Author Archives: tardawg1014
The words ‘fun’, ‘Kentucky’, and ‘football’ don’t normally belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence. But I’m here to tell you: they were entertaining and explosive last year. They return enough on offense (and possibly enough competency on defense, outside the loss of Bud Dupree) to compete for a bowl.
What Happened Last Year?
Mark Stoops’ second season saw continued improvement from their year 1 results, as they snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak early against Vanderbilt and followed it up with a shootout win against South Carolina. Matter of fact, they took Florida to triple OT in The Swamp before those two successes, so they just narrowly missed a 6-0 start.
The wheels then came off in a 41-3 loss at LSU, but they held their own in the SEC’s weirdest possible 3:30 CBS kickoff: #1 Mississippi State at Kentucky. The 45-31 loss was more competitive than the final score would indicate. They were then competitive in road losses to Mizzou and Louisville…but not so much against Georgia and Tennessee.
Put it all together, and you have 9 games in which the Wildcats were competitive. They return 7 starters on each side of the ball, including a much-improved QB Patrick Towles.
Three Key Games
First off, their nonconference schedule includes Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, and Charlotte in the 49ers’ first power-5 game. Find three wins between the SEC and Louisville, and the ‘Cats are bowling for the first time since 2010.
Sept. 19, Florida: Fresh off taking the Gators to triple OT last year, Kentucky has the good fortune of drawing the Gators early, before their new offense is battle-tested.
Sept. 26, Missouri: Had this as a key for Mizzou as well, but it should shape up as a shakedown for middle-of-the-pack versus towards-the-bottom in the SEC East. That’s right, if Kentucky holds serve in September, they should be able to comfortably hit the 6-win plateau.
Nov. 28, Louisville: Assuming losses at South Carolina, home against Auburn, and at Mississippi State and Georgia, the two above and Tennessee become their swing games. They played the fighting Petrinos close in Louisville last year, and both the four-game losing streak to their rivals and the dangling carrot of 15 extra bowl practices should serve as proper motivation.
Five Key Players:
Melvin Lewis, DT: He held his starting NT job over the very large and very hyped Matt Elam last year, and responded as a pretty good two-gap stuffer. If he fails, the nose grows from 342 to 365 in this form:
Jon Toth, C: The only Kentucky OL among 4 returning starters on any of Phil Steele’s All-SEC teams, Toth has anchored the line for the entire Stoops era.
Patrick Towles, QB: Already the best offensive back at Kentucky since Andre Woodson, Towles started strong but finished with relatively pedestrian numbers: 14 TD, 9 Int, 57.3% completions. Given the fact that the team had its highest scoring output since 2010 with those numbers, any improvement should prove huge for the Wildcats.
Josh Forrest, MLB: Takes over as the most recognizable defensive player on the team, and they’re going to need his production. He actually led the team (Dupree included) with 7 tackles for loss and 110 total.
Dorian Baker/Garrett Johnson, WR: Slated to take over two of the three starting spots, both put up around 20 catches for 200 yards and a couple TD’s as true freshmen. If one of them can step up opposite leading receiver Ryan Timmons, the O should take the next step.
In case you haven’t noticed, Kentucky’s success in 2015 will be defined strictly by whether they’re playing a 13th game. I think it’s time for them to do just that.
If I’m claiming to be a prognosticator (I’m not) then this would have to be considered a risky and potentially Georgia-jinxing pick (it is). But let’s take a deeper look into the numbers.
What Happened Last Year (And For Comparison’s Sake, the Year Before)?
2013: 491 yards per game on offense, with receivers L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham. Henry Josey led the team with over 1100 yards of offense. James Franklin’s injury at Georgia gave way to Maty Mauk, who looked decent with those weapons around him. On D, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy provided the best pass rush in the nation, leading the Tigers to 41 sacks and the 12-2 record that many saw as a fluke. I’m not so sure it was.
2014: Offense dips to 367 a game, with Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt competently leading the receiving corps. Markus Golden and Shane Ray led another ridiculous pass rush to 44 sacks, and the defense actually improved by 70 yards and two points a game. But, given the numbers cited, the offense took a major dip, and their last 5 SEC wins were less and less inspiring. 10-point home wins against Vandy and Kentucky, single-digit wins against Texas A&M and Tennessee, and the painful-to-watch Black Friday 21-14 win over Arkansas.
They got by, but it wasn’t pretty. Gone are all of the players listed above not named Mauk, who languished around the 50% completion mark for the second straight season.
They do return most of their offensive line, as well as a linebacking corps that put up ridiculous numbers behind the stalwart D-line.
But when your most impressive win is a game against Florida where your defense nets a +5 in turnovers and your offense accounts for 119 yards, one doesn’t have to squint too much to see a dropoff.
Three Key Games
Sept. 26, at Kentucky: Their SEC opener is a tricky one, and one that will tell us a LOT about both teams playing. My early inclination is to call this a toss-up at best for the Tigers. Toss-up = key game in my book.
