UK Football: The Resurrection of Mr. Optimistic

One game does not a season make, but one game is capable of re-raising the hopes of Kentucky football fans.  And UK's streaking-busting victory over Steve Spurrier and his No. 10 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks has resurrected optimistic Wildcat football fan from the depths of despair and lost hope.

Actually, it wasn't just UK's win over SC that is responsible for the attitude adjustment -- The 'Cats' offensive output versus Auburn, and the highly peculiar second half defensive improvement (which no one seems to have an answer for) against both SC and Auburn are the primary reasons for the re-emergence of Mr. Optimistic fan.

With the 'Cats now sitting at 4-3 (1-3) and a remaining schedule full of winnable games (shouldn't they all be winnable?), an offense as high-powered as any in recent Wildcat history, along with a seemingly improving defense, attaining nine or ten wins for the first time since Jimmy Carter was in office now seems at least a plausible scenario.

So, after the jump, let's take a fresh look at how both UK has performed up to this point in the season, along with the teams comprising the rest of the 'Cats' schedule.  

Kentucky & Opponent Stats (SEC rank in parenthesis)                                    

Points Per Game: UK 35.3 (2nd), Opp.  29.9 (11th)

Total Offense: UK 429.3 (3rd), Opp. 361.9 (8th)

Passing Offense: UK 270.6 (2nd), Opp. 185.9 (5th)

Rushing Offense: UK 158.7 (6th), Opp. 176.0 (11th)

3rd Down Conversion: UK 44.0% (5th), Opp. 39.3% (10th)

Red Zone Scores: UK 87.9% - 29-33 (5th), Opp. 96.0% - 24-25 (12th)

Sacks By: UK 12 (9th), Opp. 6 (1st)

Penalties: UK 49.6 yds pg (7th), Opp. 55.1 yds pg (2nd)

Turnover Margin: UK + 4 (2nd)

Time of Possession: UK 30:46 (3rd)

Individual Numbers

Quarterback Mike Hartline: 157-230 passing (68.3%) for 1,791 yards, three interceptions and 13 touchdowns -- Hartline is third in the SEC in passing yards per game (255.9), and fourth in the SEC in total offense.

Running back Derrick Locke: 108 carries for 574 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns: 24 receptions for 225 yards (9.4 yards per reception): Nine kick-off returns for a 26.8 average: 174.7 all-purpose yards per game -- Locke is third in the SEC in rushing yards per game; ninth in receiving yards per game; fifth in kick-off return average, and second in all-purpose yards per game.

Locke, still ailing with multiple stingers, will more than likely not play Saturday versus Georgia.

Wide receiver Randall Cobb: 40 receptions for 466 yards (11.6 ypr) and five touchdowns: 32 carries for 195 yards (6.1 ypc) and three touchdowns: 4-6 passing for 51 yards and three touchdowns (check out the passes thrown to TD pass ratio): 17 punt returns (one touchdown), 9.8 average: 14 kick-off returns, 23.4 average: 165.0 all-purpose yards per game -- Cobb is third in the SEC in all-purpose yardage; fifth in receiving yards per game; third in receptions per game (5.8); sixth in points per game (8.3), and third in receptions per game.

Wide receiver Chris Matthews: 33 receptions for 482 yards (14.6 ypr) and six touchdowns -- Matthews is fourth in the SEC in both receptions per game (4.7) and yards receiving per game (68.9).

Wide receiver La'Rod King: 24 receptions for 249 yards (10.4 ypr) and three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Matt Roark: 10 receptions for 151 yards (15.1 ypr).

Tight end Jordan Aumiller: 11 receptions for 120 yards (10.9 ypr), and one touchdown.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan: 70 tackles (41 solo); 9.0 tackles for loss; two pass break-ups; two forced fumbles; and one sack -- Trevathan leads the SEC in tackles, and is fifth in the league in tackles for loss. 

Safety Winston Guy: 46 tackles and two interceptions.

