Having been away from the computer for the last week or so, I thought I would emerge from my beach dwelling lifestyle to "clean house" on a few items.
The Middle Tennessee near-disaster
Going into UK's contest versus Middle Tennessee there were warning signs that the Kentucky football team wasn't a completely focused group. The rantings of Rich Brooks about the unacceptable practice habits of the team leading up to the game is not what fans want to hear, and should have served as a foreshadow that the game wasn't going to be the easy win ( if there is such a thing ) it should have been. Make no mistake, the MTSU game should have been an opportunity for some of the younger players to enjoy some valuable game experience, as well as the Commonwealth faithful to enjoy a relaxing route prior to the beginning of the rugged SEC schedule.
Along those same lines; let's very quickly put to rest the talk of MTSU being a very good football team, a football team that had every right to be in the game in the fourth quarter. They did beat Maryland who then beat Cal, but with the exception of USC, the Pac 10 looks dreadful, and the entire ACC looks to be just as incompetent. And oh by the way, MTSU lost Saturday to Arkansas State by a score of 31-14; Middle was outgained by 125 yards for the game. So, no, MTSU had no business being within three feet of defeating Kentucky.
Kentucky nearly beat Kentucky, as evidenced by Rich Brooks and Joker Phillip's words after the game:
"We had way too many people, particularly on offense, not knowing what was going on, not running the right routes, missing checks. There were a lot of things Hartline was doing, getting us in the right play, and then all of a sudden the receiver wouldn't complete a route, wouldn't run the right route. Right now our quarterback goes back where, he's not sure what he's going to get on those routes. It was very disturbing."
Joker was a bit less verbose, but just as crystal clear:
"Here's what's discouraging to me. You see guys in the pre-game singing Kanye West songs. How can they freaking understand every word that he sings and they can't understand the freaking signals. That's what's frustrating."
You play like you practice. Rinse and repeat.
I realize the UK receiving corps is littered with youngsters ( who probably think they are the next Jerry Rice ), but what they evidently don't understand is that Jerry Rice worked his tail off becoming Jerry Rice. Just as Tiger Woods works harder than any other professional golfer, just as Walter Payton worked harder than any other NFL running back, just as Michael Jordan worked harder than any other professional basketball player.
It's not a happy accident that Rice, Woods, Payton and Jordan are considered by many to be the unrivaled athletes in their chosen sport. They are all considered to be the hardest, most focused and driven performers of their time; Tiger Woods will practice putting for eight hours a day ... eight hours! Yet many of UK's football players find it challenging to practice at an acceptable level for eight hours a week.
Why is that? I surely don't have the answer, but I have the juice, and here it is; if Kentucky's players don't discover the fact that you get better in practice, that a team plays like it practices ( a fact I learned in high school ), then they are in for a long and winless SEC schedule.
As it stands right now, there isn't an SEC team that UK can beat:
- They won't be able to score on Mississippi State.
- Vanderbilt is capable of lighting up the scoreboard bulbs at a frightening pace, UK won't be able to keep up with them.
- As bad as South Carolina is, Steve Spurrier is much too football smart to lose to this group.
- You can bet your parking pass that Bobby Petrino will have Arkansas ready, because I guarantee he's getting the effort out of his group in practice.
- Forget about being competitive with 'Bama, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia. Squads that don't take practice and getting better, seriously, don't beat teams of that caliber.
And let me add; thank gawd UK doesn't have to play U of L again, because the Cards looked like an improving club Wednesday night in their beat-down of Kansas State.
My advice is that somebody wearing a uniform needs to step up and kick some ass. The coaches can scream and berate all day long, but if their is a lack of player leadership, a lack of accountability among the players themselves, then many times the coaches "vocal encouragement" goes unheeded, especially among the young and the clueless.
Running backs and offensive linemen
Kentucky's ability to run the ball was touted as a team strength a mere three weeks ago, but presently the ball carriers in blue have been the most profound disappointment for the 'Cats. The four primary running backs: Tony Dixon, Derrick Locke, Alfonso Smith, and Moncell Allen are averaging 2.9 yards per carry in their two Division I games. They have accumulated 171 yards on 59 carries. That is simply pitiful.
I place most of the blame on the offensive line. I don't care if Barry Sanders is running with the pigskin, if he gets hit two yards behind the line of scrimmage, he's not going to run for a lot of yards, and that's what is happening to UK's corps of fleet-footed backs. The penetration the opponents D-line is getting on running plays is not conducive to large ground gains, but Hartline has for the most part enjoyed adequate protection. That tells me that the offensive linemen can stave off a rush, but they aren't strong enough, or fundamentally sound enough to impose their will on opponents, in order to open up holes to run through ... in other words, they can't move 'em.
That's a problem.
I'm not going to pretend to know all the answers to the myriad of questions surrounding their unexpectedly poor performance ( except to say that they obviously miss the injured Garry Williams, along with the graduated Jason Leger and Eric Scott ), but they must begin to play better, or we're going to witness negative rushing yardage games in the very near future.
I'm not going to recount all the negative stats relevant to Seiber's perfomance that have been printed in the papers and on-line this week. My stomach couldn't take it.
I know the kid is trying, and I know he feels bad. But a tough-love benching is called for, in my opinion. I realize Brooks has said there will be an open-competition in practice for the starting place-kicking job, but that competition should not include Seiber. He has been given many chances, and it's time to see what Ryan Tydlacka or J.J. Housley can do under the pressure of the spotlight.
A hearty congratulations goes out to the UK quarterback for being selected the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the MTSU game ( 28-47 for 254 yards and two TD's ).
I hope the boo birds are sufficiently ashamed. The young man is growing up right before our surprised eyes.
With the WKU game coming up Saturday, I'll have much more on Western and the contest itself, but for now, let me leave you with this scary thought ... the Toppers are better than Middle.
Thanks for reading, and practice like you mean it!