Oct. 17, at Georgia: Well, let’s say this for Mizzou fans/players favorite SEC rivalry: the home team has yet to win a game in this series. Wins in this one and Kentucky (sandwiching home games against South Carolina and Florida) put Mizzou in the driver’s seat for the East, yet again. I think this is more likely the merciful burial of their fluky two-year run atop the division.
Nov. 21, Tennessee: If neither of these teams are eliminated by now, we know Georgia slipped up somewhere and this becomes a de facto SEC East elimination game. Let’s not let it come to that.
Five Players to Watch
Maty Mauk, QB: Quite honestly, this whole low prediction is contingent on Mauk failing, for a second straight year, to improve on his numbers as his supporting cast gets much weaker. If Mauk takes ‘the leap’, my prediction is way off.
Evan Boehm, C: Boehm anchors the senior-heavy O-line with 50 career starts, and its success in creating running lanes for Russell Hansbrough and short passing lanes for their tunnel screen game will largely dictate what this offense can do.
Charles Harris, DE: With two sacks last year, the third-year sophomore is apparently being tabbed as the ‘next in line’ behind Sam/Ealy/Ray/Golden. If he emerges and Mizzou has another 40-sack campaign, I’ll believe it.
Kentrell Brothers, LB: Sure tackling at the LB spot has been the underrated staple of Mizzou’s last two D’s. Brothers accounted for 122 last year.
Michael Scherer, MLB: See above, but give him 114 tackles.
So, yeah. I’m pretty confident in this pick. Outside of the two linebackers, all of the things that need to go right for Mizzou to contend for a third straight SEC East title are very speculative in nature.
That, or I just can’t shake this image and I’m extremely wrong.
I cannot begin to explain how painful it has been to research and write this one. Let’s get through it quickly so we can move back to the ‘intriguing teams’ category.
What Happened Last Year?
James Franklin proved, by moving on to Penn State, that he had done about as much good at Vanderbilt as possible. His replacement, Derek Mason, oversaw a 30-point home loss to Temple in the first game of his career, and was quoted at Media Days two weeks ago with the following statement:
I assumed we’d play like an SEC team…but we didn’t.
Not exactly confidence-inspiring stuff from the head man. The one SEC team they did play like? Historical Vanderbilt, but maybe a little worse. Their three wins came against UMass, Charleston Southern, and Old Dominion…by a combined 18 points. They saw four QB’s get starts and significant game action. They were outgained by 380 yards early against Ole Miss, 245 by Kentucky in the middle of the season, and 274 late against Mississippi State.
There is nothing to indicate that things will be any better this year, as 18 returning starters to a crap team makes a crap team just slightly better.
Three Key Games
When you’re this bad, they’re all important.
Sept. 5, Western Kentucky: Yeah, I’m serious. This, Austin Peay (Sept. 19), and at Middle Tennessee (Oct. 3) are the only truly winnable games for Vandy, and I’m including a trip to Houston and home dates with Kentucky and Missouri in the ‘sure loss’ category.
Oct. 17, at South Carolina: Hey, maybe they can get lucky and grease the wheels on Steve Spurrier’s departure.
Nov. 28, at Tennessee: Prediction is that this’ll be Mason’s last game before being canned.
Five Players to Watch
You know that scene in Breaking Bad where Lydia meets Mike at the diner and they don’t have any of her usual drinks? This is the Vanderbilt roster.
Enjoy your hot water, Lydia.
Ralph Webb, RB: The sophomore is the team leader, according to linebacker Nigel Bowden. Can’t tell you if that’s a good thing or not.
Johnny McCrary, QB: Something I notice in looking at this roster: there are 7 true sophomores listed in bold and caps, meaning they’re returning starters from last year. So…Mason took something that worked, recruits that were GREAT for Vanderbilt…and started his own guys instead? 31 of them? Yeah, 3-9 is starting to make more sense.
Nigel Bowden, LB: The sophomore (yeah, Mason brought two to media days) led the team in tackles with 78 in 2014.
Colby Cooke, P: Hall and I accurately predicted that Cooke would win the Vanderbilt punter battle on last year’s preview podcast, and his efforts made absolutely no discernible difference.
Stephen Scheu, TE: He’s a name I recognize, as the senior was the Commodores’ leading receiver last year, as well as– get this– a 2nd-team All-SEC performer! How about it?
In closing, I’m done. Yuck.
Good for you. The feeling’s not mutual.
If you’ve been following, we’ve made it through 4 1/2 of the power 5 conferences in the ‘Know Your Other Conferences/#SECPreviews’ series. I’m going to try to half-ass it through (spoiler alert) Vanderbilt and Kentucky in a post tomorrow, but wanted to get the readers that have been slowly trickling back to DudeYouCrazy over the past few weeks caught up.
6/30: The whole damn thing.
Plenty more to come, but not Notre Dame!