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Alabama/Kentucky Q&A with A Sea of Blue

A Sea of Blue was kind enough to answer a few questions for us regarding the Kentucky Wildcats, who have quietly gone about putting together a pretty solid 4-0 run and are hoping to spoil what has been a much hyped start for our own Crimson Tide. Check with them throughout the day for some answers I had from them as well. Without further ado:

  1. The only time I've gotten to see Kentucky play this season was the opener against Louisville, a defensive struggle that saw the Wildcats play solid defense but not do a whole lot on offense.  Has UK found an offensive identity since then?

    Somewhat.  Our offense has a fairly good line, but our skill positions have been almost completely replaced from last year with the exception of the running backs and Dicky Lyons Jr., our slot receiver.  Everyone knows that Woodson, Little, Burton, Johnson and Tamme are gone and they represented virtually 90% of our offensive production last year.  Replacing that many players is very tough.

    But Mike Hartline has been a very steady if unspectacular quarterback, so I think we are OK there.  What's hurt us so far is our O-line run blocking, which has been pretty poor, and our receivers.  The receivers have been breaking off routes, running the wrong routes, and dropping the football -- pretty much what you expect from freshmen and sophomores.  That now seems to be improving, and will be tested in the crucible of Bryant-Denny this weekend.

  2. On that note, name us a couple of players on offense that we'll be cursing on Saturday.

    Offensively, Derrick Locke could be the guy that elicits some harsh language from 'Bama fans.  If the line can give him some holes against the 'Bama defense, he is terriffic in the secondary.  He came to UK on a track scholarship, and can pretty much outrun everybody.

    Another guy that will give 'Bama fans reason to swear will be Dicky Lyons Jr.  Lyons is one of those tough receivers, not that speedy, but a guy who runs a good route and will not drop passes.  T.C. Drake is developing into a threat at tight end, and we could see a lot of balls thrown his way if Alabama is able to bring pressure.

  3. Kentucky is playing some stingy defense so far, leading the league in scoring defense and second in total defense while also staying in the top half of the conference in all the other categories.  What has been the secret of their success, and who are a few players the Tide offense needs to be wary of this week?

    Corey Peters and Travard Lindley.  Lindley is an all-SEC quality cover corner, and the battle between him and Julio Jones aught to be epic.  Corey Peters is our most talented defensive lineman, and he has been a terror this year.  Peters has set up a small condominium complex in the backfield of every team we have played so far.  It will be tougher for him to do that in Tuscaloosa, but if he and his bretheren on the D-line don't get some penetration, it could get ugly for UK fast.

    Besides the two I mentioned above, Braxton Kelley and Myron Pryor are two stalwarts in our run defense.  Of course, we are missing our outstanding MLB Micah Johnson, but Kelley has been so good we haven't noticed a drop off.  Our defensive secondary has given up very few big plays, also, but I think the big key against Alabama will be getting some pressure on JP Wilson, as well as keeping Alabama from running "3 yards and a cloud of dust" on us.  Our D-line must find a way to get some penetration against the Tide's big uglies, and those two guys have been responsible for shutting down the run so far, along with Peters and Ventrell Jenkins.

  4. When we talked before the season we talked a little bit about how the basketball rabid fanbase perceives Kentucky football, and you wrote an excellent post on the historic opportunity that this game presents for the Kentucky football team.  Has the 4-0 start and a clash of undefeated teams this weekend amped up the expectations that Wildcat football can become a contender in the SEC?

    Well, Kentucky fans in general are realistic about our football prospects.  We don't recruit at the level of Alabama, and thus we don't expect to be able to come into many top-tier SEC school's (of which Alabama is most assuredly one) home stadium and beat them.  Those are simply the facts of life.  But UK fans are excited about the possibilities this game presents -- defeating Alabama would propel UK to the top of the SEC East and in a position to contend for an SEC East title, as well as elevate the 'Cats back into the national convesation, albeit not at a top 10 level or anything, for the second straight year.  So our hopes are up for this game, but not to the point that there will be finger-pointing and recriminations if we lose.

    With that said, Kentucky is fully capable of beating an Alabama team that does not bring it's "A" game.  Alabama's "B" game is not likely to be enough against a motivated Kentucky team.  That's the difference between the Wildcats of 5 years ago and the Wildcats of today -- you cannot take us for granted as many teams did in previous years, or we will send your fans home with a frown.

  5. What has Kentucky been able to do on defense that has surprised you so far this season?  And on offense?

    We expected to have a good defense.  I don't think we expected to be ranked as highly as we are.  Frankly, on defense, there have been no real surprises, except perhaps Mat Lentz and David Jones.  Lentz was a quarterback who decided to move to strong safety to get on the field, and he has now taken over the starting spot from a troubled Ashton Cobb.  Lentz is a very smart player, and unusually for a former quarterback, likes to hit people -- hard.

    David Jones had to take over for the academically ineligible Paul Warford, who was our second most talented corner.  Jones so far has done a very good job, rather better than I expected.  Again, he will be tested against Alabama, who would do well to throw to his side of the field rather than Trevard Lindley's.

  6. What aspect of Alabama's offense most concerns you?  And on defense?

    Heh.  Everything.  And everything.

    But if I must pick one thing in particular, I am concerned about how our run defense will perform.  Alabama has a truly great offensive line.   The way you beat a football team is to keep the defense on the field a long time, and if Alabama can make the time of possession lopsided, I think Kentucky will lose.

    Defensively, I worry a bit about Hartline under fire.  He has not been tested under fire so far this year, as our O-line has done a masterful job of protecting him.  But Alabama's defense is in another league, and I would be shocked if they don't get some pressure on Hartline.  Will he start throwing the ball at random to covered receivers like Woodson sometimes did, or will he handle it with poise?  We really don't know.

  7. Fill in the blank portion:  Kentucky can win on Saturday if they BLANK?

    ...perform well against the run.  If UK can hold Alabama to under 130 yards total rushing and we don't give up big plays in the passing game, we have a chance.

  8. Kentucky will lose on Saturday if they don't BLANK?

    ...get the Alabama offense off the field.  If Alabama can grind down our defense, they will be able to outscore Kentucky.  Kentucky does not have the line depth that Alabama does, and if our D-line has to face 6 minute drives every possession, it's going to put tremendous pressure on the secondary as they tire.