (10 & 73)
55.4% completions and 6.7 yards per attempt
Passing Efficiency: 121.6 (9 & 71)
QB Sacks Allowed: 17 in 10 games (5 & 47)
Total Offense: 337.3 yds per game (7 & 62)
Turnover Margin: +2 in 10 games (5 & 47)
Scoring Defense: 20.7 ppg (9 & 50)
Rushing Defense: 156.2 yds per game (10 & 89) and 4.0 yards allowed per rush
Passing Defense: 164.1 yds per game (3 & 19)
Allows 57.3% completions and 7.5 yards per attempt
Passing Efficiency Defense: 125.2 (9 & 63)
QB Sacks: 18 in 10 games (7 & 59)
Total Defense: 320.3 (9 & 51)
TFL: 54 in 10 games (9 & 76)