With Kentucky coming off a season-saving, come-from-behind 21-14 victory over Auburn on Saturday, we find ourselves at the mid-point of the season. The first six games of the 2009 season have regaled us with many great individual performances, several disappointing developments, and a record about where most (in the preseason), thought it would be. So, in keeping with the positive vibes surrounding UK athletics at the moment, let's honor those players and units that have achieved beyond the expected:
Most Outstanding Offensive Player: Randall Cobb (Sophomore Do-It-All Dynamo) -- The Alcoa, Tennessee native has simply been electric for nearly the entire season. Cobb has ran for 239 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, as well as being a danger as a receiver; 24 catches for 322 yards (13.4 yards per reception), and another four touchdowns. In an effort to get the ball in his hands as many times as possible, the coaching staff has Cobb returning punts (although I'm not happy about it). He's hasn't broken-off a long one yet, but he's averaging a healthy 8.9 yards per punt return (3rd in the SEC). Cobb is also averaging 129.5 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, and returns) per game (5th in the SEC).
Not in recent memory has UK possessed such an extreme talent. Cobb is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and with his exceptional speed, elusiveness, and explosiveness he has become option No. 1 in the Kentucky offense. Enjoy the "Cobbinator" while we have 'im!
Honorable mention goes to junior running back Derrick Locke. Coming off major knee surgery, there were question marks about his ability to maintain his incredible burst and overall speed, but Locke has posted some very strong numbers this season, rendering the medical questions null and void. Locke has rushed for 459 yards (4.6 ypc) and three touchdowns, and he's once again proving to be a real asset catching the ball out of the backfield with 16 receptions for 128 yards (8.0 ypr). In addition, he's returned 12 kick-offs for 385 yards (32.1 ypr), and a touchdown. Locke leads the SEC in all-purpose yards with 162 yards per game.
Locke does a splendid job of countering Cobb's "escapability" with a power/speed running game. Lucky us, Locke and Cobb have one more season together!
Outstanding Defensive Player: Micah Johnson (Senior LB) -- Johnson was thought to be the defensive leader of this team prior to the season, and he hasn't disappointed. He currently leads the team in tackles with 52 (5th in the SEC), to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
Solidifying himself as the best defensive player of the first half of the season, Johnson came up huge Saturday at Auburn. His 14 tackle effort was the impetus behind him being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Johnson's combination of size, strength, and quickness make him a ball-chasing holy terror, almost impossible to stop one-on-one. And when he locks his highly sensitive radar onto the ball carrier, it's time for the trainer.
Honorable mention goes to junior linebacker Sam Maxwell -- Maxwell has been excellent, especially on passing downs. He's recorded 36 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and an incredible five pass breakups, to go along with two interceptions.
Maxwell has shown Micah Johnson-type pursuit ability, and an uncanny knack for being around the ball.
Most Improved Offensive Player: John Conner (Senior fullback) -- Conner has been outstanding since arriving at UK, but I had to find a way to honor his dedication to perfecting the art of blocking. Conner's incredible effectiveness at providing room to run for UK's Locke, Alfonso Smith, Randall Cobb and Moncell Allen, makes him a valuable commodity to coach Rich Brooks. Conner, a 5'11", 240 lb wrecking ball of a fullback deserves much of the credit for the improved performance of the running game in 2009. He consistently clears a wide swath of turf for the ball-carriers, and has proved to be a reliable runner (15 carries for 47 yards) and pass catcher (11 receptions for 89 yards) out of the backfield.
