We exchanged questions with A Sea of Blue, previewing Saturday's game against Kentucky. My questions and their answers follow. For the oppo, visit A Sea of Blue.
With the Dicky Lyons and Derrick Locke injuries, where does the offense for the Cats come from?
Kentucky was really unlucky to lose Lyons for the season (unlucky for Dicky, too). The only player that we have right now who has shown the ability to get open and do damage is true freshman Randall Cobb, the man who was most responsible from snatching victory from the crushing jaws of defeat last week. Cobb is exciting. He can catch the football. He returns punts. He is a dual-threat quarterback. He is a leader at a tender age. He is Kentucky's answer to Tim Tebow for the Gators two years ago when Tebow was a freshman.
When it comes to Locke, we are very fortunate to have four good tailback options. Locke was the best of the bunch, but just barely. Alfonso Smith is almost as fast as Locke, Tony Dixon is an experienced and skilled tailback, and Moncell Allen is short in stature, but broad in the beam and likes to leave footprints on linebacker's chests. The coaching staff especially liked what Moncell Allen did last week. Because UK has such depth at the spot, Locke was a loss that didn't hurt nearly as bad as Lyons, although losing any player with Locke's abilitys always hurts, particularly in the return game.
Jeopardy! style, "This is the man who will give Tim Tebow problems."
Who is Micah Johnson?
Johnson is our bone-crushing middle linebacker, one of the highest-ranked recruits Kentucky has ever landed and a sure All-SEC pick this year. He isn't 100%, but even at 90% he is a fearsome, awe-inspiring presence on the field at a chiseled 6'2"/250# of man-eating intensity. Any offensive player with a brain should fear him.
As you mention in your questions, UK is first in SEC scoring defense. How much of this is legit and how much of it is the quality of teams UK faced to start the season? (To be fair, UF's sched isn't world beaters either.)
Kentucky has a legit defense, but if we substituted SEC games for all the easier games in the schedule, UK's defense would probably not be leading the league in scoring defense. I figure UK would be in the top three or four, though.
Right now, our defense is pretty banged up, and four or five starters are either unable to go or are operating at diminished capacity, including our best defensive tackle, Myron Pryor, who has the dreaded high ankle sprain. As you well know, year in and year out Kentucky's greatest weakness, like all teams of UK's caliber, is depth. We are deeper at defense than we have ever been this year, but when enough injuries start to pile up, it takes a toll.
So if you want to assign a percentage, you could say that between 15 and 25% of UK's defensive ranking is due to playing a fairly weak schedule early in the year. On the other hand, our defense is at least 15-20% less effective right now due to injury than it would be otherwise. Obviously, that doesn't bode well for playing the #1 SEC offense in the Gators after a bye week, but that is how the schedule goes.
UK is first in kick off returns and the Gators return game sucks (9th, but it plays like they are 13th). Is this the way UK can close the gap? And if so you will be the guy making Gator fans clutch their hearts? (Note: The Gators coverage sucks but I make it seem as if the return game sucks. Poorly worded question.)
It's an interesting dichotemy -- Kentucky's kickoff coverage is better on the road than at home, and the Gators are about the same in both places. But on the road, Kentucky is 11th in kick returns. Given that, I don't think the return game is going to help UK too much, although you never know. Up until the last two games, UK had been wonderful on special teams all year, but much less so since we left Tuscaloosa.
Derrick Locke's loss will be felt most on kick returns, since he was our best at that spot, having taken one to the house this year. Locke was having a bit of trouble hanging on to the ball lately, though, which hurt him returning the ball. We'll just have to see if Smith, Dixon, or Ford can do better, or even as well. If there is any player the Gators should fear in the kicking game, it is Alfonso Smith. If he gets a step, you won't seen anything but his backside. But then again, I'm not 100% sure he will be returning kicks.
Four turnovers vs. Arky, and two each vs. South Carolina and Bama...problem of focus or youth?
Both. Let's take the most recent game as representative. Against Arkansas, UK had two fumbles and two interceptions. One interception was the result of a good defensive play -- Hartline was hit just as he was coming down on his throwing motion, which caused the ball to sail into the arms of a defender. One interception was the result of poor execution on a play made when we needed a score badly. Hartline underthrew a ball into single coverage, and the young receiver and DB had a "jump ball." The receiver lost.
Both fumbles were the result of a lack of focus. Locke fumbled a short pass trying to turn and run with it before securing the football. The other turnover was caused by DeMoreo Ford, a punt returner, not getting away from the football when he let it hit. He just did the wrong thing and the football touched him. It was a lazy play that cost us a score, and Brooks didn't send him out to return punts after that -- he sent Randall Cobb, whom Brooks knows he can trust not to do something lazy or silly.
- Seven wins guarantee a bowl game for Kentucky; where do those two more wins come from?
Good question, and the answer is that we have a somewhat favorable schedule remaining after the Florida game. UK has two very winnable games left on our schedule, and two upset possibilities. Mississippi State and Vanderbilit have to be considered winnable games -- the Bulldogs are struggling and we get Vandy at home. Georgia has to come to Kentucky, and I see that as an upset possibility -- they will be coming into commonwealth after having faced LSU in Death Valley and you guys in the Cocktail Party. That's a meat-grinder, and those games figure to deplete the Dawgs whether they win or lose. Since their offense has been somewhat challenged in the red zone this year, I figure we have as good a shot against them as we ever will. UK has pulled off a major upset in each of the last two years, and I figure that's our best bet this year.
Then, there is Tennessee down in Knoxville after a week off. Tough to figure that game. UT has been playing poorly this year, but could turn in around this weekend against 'Bama in the Third Saturday in October. But we will be coming off a bye week and UT off what promises to be a bloody rivalry game with Vanderbilt. So again, there is a chance for us to pick up yet another win.
I place our chances at coming away 7-5 or better at about 65-70% right now, assuming no more major injuries.
Your prediction; and BONUS! Does Patrick Patterson become the focus of the Cats' offense or is he not ready? And since your jerseys are Secretariat inspired (well played, Kentucky), will Patterson go by "Big Red"?
Prediction: The Gator streak can't go on forever. I'm picking UK in an upset, 31-30 (Does that score sound familiar? :-)).
BONUS: Patrick Patterson will unquestionably be the focus of the UK offense in basketball this year, ready or not. And he will not go by "Big Red" -- Just doesn't work for him, I think. Plus, that's Western Kentucky's mascot name -- somehow, I don't think Pat would find that particularly amusing. :-) But Patterson will be our horse, make no mistake.
Thanks so much to our friends at A Sea of Blue who are gentlemen and scholars.