When it comes to football, Kentucky has always been a slightly mysterious entity to us. So, with a huge game against the Wildcats coming up this Saturday, we figured it was a good time to ask an expert for the scoop. With his thoughts on UK football, John Pelphrey and even Ashley Judd (who we're assuming he knows personally), here's our interview with Kentucky blogger Truzenzuzex, from A Sea of Blue. Please join us in extending a hearty thanks to Truzenzuzex for his time and insight!
1. What's the current feeling among UK fans about the football team? Is this just a placeholder until basketball season, or do you see some genuine long-term interest building? Can the football team ever approach the basketball team in popularity?
Kentucky has always had a strong football following -- in fact, despite our recent sub-mediocrity, we have a five-year average of the 22nd best attendance among the 119 FBS teams.
Back in the 1960s and before, UK was a very strong SEC football school. The decline of Kentucky as a football power in the SEC began in about 1955 and continued into mediocrity until about 1965. After that, we became a lower-tier football school and passion for football around the Bluegrass began to wane. In the late 1970's, Kentucky rose back to prominence, but NCAA rules violations quickly returned the team to mediocrity, where it remained until 1990. The program then declined with a somewhat notable recovery in the Hal Mumme era, only to decline again as a result of more NCAA violations due to Mumme's mismanagement.
Many Kentucky fans fear the cycle of semi-ascendancy followed by years of irrelevance is likely to repeat itself after this season, but hope springs eternal ...
<!--more-->Regarding the football and basketball team's relative popularity, it is my opinion that sports fans naturally gravitate to one type of sport or another. Football and basketball may seem like natural mates, but they don't appear to be. Many football fans are lukewarm basketball fans, and vice versa.
Since Kentucky has so many more of one than the other, I think it unlikely that football will ever ascend to the level of basketball in the Bluegrass. Too much water under the bridge. It would take two or three generations of excellence in football, and right now, very few in Kentucky think along those lines, and as I argued here, it is very hard to grow a successful program in the SEC.
2. Give us a quick scouting report - what are the overall strengths and weaknesses of the UK football team?
The strengths are obvious -- our offense is either the first or second most potent in the SEC, and high in the nation. Not only can we throw the ball up the field, but we can kill teams with out routes, across the middle to Tamme if the LB's are poor in coverage, or run the ball if the D-line and LB corps are weak. Our offensive line is the weakest part of our offense, and it is not too bad.
Our weakness is our defensive line, and so far, our special teams. We were killer on special teams last year with basically the same personnel in the skill positions, but our blocking is much weaker and our effectiveness seriously reduced. Our D-line is thin and not strong enough. A long SEC season is likely to expose our lack of depth there. Our offensive line is also less than perfect, and depth in the o-line is a concern as well.
3. What are the keys to a Kentucky victory on Saturday night?
We must find a way to hold the Arkansas offense to around 5 yards per play on average, and hit our average of 6.4 or 6.5. If we do that, we should win. Stopping McFadden isn't really possible -- Alabama has a better defense than we do, and they couldn't handle him. We just have to find a way to keep him out of the end zone.
Arkansas has the worst pass defense in the league right now. That is deadly against Kentucky. If our D-line can do a "bend but don't break" against McFadden and Jones, we have a good shot to win. You guys caught a really bad break when Monk went down with injury.
This is kind of an interesting matchup. Both teams are 100% in the red zone this year. I'd guess the team who has the most success in the red zone will win this game, pretty much as it was with Louisville. Who knows? Maybe another seven overtime thriller?
4. We've read a lot about André Woodson but haven't really seen him play. What are his strengths & weaknesses as a QB, and where does he fit in among the all-time UK football greats?
André's strengths are his cool, collected disposition and his ability to pick up targets that aren't covered closely, and put the ball where it needs to go. His weakness is a tendency to hold the ball too long, which gets him sacked and might get him hurt, as well as a bit of a slow release.
I don't really know where he fits in, somewhere below Couch I would think, and arguably just below. He and Jared Lorenzen will have to fight that one out, I guess.
5. We've also read a lot about Louisville QB Brian Brohm - who's better, him or Woodson?
Well, I'm no more immune to cognitive dissonance than Louisville fans, but honestly, I'd say it's about neck and neck. Brohm is outstanding, but Woodson has a stronger arm and is a bigger man, which makes him maybe a bit better suited for the League than Brohm. Brohm is smart, skilled and has a quicker release, but he has a tendency to throw the ball into places where it gets intercepted, although not a lot. Woodson has already set the SEC record for attempts without a pick, and is likely to set the NCAA mark unless Arkansas manages to get one.
6. Who are some UK players who don't get much hype that Hog fans should be worried about?
Raphael Little. He gets local hype, but is still pretty much unknown on the national scene, and he is one of the best backs in the SEC. Steve Johnson is proving himself a solid wide receiver, and he may get more action against the Hogs than the more celebrated Keenan Burton. Jacob Tamme is an absolute rock of our offense at TE, and without him, there is no way we win the Louisville game. Our secondary is the best we have had in many years, collectively.
7. What's your prediction for Saturday's game? What about the rest of the season?
I believe Kentucky will win, in a fairly close game, say about 40-30. Basically, I think Kentucky's offense is simply too multidimensional for the Hogs to deal with, and the Razorback offense too one-dimensional to outscore Kentucky. Unfortunately for Arkansas, they are also weakest in the areas where we are strongest, such as pass defense and pass offense. It is a home game for the Hogs, so that will make a difference, and it could well go the other way if McFadden has a field day or the Razorbacks figure out how to pass.
Rest of the season, I'd say given the rather unexpected Louisville victory, we stand a right good chance to go 8-4, with losses coming to LSU, UT, Georgia and Florida. You could substitute a win at Georgia and a loss at USC, I suppose. I figure our odds are about the same against both, and I expect us to get at least one. UT beats us because we don't know how to beat them -- I think we have Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to the Vols, like I told Jon at Fulmer's Belly the other day. They have owned us since sometime just before the Jurassic Period. LSU and Florida look too tough for us right now, even at home.
8. Rich Brooks was on the hot seat a couple of years ago...how do UK fans feel about him now?
Oh, we still hate the guy. Just kidding. Brooks has won over most fans, but there are a good number of fans who never have liked him and frankly, never will, no matter how many games he wins.
9. Will Ashley Judd be attending any UK football games this year?
I have no idea. I rather doubt it though -- she is more of a roundball fan. She supports the football team, but her busy schedule and the relatively small number of opportunities argues against that likelihood. Basketball is much easier because there are so many games.
10. On a different note entirely, what's your take on the John Pelphrey hire?
Arkansas got themselves a good one. There was a not-insignificant minority of Kentucky fans who wanted Pel to be hired instead of Gillispie. We have a love for him and the other members of that 1992 team that no divided loyalty can ever undo.
Pelphrey will totally immerse himself in coaching the Razorbacks, and were I not cautious by nature, I would guarantee he will be a success in Fayetteville. He might make you guys forget the job Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson did there, although I admit those are both pretty high bars to cross.