As we gradually move toward the 2008 version of the Governer's Cup game, we still have no clear picture of either team. Kentucky has recently had a few minor injuries crop up, but nothing of tremendous concern. On the other hand, Georgia, Florida and Auburn have been hit right in the chops by season-ending injuries to key players, a reminder to Wildcat fans that it can happen to anyone, at any time. Football is a contact game, and a major injury to either Louisville or Kentucky could completely change the complexion of a game that is already difficult to handicap.
Staying healthy is not something the 'Cats have been particularly good at. Last year, several key players had either nagging or long-term injuries that hurt Kentucky's chances. Unlike most of the top tier teams in the SEC, UK has rarely had the kind of depth it takes to continue to play at a high level if one of the starters goes down.
Fortunately, that situation is changing, and UK's 2009 recruiting class is evidence. The big news yesterday was that Sam Simpson, the outstanding center from Henry Clay in Lexington, eschewed such schools as Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia to stay home and play football for the Wildcats. Simpson is a throwback player, a center who can snap the ball with either hand. Why does that matter, you say? Witness the injury to Jake Lanefsky, who broke his snapping hand punching the ground after missing a block, and must be moved to guard while that heals. If Simpson had done that, he would have simply snapped with his other hand. An Alabama coach watching Simpson work out (subscription required) said he hadn't seen a center who could snap with both hands in 40 years.
In the SEC, football games are won by the lines. Everyone has great skill players, but the best running back in the world can get nowhere if there are unblocked defensive players waiting for him in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Brooks has said that the lines for Kentucky this year are the best he has had, which is good news, since we are replacing so many skill positions on offense. Despite the lack of unproven offensive players, Brooks dismissed Curtis Pulley, his most experienced quarterback, from the team for actions related to two arrests over the summer. That statement from Brooks has been widely praised as an example the rest of the SEC would do well to emulate.
The news out of Louisville is mixed, but mostly good for the Cardinals. Reports of a strong sense of team togetherness don't necessarily translate into W's in football, but they can't hurt, either. Last year's Louisville team rarely played like one, which is why they were a disappointing 6-6 on the season. This year's version returns less talent, more question marks but also, apparently, more camaraderie and teamwork.
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