UK Football & Basketball: The Fairly Obvious Observations + Landon Slone Edition

University of Kentucky sports are entering the time of year where the hotly anticipated basketball season overlaps with football season, leaving us with much to discuss.  So, in an attempt to kill four birds with one stone, here are my four topics of the day:

The Failed Two-Point Conversion 

Like most everyone else who roots for UK, I found the decision to utilize Will Fidler at quarterback and Randall Cobb at receiver, for Kentucky's attempted two-point conversion to tie on Saturday, a puzzling one, at best.  Although I felt UK lost the game because of dropped touchdown passes (of which there were two) and poor special teams play (with the exception of Lones Seiber), one has no choice but to question why the UK coaching staff opted to have an inexperienced signal-caller under center for the most crucial offensive play of the game.  Couple the facts that Fidler had been occupying space on the bench during the Cobb-led drive for six immediately prior to the conversion attempt, with Fidler's lackluster performance in the second half, and it only causes my head to ache even more enthusiastically.

To continue reading, please send $15 to the Couri ... oops, I forgot, A Sea of Blue's opinions are free ... after the jump.

It seems to me that Cobb at quarterback, with the option to run or throw, would have been the most advantageous decision in that spot -- Run a two-tight end set (one a receiver, one a blocker), roll Cobb out, with the option to run, or, pass to Chris Matthews or Gene McCaskill in end zone.  

The second best option, in my view, was to call on Derrick Locke, Moncell Allen, or John Conner.  All three of those backs have displayed the ability to gain tough yards, and yards are no tougher to gain than on the goal line.  In addition, Locke could have been used as a pitch option for Cobb, if a run play were desired.

No, I'm not a coach, and I didn't stay at Holiday Inn Express last night, but Vince Lombardi one not need be, to plainly see the above options as more desirable than having a cold, inexperienced, unsure quarterback with the ball in his hands at the most critical juncture of the game.  Partial proof: Chris Matthews was open in the end zone, but Fidler never looked his way.

Allow me to state that I do not hold Fidler responsible for the failure.  He was put into a position to fail.  That isn't his fault.

UK's Quarterback Quandary

With Mike Hartline sidelined at least four weeks, the quarterback situation in Lexington suddenly becomes fluid.  Rich Brooks has stated that Fidler, and freshman Morgan Newton will battle for the starting job, with a high likelihood that both players will see time on The Plains, versus Auburn this weekend.  Brooks has also said  Randall Cobb might see increased time at QB out of the "Wildcat" formation.

I'm a firm believer that coaches, regardless of sport, are interested in winning.  Ergo, for the most part, coaches are going to give game reps to the players most likely to lead the team to victory (there are exceptions, particularly coaches from Texas).  Because of this, and the fact that UK football practices are closed, we have no choice but to trust that Brooks, head coach of the offense Joker Phillips, and quarterback coach Randy Sanders, will select the quarterback that gives UK the best chance of winning football games. 

Those who espouse that Newton is a better choice than Fidler, or visa versa, are simply whistling in the wind.  I don't know, they don't know, the coaches probably don't know at this point, or a starter would have already been named.  But, considering Fidler has been in the program for three-plus years, and Newton since only June, one has to think Fidler has a firmer grasp of the offense.  But does having a firmer grasp of UK's offense make Fidler the better option?  That question, I cannot answer, because there is something to be said for the most gifted player being given the chance, regardless of experience.  But, that most important of decisions lies with the UK staff.

Whoever wins out, I know this -- Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke must have the ball in their able hands for a considerable number of snaps.  Obviously, both players represent UK's most potent offensive threats, and in the SEC, a team's chances at victory relies heavily on the best players having the ball in their hands a high percentage of the time.  In an average game Kentucky will run 65 (or so) offensive plays.  At minimum, 40 of those plays should be geared toward Cobb and Locke, with the remaining 25 plays revolving around the other backs and receivers. 

Of course there are unforeseen game situations which might dictate play calling, but UK's base offense should be centered on getting the ball to Cobb and Locke in space.  

Tempering Expectations, John Calipari Style

I have to laugh every time I read or hear coach Calipari, or anyone else for that matter, attempt to tamp down UK fans' expectations for the upcoming basketball season.  The line is usually the same: New coach, new system, new players = struggles, especially early in the season.

