This series was not meant to be a countdown. I should have stated that at the beginning, but to be honest I decided to do this on a whim. Once I started, I realized that new things were being reported every day and I couldn't really make a true countdown when new factors could change it. However, one thing that will be the biggest factor in my opinion is whether or not these two offenses can recover from fairly lackluster performances last season. If either of these offenses don't take giant leaps this year, their respective hopes will easily be dashed.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news Cards fans but our offense is still a pretty big unknown right now. Yes we return a ton of talent this year and the potential for a great offense is there. But how many times have you said "if" when you talk about the offense. I mean really compare it to the defense when it comes to how certain you feel about this team. We have all learned the harsh reality that talent alone doesn't win you games. Ask Brian Brohm. One of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of this program learned that if your offensive coordinator can't utilize the talent at his disposal, the offense won't reach it's potential. Were we terrible in 2007? Not at all. Did we look like an offense with an almost double-digit number of players that would later suit up for an NFL team? Far from it. Shawn Watson improved the offense towards the end of the season last year and that should create optimism. But outside of the West Virginia and South Florida game, the offense didn't put a ton of points on the board.
The center of a lot of the optimism surrounding Louisville's offense is Teddy Bridgewater. This is completely fair and exactly why we should all be so excited. Teddy was one of the top three true freshman quarterbacks in the country last year and he is a legit contender for a ton of accolades before he is done here. Our passing offense wasn't breathtaking last year but it provided us with enough really good moments that we should expect more this year. The amount of sacks we gave up was cringe-worthy last year, but should drop significantly. Also, Kentucky had trouble getting to the quarterback anyway. Teddy will have to have the freedom to make plays in order to help the offense but he also needs to cut down on his interceptions if we want to win games. When he didn't turn the ball over we beat teams that we maybe shouldn't have last year. We lost when he did.
Pouring through all of the stats that I went through over the last week made it very clear that our offensive line was pretty bad last year. We gave up a ton of sacks and we were one of the worst rushing teams in the country. Both completely surprised me. You can't have a good offense with negative plays and no run game. They are literally the basis of good offense. Throw in the penalties we racked up early in the season and it leaves you just flat out bad. It sucks to say because we really have some great personalities on the line and these guys had to overcome some serious inexperience last year. But that could be a really good thing for this season. You could actually say that we return five starters this year if you wanted to bend the rules. Jamon Brown started two games last year and he was also the top replacement at guard and tackle. Dave Borbely has stated that he might have the best shot at being a high draft pick and he played on both sides of the ball in the course of the season. Minus Mario Benavides in the spring, these guys have practiced together since the end of last season. That is the reason that if this offense improves, it will be because of the line in my opinion.
The skill position players on this team have been praised by the coaching staff much more than they were when Charlie got here. Gone are the days where Charlie repeatedly pointed out that we didn't have a receiver that could take a short pass and turn it into a big play or touchdown. We now hear the coaches talk about throwing the ball down the field more this year and having a deep group of receivers. Our running backs and wide receivers have the potential to be big time players but it's just that, potential. No one has had a Harry Douglass or Michael Bush type of year yet, obviously. Sunday we will see the most talented group of skill players that we have seen since 2007. But this is where the offensive coordinator really matters. Can he manage the different skill sets of the receivers? Is Charles Gaines better out wide or in the slot? Should he use Senorise Perry in the "wildcard" instead of Dom Brown?
That 2007 offense is such a good comparison because of the effect coaching had on it. Like I said before, it wasn't horrible. Defense also played a part in the losses that we had that year too. But that team had no balance. When you don't have a running game that can keep defenses honest, it leads to turnovers and shootouts. Ask Houston and Oklahoma State last year. This year what we need from Shawn Watson is to have a good mix. Great offense is like a good mixed drink. A heavy bourbon pour sounds good because it leads to fun. But it's pretty rough going down.
To put it bluntly, Kentucky's offense was just about the absolute worst in the country last year. 118th out of 120 teams to be exact. They were bad at pretty much everything and had some really bad individual games statistically. Four completions and four interceptions against USC. 32 rushing yards against Vandy. Seven completions against LSU. Stats like that were all too common last season and it's really pretty crazy that they won as many games as they did. I told you all of that so that I could tell you this. Louisville had a worse running game. Gave up more sacks. Had just a few less turnovers. And were less than ten spots ahead of Kentucky in scoring. So if we feel confident that our offense will be so much better this year, why shouldn't Kentucky?
Joker hasn't brought in the offensive firepower that Charlie has. That's just fact. But he has the factor of the unknown. Collins Ukwu said this week that they didn't expect Teddy to play as well as he did as a true freshman last year. Well they didn't have any film on him. Neither did anyone else. UK has a quarterback that has only played in a handful of games and he has five or six skill position guys that have the potential to be just as good as we think our guys are. Darryll Collins passed up Alabama to go to UK. That's not something you hear everyday. Joker has a knack for landing guys with ridiculous high school numbers. Some of those guys are obviously not as talented as their numbers suggest. But some of them have been overlooked because they aren't the right size. Or they had an injury. Or another coach didn't have the imagination to see that guy as a linebacker instead of a quarterback.
Who is to say that maybe Max Smith, with a summer of preparation, couldn't be as good as Mike Hartline? Hartline owned us. Sorry. Couldn't Ronnie Shields be the perfect security blanket if Smith felt pressure. Hell, Smith somehow taught Matt Roark how to catch the ball when Smith became the starter last year. Roark went from being booed by UK fans, to not having to buy a meal in Lexington for at least a year or two. Maybe a younger and more athletic offensive line will spark the running game. Who knows? One thing I do know is that Kentucky must improve their offense to have a chance against a really good defense. They have more to fix than Louisville does and there are more unknowns. But they could make the same leap that we expect Louisville to make. That might be enough to get lucky.
I won't pretend to act like I know what will happen with these offenses tomorrow. I wish I did. But the ultimate equalizer in college football is coaching. Both of these offensive coordinators are well respected and they both did well at national powers before ending up where they are now. In my opinion it will come down to which coach will push the envelope more and which coach can utilize their strengths the best. The good thing for Card fans is that Watson has strengths everywhere. Sanders will have to create some.
On a personal note, I want to say thank you to each and every person that read even one of these posts. Whether you liked them or not it means a lot that you took your time to do so. I also appreciate all of the kind words and positive feedback. I don't know what made me want to do this but I am really happy I did. Can't say thank you enough to Mike, Hot Hot, and CardsFan922. The front page bumps and edits (I hope they were minor) were and are greatly appreciated. I hope everyone, Kentucky fans included, enjoyed them.
Go Cards, Beat Kentucky