2011 Kentucky Preview
Kentucky S Winston Guy
Can Kentucky break through and start to make more noise in the SEC East? A regular on the minor bowl circuit, the Wildcats haven't been awful over the last several years, but they haven't done much to be a player in the conference chase. Do they have enough to be this year's SEC South Carolina-like surprise? Check out the CFN 2011 Kentucky Preview.
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If South Carolina, one of the most mediocre programs in college football history, can rise up and win the East, then why can't Kentucky?
Head coach: 2nd year: 6-7
Off. 25, Def. 25, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Kentucky Players
1. LB Danny Trevathan, Sr.
2. S Winston Guy, Sr.
3. OG Larry Warford, Jr.
4. LB Ronnie Snead, Sr.
5. OT Chandler Burden, Sr.
6. OG Stuart Hines, Sr.
7. CB Randall Burden, Sr.
8. CB Anthony Mosley, Sr.
9. QB Morgan Newton, Jr.
10. WR La'Rod King, Jr.
Sep. 3 Western Kentucky
Sep. 10 Central Michigan
Sep. 17 Louisville
Sep. 24 Florida
Oct. 1 at LSU
Oct. 8 at South Carolina
Oct. 15 OPEN DATE
Oct. 22 Jacksonville State
Oct. 29 Mississippi State
Nov. 5 Ole Miss
Nov. 12 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 19 at Georgia
Nov. 26 Tennessee
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Kentucky is a basketball school, and it's almost impossible to get the top-shelf SEC talents to give the football program a hard look, but the East is as down as it's going to be for a while, with Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee all working to get back to their normal selves, South Carolina still a tad flaky, and …
Okay, so Kentucky isn't as talented or as good as South Carolina was last year, and it's probably the fifth best team in the SEC East, but the program has found ways to get the most out of what it has to get to five straight bowl games. While being regulars in the Music City and Liberty Bowls of the post-season world would be cause to can coaches at places like Florida and Alabama, they're badges of honor at Kentucky. Despite years of being occasionally undermanned, or decimated by injuries, the program has managed to be respectable. Head coach Joker Phillips, in his second year, is fighting to make Kentucky a player.
UK has done a great job over the last several seasons of winning the games it's supposed to. The win over South Carolina was tremendous, but it also game in the final moments after the Gamecocks collapsed in the second half. The other wins came against Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron, Charleston Southern, and Vanderbilt. There have been some big victories here and there, like beating Georgia and Auburn in 2009 and Georgia in 2006, but there hasn't been much consistent success against the top-shelf programs. You can only beat the teams on the schedule, and while the Wildcats have to continue to set the base of wins against the dregs, it would be nice to come up with a victory over Florida – 24 straight losses back to 1986 – and it would be a plus to start doing more with the rest of the East. To do that, the team needs a few shocking performances.
The offensive line is full of veterans and should be among the best in the SEC. The receivers are big, but inexperienced, and the backfield is fast, but also lacking tested stars. QB Morgan Newton is a good-looking prospect who has to play up to his prep credentials, and some playmakers have to quickly emerge to make up for the losses of RB Derrick Locke and WR Randall Cobb.
The defense has the potential to be terrific if it can start to get into the backfield. Danny Trevathan is one of the nation's best linebackers, and Winston Guy is a tone-setting safety who'll lead an excellent secondary. With nine starters back, there's no reason to expect a slip from last year's group that finished sixth in the conference in total D.
The Cats only went 2-6 in SEC play last year and were wiped away by Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Auburn game was a battle and there were chances against Mississippi State, but to take another step forward, UK has to win ever close game. And yes, that means beating the bigger names, too.
What to watch for on offense: The offensive line. The UK front five came up with a strong 2010, even though the offense didn't exactly show it. The Cats finished second in the SEC in sacks allowed, and the line did a nice job of opening up the needed holes for Derrick Locke and the ground game. Considering the relatively immobile Mike Hartline was under center, the play of the line was a must. Four starters return, but five players with key starting time are back. With a banger like future NFL right guard Larry Warford anchoring things, the makings are there for the Cats to have the SEC's best line With QB Morgan Newton still figuring out what he's doing, and with so much turnover at the skill spots, the line has to be special and has to play up to expectations.
