>> Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Coach Rich Brooks has taken a probation stricken Kentucky football program and lead them to an unprecedented three bowl victories in a row.
When Brooks entered the fray, UK was losing to the likes of Ohio and winning two ball games a year. A few years later they are on their best streak since the 1950s and have added talent and depth to a depleted program. Expectations for the Wildcats are no longer 4 wins and a near upset victory over one of the SEC big boys. Kentucky players and fans expect a bowl game this year and they expect to beat The Lane Kiffin's down in Knoxville for the first time in over two decades.
While, those expectations may not seem lofty for many programs...for UK it is a world away from 2-10 seasons and enjoying the Makers Mark in the parking lot more than the product on the field. This year UK fields a talented and experienced SEC caliber defense and an offense that needs to be serviceable to get this team to another bowl.
Joker Phillips dealt with much criticism over the last year for the ineptitude of his offensive unit.
However, that criticism may be unwarranted, because the offensive talent pool last year was depleted by graduation and sent several key players to the NFL. Enter 2009-2010.
There are many question marks surrounding the quarterback position and they are warranted. Although, Brooks and company signed two highly touted quarterback prospects, Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossasowski, Michael Hartline is the starting quarterback following spring practice. Hartline provides little flash but helps to eliminate mistakes. While, many believe Morgan Newton is the eventual successor to Hartline, expect to see Mike taking snaps for the majority of the season. Hartline will need plenty of help from his skill position players to succeed.
Alphonso Smith will enter the fall as the starting tailback and has the talent to do well. Yet, Alphonso has been known to quickly flee the hole and bounce his game outside and that has brought about dismay with Coach Brooks over the past three seasons. Kentucky coaches have reason for optimism because they witnessed a harder running and attacking Smith during spring practice. It will be a wait and see approach for Alphonso's transitioning this new found toughness to game day. The bruiser of the bunch, Moncell Allen, is attempting to return from academic problems. The "Turtle" is a needed piece of the puzzle because of his bowling ball running style and occasional big play ability. Big John Connner provides the Cats with one of the best fullbacks in the SEC and should open plenty of holes for the running game. The coaches are hoping for the return of big play threat, Derrick Locke from injury not solely for his running ability but for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
The majority of us had a better chance of catching the swine flu than UK receivers had of catching the ball last season. This was a young and beleaguered unit that developed a serious case of the dropsies as the season progressed. The Wildcat offense needs Randall Cobb to touch the ball as much as possible. Whether it is in the slot, down the field or during the Wildcat formation...Cobb is a playmaker and the only proven playmaker that UK has at wide receiver. The Cats need E.J. Adams, Aaron Boyd and Kyrus Lanxter to develop into solid wide receivers with the occasional down field ability to open up the running game. Whether this group can do so remains to be seen. The tight end unit needs to act as an outlet for Hartline and Maurice Grinter and T.C. Drake have yet to show that ability. However, they can be serviceable blockers on a mediocre offensive line.
Zipp Duncan and company are a solid offensive line, but far from spectacular. The return of Christian Johnson is a boost to a line that struggled mightily at times last year. If this unit can help the Cats stay on the field and maintain solid drives it will lead to much more success on the offensive side of the ball.
Kentucky's defense was admirable throughout last season. Shutting down out of conference opponents and maintaining a decent season through SEC play. Kentucky fans were nervous over the possible departures of Micah Johnson, Jeremy Jarmon and Trevard Lindley this off season, but all three decided to return to the roster and postpone their money making dreams. However, one area of the defensive unit was punished by graduation.
Myron Pryor was a beast in the middle for this team and Ventrell Jenkins was a much better player than many recognized. The loss of these two could deplete the depth of the defensive line, but there is talent remaining. Jeremy Jarmon is a possible all-american candidate and one of the best pass rushing DE's in the SEC. Corey Peters, Ricky Lumpkin, Chandler Burden and Mark Crawford all are solid lineman with size that can help stabilize this unit.
