31 July 2008
"But it is important that they have confidence in themselves," Brooks said. "That's one transition we have made in Kentucky football the last two years. Our players have started believing they can win instead of thinking, 'Here we go again,' when something bad happens."However, like their friends to the south, the stumbled down the stretch - losing four of their last five regular season games. That stretch included a close loss in the Swamp to Florida, followed by drubbings at the hands of Mississippi State and Georgia. Then, as I shivered in the cold far outside Jordan-Hare Stadium, I watched as Kentucky pushed Tennessee to overtime. As Kentucky lined up to try a game winning FG in the second overtime, Auburn fans and Bama fans alike were rooting for one thing - a Tennessee loss. Nope. I said then that Kentucky had just remembered who they were - Rich Brooks was wrong. In the fourth overtime, Andre Woodson makes a bad decision... and the upset threat was over. The cold, huddled masses of Tide fans trudged into the stadium for another bad night on the Plains. Shudder... The point being Kentucky still hasn't learned to win. when the chips are down, this team can't be trusted. And that's going to mean a long cold season in Lexington. Last year, Kentucky recovered to win the Music City Bowl for the second year in a row. Those consecutive bowl wins are the first pair recorded in the bluegrass since an up and comer named Paul Bryant led the Wildcats to consecutive victories in the '50 and '51 campaigns. Offense There is a bit of a quarterback controversy in the sweepstakes to replace Woodson. At least there was until this week. With both Curis Pulley (late of Amazon.com) and Will Fidler both having run ins with the law, it seems the job will default to Mike Hartline. Hartline threw six passes last year, completing four (and one to the other team). Experience isn't going to be the long suit of whoever is under center when play starts. Bad news is there's little experience to throw the ball to. If there is a strong unit on offense, it's probably running backs. Three backs look to split time: Tony Dixon, Derrick Locke, and Alphonso Smith. Dixon has the most experience - the senior has 13 starts and nearly 1,000 yards to his credit. Dixon has been plagued with injury problems and sat out spring workouts with a knee injury. Locke is a converted track athlete who is the fastest player at Kentucky, but Smith is apparently a close second. Both played well in limited action last year. Brooks calls his offensive line the best he's had at Kentucky. He said the same thing last year when they surrendered an SEC worst 38 sacks. In deference to the Wildcat line, Woodson threw a lot. And it was no secret. They should have better luck this year with a more run-oriented attack. The line is anchored by left tackle Garry Williams. Williams is second team All-SEC from the coaches and is on the Outland Trophy watch list. Two other starters return, and there's experience to plug the other two holes. Defense The defense will sorely miss three time leading tackler Wesley Woodyard (LB). Last year, Woodyard's 139 tackles led the SEC and were more than twice the total of Kentucky's second best stopper. That second best tackler was corner Trevard Lindley, who will anchor the Wildcat secondary. He was chosen second team All-SEC by the coaches. He will need to be the lock-down corner he has shown he can be - there's little help elsewhere in the secondary safety is particularly light. The front seven for Kentucky is highlighted by sneaky good defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. While toiling in relative secrecy in Lexington, Jarmon finished 4th in the SEC in sacks with eight solo. The word is out now - the Junior was Kentucky's third second team All-SEC performer at Media Days. He'll line up next to tackle Myron Pryor who looks to have a big season. At the end of the day, no one in the conference gave up more points than Kentucky last season, and it doesn't look to improve that much this year. Biggest Games The Wildcats open at Louisville on Sunday August 31. That game can make or break a young season. If they get past the Cardinals, it would be a surprise if Kentucky didn't roll in to Tuscaloosa sporting a 4-0 record. The four games after that are nasty: at Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas and at Florida. However, if they win those first four and get past the home games in that second stretch, they could be looking at a very nice season. Prediction: 7-5 (4-4) Louisville will be too much early, and they'll struggle mightily on the road, but Kentucky will return to a bowl this season. They'll try and win three straight bowls for the first time since, you guessed it, Paul Bryant. The short, easy stretch just before the trip to Alabama should allow time for a QB to develop and make a go of it late in the season.
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