What to watch for on defense: More of a 4-2-5 alignment. The Wildcats will go with a typical 4-3 on a regular basis, but defensive coordinators Steve Brown and Rick Minter will get extremely creative. Last year, Anthony Mosley spent most of the season working as a fifth defensive back to get his lightning speed and range on the field. While this proved costly from time to time against the better running teams – the Cats finished 85th in the nation and 11th in the SEC against the run – the pass defense was 14th in the nation and was solid throughout. Kentucky might not always be stout, but the D will be really, really fast. It would be a big help, though, if …
The team will be far better if … There was some semblance of a pass rush. Generating consistent points would be nice, and getting a strong year out of the skill players is a must, but the team would be much, much better if it could generate a pass rush. After finishing second in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss in 2008, UK's pass rush fell off the map finishing 111th in the nation in sacks and 94th in tackles for loss in 2009. The new coaching staff vowed to start getting more pressure behind the line, and while there was an improvement, the Cats still finished last in the league in tackles for loss and 11th in sacks. The defense should be good, but to be great, and for the season to be special, the opposing quarterback has to start getting hit.
The schedule: The Cats get a few games of tune-up time against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan before the rivalry date against Louisville and the East showdown against Florida. Starting out 3-0 is a must with the Gators, at LSU, and at South Carolina to follow. Unfortunately, the week off comes before Jacksonville State and doesn't give UK a break before any of the big SEC games. Even so, there's a nice break in the middle of the season with no road trips from early October until the road game at Vanderbilt, which should be a must-win with a date at Georgia and Tennessee to close. The Wildcats aren't exactly extending themselves in non-conference play with Louisville the only BCS league team, and it's hard to ask much more from interdivision play with Mississippi State and Ole Miss at home to offset the game at LSU.
Best offensive player: Junior OG Larry Warford. While it might not seem like a plus for the top offensive player to be a guard, particularly a right guard, but the 340-pound Warford is a key to an athletic, veteran line that does a great job in pass protection and needs a guy to work behind for the ground game. Warford is great at burying his man and is surprisingly light on his feet. As good as he is, though, the team desperately needs QB Morgan Newton to be the star and the best offensive playmaker. He can be if Warford and the line does its job.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Danny Trevathan. He should've been a finalist for the Butkus Award. With 231 career tackles, and while he won't make a ton of plays behind the line, he'll always be around the ball. With 144 tackles last season led by 14 stops in the bowl loss to Pitt, 16 against Mississippi State, and 17 against Auburn. While he had four double-digit solo tackle games, UK lost all four. Consistent, he made ten stops or more in 10 of the team's 13 games.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Morgan Newton. Thrown into the fire as a true freshman when injuries struck, he did a decent job in the second half of the year finishing with six touchdown passes and three picks to go along with two rushing scores. He didn't get much work last year, but he was forced into action in the bowl game and completed 21-of-36 passes for 211 yards. Big, athletic, and talented, he has all the skills and all the tools, but he has to be a consistent passer and has to prove he can start leading the team to wins.
The season will be a success if … the Cats win seven games. 1984 was the last time the program won more than eight games, and while this team might not be a world-beater, the schedule is just easy enough to come up with a great year if everything falls the right way. Even so, a winning season would be a success. If UK takes care of business at home, it should be able to beat WKU, Central Michigan, a rebuilding Louisville, and Jacksonville State. Beating Vandy on the road is a must, and coming up with a likely upset over Mississippi State would be needed to flirt with seven wins or more. Throw in a winnable home game against Tennessee, and the chances will be there if everything breaks the right way.
Key game: Sept. 24 vs. Florida. Kentucky doesn't beat Florida, but this might be the year to do it. The Gators are still rebuilding and reloading, and they likely won't be fully jelled by the time the SEC opener comes around in late September. UK has to take advantage at home. A loss could be devastating to the start of the season with trips to LSU and South Carolina to follow, while a win would be a big announcement that things really might be different this year.
2010 Fun Stats:
- Interceptions: Opponents 9 for 115 yards – Kentucky 9 for four yards
- 4th Down Conversions: Kentucky 17-of-29 (59%) – Opponents 7-of-8 (88%)
- Average Passing Yards Per Game: Kentucky 269.3 – Opponents 177.1
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