Wednesday, April 05, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: KENTUCKY
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inveitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Old Father Brooks' cupboard is still bare, and UK's higher-ups don't seem to care
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 18-39 (8-32 SEC) / 2005: 3-8 (2-6 SEC)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 14 (8 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Incredibly, virtually nothing, most notably the continued oversight of Coach Rich Brooks, because what SEC school doesn't want an over-the-hill mediocrity averaging five wins in 20 seasons as a head coach? Brooks was an unpopular hire whose ouster was assumed even before a 3-8 campaign that featured 24 and 28-point losses to Indiana and South Carolina, respectively, and another last place finish in the SEC East. Or do wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt count for that much these days?
Also: former intra-division nemesis Randy Sanders takes over handling the quarterbacks after his unceremonial booting from Tennessee.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Too, too much for a team that's been as bad as the Wildcats the past three seasons: the coaches, the quarterbacks (6 TDs to 9 INTs), the offensive line (34 sacks allowed) and defense (don't even ask) return mostly intact, along with low, low, very low expectations.
YOU'VE SAID IT BEFORE: STATISTICS LIE, RIGHT? Sometimes - but not when you finish 107th in total offense, 103rd in total defense and 105th in turnover margin. In that case, the misleading stat is that UK only lost by an average of a little under two touchdowns last year. But hey, let's hear it for those special teams.
It's clear the Wildcats "have some ability" at quarterback, though the exact nature or quantity of this ability remains uncertain. Last year, for example, Andre' Woodson displayed an uncanny talent for being sacked (around three times per game, for a minus-12-yard rushing average). Highly-touted Curtis Pulley, in limited action, showed innate skill for throwing interceptions (three in 50 attempts, with no touchdowns). If Woodson's relatively solid ability to hit his teammates in the end zone at roughly the same rate he hits opposing players could be combined with Pulley's ability to scramble from enclosing rushers in a kind of Urkel-Urquelle DNA-melding transformation chamber, then maybe the 'Cats would have something. Until then, unless Sanders is a magic man, it's picks and Nexturf stuck in the facemask.
GEEZ, SOMETHING POSITIVE, ANYTHING: First, the 'Cats led the nation last year with three academic all-Americans, if anyone cares.
There's also Rafael Little, underrated as a sophomore after rushing for more than 1,000 yards, leading the team in catches and finishing fifth nationally in punt return average. He had the best game of anyone in the league with 372 total yards in the only real UK highlight of '05, the upset that eventually kept Vanderbilt out of a bowl game.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard was also named, amazingly, a sophomore all-American (amazing because there is such a distinction, anywhere) for racking up 100 tackles and "his knack for being around the ball."
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC SPRING PRACTICE-BASED CHATTER At least one desperate writer was asking: can a walk-on basketball player whose mostly bench-ridden hoops career just ended "really ignite a young and struggling Kentucky football program, coming off a 3-8 season?" His brother, a redshirt freshman defensive end, said yes! A coach said he almost cared! Alas, Ravi Moss is not ready to "devote 110 percent" to football.
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No mas for Moss.
The Kentucky media staff, wisely, mostly steered clear of projections of grandeur for slightly overachieving basketball players and focusing instead on the much-maligned defense:"We were very active and physical today (on defense)," Coach Rich Brooks said after practice. "(Defensive tackle) Myron Pryor had an impressive day. We had a very difficult time blocking him."Encouraged? More confidence? Better understanding? Fifteen pounds of "good" weight? Pretty consistent? Do these words have UK fans thinking "Rich Brooks returns for fourth year in '07?"
The defense controlled the action except for a couple of long plays by second-team quarterback Curtis Pulley against the second-team defense. After the defense jumped offside on one play, Pulley took advantage of the "free play" and hit wide receiver Anthony Cecil with a touchdown bomb. Pulley ended the scrimmage with a serpentining 50-yard touchdown run through the Wildcat defenders.
Brooks has been encouraged by the progress he's seen with the Wildcat defense to this point of the spring.
"We're playing with more confidence and a better understanding of what we're trying to do," Brooks said, also noting the improvement made by several players. "(Linebacker) Wesley Woodyard has gained 15 pounds of good weight and is a more physical player. (Linebacker) Johnny Williams is playing with much more confidence.
"We're still trying to develop depth at end and Dominic Lewis has made very good progress there. (Cornerback) Trevard Lindley has been pretty consistent through the first five practices (of the spring). We got (cornerback) David Jones back today after his hamstring injury and he made some plays.
Plus: look out, Hefty Lefty nostalgios, there's 253-pound, pass-pickin', freshman safety about!
REASON FOR HOPE: Little, theoretical possibility of DNA-melding machine for quarterbacks.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: No apparent effort to do anything substantial to keep this season from looking exactly like the last three.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY RANDOM POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Kruger Industrial Smoothing, the inept company that briefly employed George Constanza, and whose bland proprietor, Mr. Kruger, consistently concerning himself less with his company's success than with bestowing official nicknames, verifying George's bogus religious leanings and "going out on a high note."
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: 2-9, possibly no wins in the SEC, even if UK has owned Vanderbilt.
Previous absurdly premature assesments:
April 3: Central Michigan
April 4: Brigham Young
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