It's finally here. The college football off-season is so, so, so long, especially when the previous season ends in November. Add a new coach, an influx of new talent, an opening game against the most hated college program in the nation, a year round college basketball recruiting calendar, a three year losing streak against our biggest rival, and it seems like Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, might as well have been five years away.
But it is here. And three years of this:
is quite enough.
So all week we here at The Chron (you can call it that on Rivalry Week) will be taking a look at the game from different angles, throwing up some analysis and predictions, and in general marking off the days and hours until kickoff. First, let's look at how each team's receivers match up against the other team's secondary.
WHEN KENTUCKY HAS THE BALL
Who Will Get The Ball Thrown To Them?
The Kentucky offense begins and ends with Randall Cobb. No, he's not the quarterback, despite routinely seeming like the best quarterback available for the Cats, at least from an outsider/message board perspective. But perhaps no player in college football is more important to his team than Randall Cobb is to Kentucky - whether he's lined up at QB, catching passes, returning kicks or running the ball, he just produces and is tough to defend. Last season, he ranked 2nd in the SEC in touchdowns (12), third in punt return yards and fourth in all-purpose yards.
What will make Cobb even more of a threat this year is the emergence of
TV blowhard athletic giant Chris Matthews. At 6'5'', 219 pounds with speed, Matthews scares the crap out of me and presents match-up problems for any defense. According to the Herald-Leader, he "didn't make quite as big a splash as the coaching staff hoped last season after transferring from Harbor College in Los Angeles, but with a better understanding of the system, the tall and rangy receiver should be a nice complement to Randall Cobb this year." According to the Courier, Matthews is "on the verge of a breakout season. " I've avoided CatsPause for health reasons, but you can imagine how those folks feel about him.
Beyond those two, there is a host of unknowns at the WR position. The name you hope you don't learn on September 4th is Brian Adams, if the CJ is to be believed: "The redshirt freshman is 6 feet 4 and 232 pounds, has blazing speed and a 37-inch vertical leap." If any of the other guys are catching passes on Sept. 4th, that's likely because we've figured out a way to limit Cobb and Matthews. If any other guys are catching touchdowns, that's likely because we are getting destroyed.
The tight ends are guys I've literally never heard of: Nick Melillo caught 5 passes for 44 yards last year, with no touchdowns. Two freshman back him up.
Overall, Kentucky arguably has the best wide receiver tandem that the Cards will face all season. Luckily, we have a deep, talented and experienced secondary in their 4th year under the same defensive coordinator and scheme....wait...
Who Will Guard These Men?
Until today (see page 2), we weren't quite sure what the Louisville secondary would look like. And even after seeing some of the names, I wasn't sure what the secondary would look like. That's because one of the safeties is a dude named Mike Evans:
On the earlier depth chart, Evans was listed at CB but he apparently will start the UK game at Free Safety. The last time Evans saw the field, he was playing for Nevada in 2008, so things have changed a bit for him. Evans beat out true sophomore (thanks Krag) Shenard Holton at the FS spot.
Coming back from the weirdest football related injury I've ever heard of, a lacerated kidney, Terrance Simien has reclaimed his starting Strong Safety spot, likely because he has returned somewhat to the form he showed in the opening two games last year. He had an interception against ISU and played well against UK, including forcing a fumble, before missing the rest of the season. Backing him up is red-shirt freshman Hakeem Smith, about whom I have nothing to say but for whom I have great hopes. Overall, the safety spots don't have many big names, but there's some talent there.
The corners have me worried. Johnny Patrick enters his 12th year as a Louisville Cardinal and technically is our best player in the secondary. I've never been super impressed with him in terms of coverage, but not many people in college football can do this (at the 5:19 mark):
After Patrick, there's not a lot of there there. I don't remember Bobby Burns, a JUCO Senior, getting beat too badly last year, and Preston Pace had some chatter coming out of camp, but then didn't really do much all year. Darius Ashley, more famous for his off-field controversies and supposed practice exploits than his on-field success, has switched places with Zed Evans and will play corner back this season. Athletically Ashley should be able to compete, and as long as he doesn't line up against Matthews and/or Cobb, with UK's youth at least he won't be up against someone with a ton more game experience than he.
On paper, this is probably Kentucky's biggest positional advantage: Cobb and Matthews are very, very good, and Joker will get Cobb the ball no matter what we do. The rest of UK's group is young but there's some talent there. And even if by some miracle Demar Dorsey shows up in the secondary next Saturday, there's no lockdown corner, much less two guys who can shut down Cobb and Matthews. If UK's QB has time to throw the ball and Joker lets him take some shots downfield, it could be a long afternoon.
WHEN LOUISVILLE HAS THE BALL
Who Will Get The Ball Thrown To Them?