The torch of senior leadership has been passed from the departed and talented Braxton Kelly to a young man named Micah Johnson. Micah, whom struggled with pass coverage at times, returned to school to improve his game and wreak havoc on SEC offenses. Micah is a pre-season All-SEC candidate and provides much needed leadership and ability in the middle. Sam Maxwell has been an unsung hero among the linebacker corp over the past couple of seasons and will help ease the loss of Johnny Williams on the weakside. Strongside linebacker and depth is a question mark with this group and Coach Brown needs Danny Trevathan & Jacob Dufrene to step up this season and both showed the ability this spring.
One player that strikes fear into all UK opponents is Trevard Lindley. Lindley is possibly the best defensive back to ever don the blue and white and is a legitimate shut down corner. Offenses will avoid this first round prospect like the clap. Opposite Lindley, Randall Burden cemented himself as a solid defensive back during the bowl game. These two defensive backs are a luxury that the UK program is not used to having on the field. Winston Guy was moved to strong safety this spring and showed the hard hitting, big play ability that teams covet. Guy is still maturing as a player and, if he lets the game come to him, will be a great safety for the Cats. The head knocking Ashton Cobb and Calvin Harrison will man the free safety position. Defensive backfield is possibly the deepest unit on the entire roster.
Tim Masthay's strong leg will be missed on kickoffs and in the punting game, but Tydlacka appeared to provide a strong and accurate leg for the punting unit. However, Lones Sieber remains as the primary kicker and with Lones comes inconsistency and a mangled confidence. It will be interesting to see if Tydlacka eventually takes over all duties with the kicking game (even though Rich Brooks doesn't prefer that method). UK MUST be proficient in blocking for the specialists and is an area that must be improved on this offseason.
While, UK has talent at many individual positions and a solid defense...this season will hinge on the development of it's quarterback, Mike Hartline and the skill position players on the offensive side of the ball. Expect UK's defense to keep them in many games and allow them the opportunity to pull off a few upsets, but they can't do it on their own.
September 5, 2009-@Miami, OH-The Cats will be playing on a neutral field in Paul Brown stadium. The Cats defense will be too much for an outmatched Redhawk team. UK-38 Miami-10
September 19, 2009-Louisville-The Kragthorpes come to town and have a dysfunctional and depleted roster. It's been quite a fall from grace for the Cardinals and their fans. The Cats dominate on both sides of the ball at home. UK-24 Louisville-3
September 26,2009-Florida-Nobody in the country will beat the Tim Tebows this year. The Cats put forth an admirable effort...for a half. UF 45 UK 17
October 3rd, 2009-Alabama-Upset special. Alabama has more talent, but the Cats will be fuming following a bad loss to UF. Defenses will be showcased. UK 14 BAMA 10
October 10, 2009-@ South Carolina-Steve Spurrier owns the Cats. Kentucky just can't seem to get over that hump and it extends for one more year. USC 24 UK 10
October 17, 2009-@ Auburn-Auburn is in turmoil and the Cats will pull the sweep of the state of Alabama. UK 13 War Eagles 6
October 24, 2009-Louisiana Monroe-Cats continue to dominate their OOC schedule. Too much talent on both sides for the Cats. UK 31 ULM 14
October 31, 2009-Mississippi State-Dan Mullen brings a new look Bulldogs team to Lexington. The Cats struggle with the spread and fall flat. MSU 24 UK 13
November 7th, 2009-Eastern Kentucky-A break from the brutality that is the SEC. UK whips up on the neighboring Colonels. UK 42 EKU-3
November 14th, 2009- @ Vanderbilt-Bobby Johnson has done an amazing job in Nashville and they are no longer a pushover in SEC play. Vandy always gives UK fits and knock off the Cats. Vandy 17 UK 14
November 21, 2009-@ Georgia-Mark Richt lost a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but this is still Georgia. The Cats have knocked off and played the Dawgs close over the past few years, but not this year. UGA 27 UK 21
November 28, 2009-Tennessee-Lane Kiffin is headed for probation, sooner rather than later and is a charismatic, young.....ok, ok..he's an asshole. Grandpa shows Kiffin the ropes and breaks the streak. UK 21 UT 14
The Wildcats finish the season 7-5 and compete in the Chick Fil'a Bowl against Miami. Another bowl game for Grandpa Brooks and company.