Honorable mention goes to the offensive line -- Left tackle Zipp Duncan, left guard Christian Johnson, center Jorge Gonzalez, right guard Stuart Hines, and right tackle Brad Durham have paved the way for UK's talented ball carriers like a bulldozer clearing powdery snow. The penetration the linemen have gained, has at times, been almost comical ... at least to UK fans. They have collectively cleared a path for the fifth ranked rushing offense in the SEC (186.5 yards per game), and in UK's two most recent contests (versus South Carolina and Auburn), the O-line allowed Kentucky to rush for a combined 487 yards. Additionally, UK ran for 133 yards against an Alabama defense giving up an average of only 63.3 rushing yards per game. On the season, UK's backs have rushed for 1,119 yards (4.5 ypc) and 11 touchdowns, and just as importantly, UK's quarterbacks have been sacked only six times ...
... Saaaalute! To Kentucky's "big-uglies."
Most Improved Defensive Player: Danny Trevathan (Sophomore LB) -- Last season in mostly special teams duties, Trevathan accounted for five tackles and a blocked kick (versus Georgia), but this season the sophomore has made the most of his opportunity while playing alongside Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell. Trevathan is third on the team with 39 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, and one pass breakup. In UK's last outing versus Auburn, Trevathan did his finest MJ impression, recording 14 tackles.
We said in the preseason that this kid could be the next great UK linebacker, and thus far, he's on the fast track.
Pleasant Surprise of the Year (Individual): Lones Seiber (Senior Kicker) -- Seiber came into the season having made less than 60.0% of his field goal attempts for his career, but in '09, he has made 5-8 field goals (62.5%), with one block, and a miss from 49 yards. So, overall he's been much improved from the inconsistent kicker he has been over the last three years. And with all of the criticism he has received (me included), he deserves some kudos.
Pleasant Surprise of the Year (Team): The running game -- Derrick Locke, Alfonso Smith, Randall Cobb, Moncell Allen, John Conner and the offensive line are of course responsible for the incredible, season-saving success of the Kentucky's running game. It has been powerful, elusive, and overly effective ... let's keep it up. (See running game stats above)
Biggest Negative Play of the Year: The failed two-point conversion attempt versus South Carolina -- I don't want to belabor a point that has been beat to death by everyone from myself, to the mainstream media, but if I could ask Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips one question regarding that decision it would be, "Why?" The staff's decision to allow Will Fidler to quarterback on the play didn't cost UK the victory, but it cost the 'Cats the chance to win. I could keep going, but ... well, let's leave the unpleasantness where it belongs. In the past.
Biggest Positive Play of the Year: Randall Cobb's 61-yard scamper (or did he run about 80-yards?) to set up the winning touchdown versus Auburn -- Cobb, in that one play, displayed why he is considered such a dangerous weapon: He broke a long run, he evaded several would-be-tacklers, and he did it with the game on the line. Pressure? Cobb has pressure for breakfast.
Honorable mention goes to Louisville's Trent Guy for his fumble late in the fourth quarter of the UK vs. U of L game. If Guy doesn't put the ball on the turf on his attempted catch of a UK punt, Big Blue's chances of winning diminish exponentially.
Most Outstanding Performance of the Season: The defense in the Auburn game -- Without UK's smothering defense for the entire game, Cobb's 61-yard run would have been for naught. Kentucky's defense held Auburn to 170 fewer yards than the Tigers average on the year, and gave up only a single touchdown. This against a team that averaged nearly 39 points per game.
Thoroughly frustrated is the most appropriate term to describe Auburn quarterback Chris Todd. Coming into the game the Elizabethtown native was the SEC's second leading passer, averaging nearly 227 yards per game, while completing 57.8% of his passes. UK held Todd to 10-24 passing for 80 yards and only his second interception of the year. Kentucky's rush defense was nearly as impressive -- Auburn running back Ben Tate was averaging 6.1 yards per carry coming into the game, but was held to only 4.3 yards per carry. Tate's running mate, Onterio McCaleb, averaged 6.0 yards per carry, but MJ and his Crew held him to only 22 yards on seven carries (3.1 ypc).
Coming into the Auburn game, I wasn't sure UK could keep up with the Tiger's rapid fire offense, how silly of me. Hats off to the D! The Auburn victory belongs to you.
Feel free to condemn, but as always,
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!