Lots of guys who have not caught passes in college football games, that's who. The theme of this year's season preview for pretty much every position group for the Cards will be: inexperienced, some talent, hopefully the new guys are good. The WRs are no different. Gone are our two best guys from last year, Scott Long and Trent Guy. In fact, returning Cardinal receivers caught only four touchdown passes last year. Two of those are represented by Josh Chichester, now fourth on the TE depth chart. The other two came from the man, the myth, the legend, Cameron Graham, the highest guy on the TE depth chart and probably our best weapon last year.
So, if you are scoring at home, or even if you are alone (I didn't get that for the first hundred times Olbermann made that joke on SportsCenter) that means there are zero returning touchdowns at the wide receiver spot from 2009. Zero. Yikes. True, Troy Pascley had four touchdowns in 2008, but he didn't get much done last year and he has now apparently will back up Josh Bellamy.
If there is any reason for optimism from the receiver corps, it is personified by Bellamy. Michalee Harris was the story of the few open practices, but since his knee injury has likely turned his shirt red for the season, Bellamy is the most talented newcomer. On paper, he looks the part: standing six feet tall and weighing in at 205 pounds, he has apparently impressed in practice. According to Doug:
"When I first saw him I knew he was going to be competitive," Beaumont said. "He wanted to work out with us every day right away, and that's the thing that we need."
Now, I doubt Doug is going to say, "that guy is lazy, takes plays off and probably will suck," but it is still good to hear.
Another potential impact newcomer who got some buzz out of last year's practice: Andrell Smith. Unfortunately, in 2012 we'll be reading stories about how Smith is starting his senior season and wondering if maybe getting in on a few special teams plays was worth burning his redshirt in 2009. But it will probably be in the context of "I wish I could stay around next year to go for our third straight BCS Championship, but I'll settle for winning it again this year." Too optimistic? I don't think so. Anyway, Smith is another big target: 6'4'', 212 pounds and Will Stein says he has good hands.
Kai Dominguez and Jarrett Davis are two true frosh, but if they make an impact it will likely be because the two true freshman who were supposed to, Corvin Lamb and Michalee Harris, will not be available for various reasons. We can only imagine what the passing attack will be like, but based on Sanford's pedigree, it likely will involve lots of screens, quick passes, and the proverbial "getting the ball to playmakers in space" strategy. I was trying to make it through this whole thing without mentioning the elephant on the field, but I have to say it: Doug Beaumont MUST catch a touchdown pass this season.
Overall, we end where we begin: it's an untested group, without a ton of experience in the wide receivers outside Doug Beaumont, but there's enough young talent and potential that with the right coaching and scheme, this could be a strength.
Who Will Guard These Men?
As little as I knew about the Cardinal secondary, the Kentucky group is also a bit of a mystery. Junior Winston Guy is the most famous and experienced guy back there, and according to the Courier, he "has the tools to be a standout SEC player..." Taiedo Smith will man the other safety spot, and for those unfamiliar with him, he's a junior with 20 career starts.
Other than those two, there's more promise than results. JUCO Safety Mychal Bailey has generated the preseason buzz, according to the CJ. If you did a chart of buzz month-by-month, across all sports, entertainment, politics and whatnot, I think that August would have to have the highest bar on the graph because of college football closed practices. Lots of buzz this time of the year.
Anyway, the corner position is where UK will need guys to step up. True freshman Jerrell Priester was the focus of the CJ position unit profile, and confusingly it makes me dislike him for his punk attitude even though the author claims "there's not a hint of braggadocio in his soft-spoken voice." Apparently he is crazy athletic but hasn't really played corner before. He's the kind of guy that the top programs red shirt and develop, but who at UK and, to be fair, UofL, is thrown right into the game and tested by fire. He has to jump in because:
Trevard Lindley, UK's top corner last season, is now in the NFL. The Cats lost projected starter Paul Warford to academic ineligibility.
That leaves UK with only two corners with significant experience. Returning starter Randall Burden is a virtual lock for one starting spot. The other is likely to go to sophomore Martavius Neloms, who played in 10 games and started one last season, when injuries forced him into action.Burden has the potential to develop into a lockdown corner. Neloms gained valuable experience a year ago.
Maybe I'm a homer, but I'd take an inexperienced but talented group of receivers over an inexperienced but talented group of corners. You still need someone to get them the ball, but it seems like an athletic guy can get open against another athletic guy a lot easier than against an experienced athletic guy.
That said, our potential passing game advantage is not as big as theirs. Combined with UK's superior running game, next Saturday could be a long, hot, frustrating afternoon. But as long as Doug Beaumont catches a touchdown, especially if he beats my new nemesis-for-no-reason Priester, the final score may not matter as much.