All of that might be true, but it doesn't matter.  The UK faithful are so "geeked" about the upcoming roundball season, anything short of an outbreak of cat-astrophic injuries will result in stratospheric expectations.  Telling UK fans not to expect immediate and long-lasting success this season is akin to telling the starving man not to eat too fast -- UK fans are famished for a legitimate national contender, and at long last that yearning will be fulfilled. 

Furthermore, with John Wall being touted by some as the preseason national player of the year, along with the lofty rankings UK is receiving from the preseason prognosticators, throwing cold, or even lukewarm water on UK fans' hopes seems like an exercise of the most futile nature.  So, go ahead UK fan, expect great things, I'm right there with you.  And remember, coach, no amount of subterfuge, no matter how well meaning, will dissuade the hungry masses from exercising their right to great expectations.

I'll give Calipari and "A" for effort on this one, even if the effort was ineffective

Landon "Rudy" Slone

The movie "Rudy" has always been a favorite of mine.  Rudy's courage, conviction, and hustle endeared him not only to his teammates, but two decades later, to the movie-watching American public.  His story is one of the underdog winning out in the end, and American's, being underdogs once upon a time ourselves, appreciate dedication even in the face of long odds.

As the tale goes, Rudy Ruettiger, a walk-on football player at Notre Dame, was promised by legendary Irish coach Ara Parseghian a chance to dress for one Notre Dame home football game in Rudy's senior year.  This was Parseghian's way of rewarding the nonathletic, yet fiercely competitive Ruettiger for his never-ending, give-up-the-body attitude during practice.  Of course, as fate would have it, Parseghian resigned prior to the start of the season, and evidently did not let incoming Irish coach Dan Devine in on his plan to allow Ruettiger to dress for one home game.  So, prior to Notre Dame's final home contest, knowing Devine was not going to let Rudy dress, the entire Irish squad offered to give up their spot on the team, in order for Rudy to dress for the game.  Devine relents, and allows Ruettiger to dress for the game, a game in which Rudy was lucky enough to play in.  Of course, in the end, Rudy the conquerer was carried off the field on his teammate's shoulders, after the final horn.

Former UK walk-on, Landon Slone, is in a similar position.  After being told by Billy Gillispie that he would be awarded a scholarship for the '09-'10 season, Gillispie was terminated, and now John Calipari has the opportunity to do the right thing. 

I know Calipari has an aversion to walk-ons, a stance I have no real problem with, but this situation begs for special consideration.  After all, Slone is not without talent; He scored over 3,000 points in his illustrious career at Paintsville High School, and wanting to play for UK so badly, turned down several scholarship offers.  He was a member of the team last season, and by all accounts, played as hard as one would expect a boy from the mountains of Kentucky to play.  

Is it Slone's birthright to walk-on at UK?  No, it isn't.  A love for UK doesn't qualify one to play basketball, or any other sport for Kentucky, but a combination of Slone's A.) talent, B.) desire, and C.) the fact that Calipari (mistakenly) did not clear 10 minutes in his schedule to sit down with the young man months ago, leads me to respectfully request of coach Cal ...

... At minimum, give the kid half-an-hour to convince you that he would be a positive addition to this year's basketball 'Cats.  Half-an-hour, that's all.  You spent an entire night outside Memorial Coliseum with the Midnight Madness maniacs, why not listen for a few minutes to what Slone has to say? 

You might not be aware, coach, but there's just something unspeakably special about a Kentucky kid wearing "Kentucky" across his chest.  Even if the player isn't the most talented, and sometimes, because the player isn't the most talented.  Simply put, sometimes the Kentucky underdog will inspire those gifted with exceptional ability ... Sometimes the Kentucky underdog will show the diaper dandy what it means to give it his all ... Sometimes the Kentucky underdog, through his love for the University, will stimulate the pampered to fight for victory, instead of settling for defeat ... Sometimes the Kentucky underdog is carried off the field of play on the shoulders of his teammates, to the cheers of those who wish they were him. 

Give 'em a chance, coach, he deserves at least that much.

Maple Street Press Wildcat Tip-Off Annual

As Tru reported in an earlier post, the Wildcat Tip-Off preseason basketball magazine can be found, around October 20, at the following retail outlets: Wal Mart, Kroger's, Target, Meijer, CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Walgreen's, Food Lion, Food City, Sam's Club, and the University Bookstore on campus.

The magazine can also be ordered on-line from Maple Street Press.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!

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