So what has changed as a result of the Florda game? Micah Johnson has re-injured his sprained ankle and is doubtful. Marcus McClinton's knee is a bit worse, Myron Pyor is still out, Kyrus Lanxter is still down with a knee, Ricky Lumpkin has a strained calf, Justin Jeffries and Maurice Grinter are banged up, as is Josh Minton. Dicky Lyons and Derrick Locke are both still out for the season (Yes, we have no miracles today). Finally, Randall Cobb is now the starting quarterback
The Wildcats are still far from 100% healthy as they head down to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State University Bulldogs, and MSU is much, much healthier than Kentucky with only one minor injury and one major injury. What this means is that even though UK is facing a foothill instead of Mt. Everest relatively speaking, the Wildcats still have a hill to climb against a team that went bowling last year.
Injuries are a part of football, and as much as we moan and groan about them, UK's troubles are absolutely nothing compared to what the Georgia Bulldogs have been dealing with -- they have 10 players with long-term injuries, seven of which are season-ending, and they just undressed LSU in Death Valley, 52-38. When you are in the SEC, injuries must be overcome, and great teams overcome them.
OK, so Kentucky is not a great team this year, but can they become a competent one? So far, UK is adequate only on defense, as even giving up 63 points to the Gators moved Kentucky down from #1 to just #7 in scoring defense. Obviously, the 'Cats defense is better than that, but a combination of injuries and a red hot Florida offense made them look like a high school team. The real problem, though is UK's offense, which has not been competent against SEC competition. Yes, it has had a few good moments in the Alabama and Arkansas game, but generally speaking, the Wildcat offense has put tremendous pressure on the defense to carry the load.
Will that change with Randall Cobb now at the helm? Obviously, we hope so, and Brooks at least thinks it may or he wouldn't have made the move. Don't think for a minute that Rich Brooks isn't stubborn enough to thumb his nose at Kentucky fans who have been screaming at the top of their collective lungs for Randall Cobb at QB if he thinks the things that are going wrong can't be corrected to some extent with this move. The fact that Brooks is making it is really a confirmation that the situation looks to Brooks pretty much like it looks to the rest of us -- Cobb provides an extra dimension that appears to take UK's offense from futility to some semblance of proficiency, something Kentucky has only known against inferior competition this year. Is a merely competent offense enough to overcome our other problems? We won't know until Saturday.
I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating -- the biggest thing Cobb can give UK at quarterback is the ability to sustain favorable field position by moving the football. Yes, points are important also, but Kentucky has been able to beat opponents this year by keeping them in a hole and forcing turnovers and mistakes. Against three of our last four opponents, UK was unable to do that with any consistency. Even if a drive doesn't score, if it keeps the defense off the field a while and backs the opponent up to near their goal line, it has to be considered a strategic success.
Tactically, though, Kentucky needs to start putting points on the board. That begins with getting the football back into the red zone with some semblance of regularity, and getting at least three points out of those efforts. SEC teams are going to score on Kentucky, but they will score way less if the 'Cats keep them pinned down and our defense as fresh as possible. That gives the 'Cats an opportunity to be in every game.
Another thing Cobb brings to the table that couldn't be found under Hartline is a constant threat of a big play, which he can make either with his feet or with his arm. Cobb's mobility forces linebackers to always be concerned about him, the pass rush to be more conservative, and blitzes much more dangerous. That puts pressure on defenses, especially linebackers, not to make bad judgments or face the possibility of turning a running back or Cobb loose in the secondary. That makes scoring points when the Wildcats get behind much more probable.
The other thing Cobb brings, in my opinion, is confidence. It has been clear to me, as it has to others, that the offense has lost much of its confidence in Mike Hartline's ability to run the team. It isn't all Hartline's fault, but as I have said before, UK needs to forget about blaming people and start looking for ways to fix the problem. Cobb's presence gives the offense more confidence, and that is very important. A confident offense is a dangerous offense, as we all well remember from the gunslinging days of André Woodson & Co.
Finally, Cobb gives UK a look for which there is precious little tape for opponents to study. Cobb has been used sparingly at quarterback, and he gives Phillips the freedom to call plays that the opponents simply haven't seen, which is always an advantage, and Kentucky needs every advantage they can find against SEC opponents on the road. Mississippi State may not be as threatening a competitor as the Gators this year, but last year Brooks & Co. took the Bulldogs for granted, and they sent UK fans home from Commonwealth Stadium with frowns instead of smiles.
In the final analysis, Cobb's presence under center makes UK's offense look much more threatening than Hartline has this year. A lot of that is because of Kentucky's youth and inexperience at wide receiver, but as I said earlier, blame is not relevant here. What is relevant is making the offense a genuine threat, and taking some of the pressure off a defense that is trying to get healthy enough to compete for the SEC stretch run. It's a sure bet that if Cobb can't get that done, his stint at starting QB will be a short one.