Defensive back Mychal Bailey: 38 tackles; two pass break-ups; and one interception.

Defensive lineman Luke McDermott: 4.5 tackles for loss; 3.0 sacks; and one interception.

Defensive back Anthony Mosley: Three pass break-ups; one interception.

Kicker Craig McIntosh: 7-9 field goals (77.8%) with one block; he's made eight in a row.

Punter Ryan Tydlacka: 45.0 punt average -- Third in SEC.

Kick-off artist Joe Mansour: 41 kick-offs, 14 touch-backs -- Leads the league in touch-backs.

Georgia Bulldogs 3-4 (2-3) 

Note: If you haven't already, I recommend reading Glenn's take on the Red Clay Hounds of Georgia.  Find it here.

UK and Georgia collide this Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium

Results: On the road the Bulldogs have lost to South Carolina, 17-6; Mississippi State, 24-12; and Colorado, 29-27.  In Athens, UGA has beat Louisiana-Lafayette, 55-7; lost to Arkansas 31-24; beat UT, 41-14, and Vanderbilt, 43-0. 

SEC Standing

The 'Dogs are fifth in the SEC, averaging 395.3 yards of total offense, and third in the SEC in total defense, giving up only 290.1 yards per game.  Georgia is seventh in the league in points, averaging 29.7 per game, and fourth in the SEC, allowing only 17.4 points per game.

Individual Numbers

Quarterback Aaron Murray: 112-181 (61.9%) for 1,653 yards, three interceptions and 12 touchdowns: 51 carries for 158 yards (3.1 ypc) and four touchdowns -- Murray is third in the SEC with 236.1 passing yards per game. 

Running back Washaun Ealey: 77 carries for 369 yards (4.8 ypc) and two touchdowns in six games: Five catches for 49 yards (9.9 ypr).

Running back Caleb King: King is suspended for Saturday's contest -- He's ran for 228 yards (second most on the team) on 44 carries (5.2 ypc) and one touchdown.

Running back Carlton Thomas: 39 carries for 165 yards (4.2 ypc) and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver A. J. Green: Green missed the first four games of the year due to a suspension -- 16 catches for 279 yards (17.4 ypr) and four touchdowns in his three contests.

Wide receiver Kris Durham: 22 receptions for 453 yards (20.6 ypr) and two touchdowns.

Linebacker Akeem Dent: 62 tackles; 2.5 sacks -- Dent is fourth in  the SEC in tackles per game (8.9).

Linebacker Justin Houston: 6.5 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss -- Houston is fourth in the league in tackles for loss and he leads the league in sacks.

The 'Dogs, after beating UT and Vanderbilt, have at least temporally righted a floundering ship.  A.J. Green provides the 'Cats with major secondary headaches.  Both extremely quick, with great hands, Green should be double-teamed most of the night.  If he gets behind the coverage with regularity, Georgia is capable of keeping the scoreboard operator very busy.

Mr. Optimistic still likes the 'Cats in this game, making it three wins in a row over the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 5-2 (2-2)

UK visits Starkville in two weeks to take on Dan Mullen's squad.

Results: At home, the 'Dogs have beat Memphis, 49-7; beat Alcorn State, 49-16; lost to then-No. 21 Auburn, 17-14; and beat Georgia, 24-12.  On the road MSU has lost to then-No. 15 LSU, 29-7; beat Houston, 47-24; and beat Florida, 10-7.  Mississippi State has won four games in a row -- Georgia, Alcorn St., Houston, and Florida.

SEC Standing

MSU is seventh in the SEC in total offense, averaging 392.3 yards per game, and sixth in total defense, giving up 372.9 yards.  The Bulldogs are eighth in the league, averaging 28.6 points per game, and third in the league, giving up only 16.0 points.

Individual Numbers

Quarterback Chris Relf: 55-95 (57.9%) through the air, for 708 yards, three interceptions and five touchdowns: 87 carries for 377 yards (4.3 ypc) and two touchdowns.

Quarterback Tyler Russell: 35-58 (60.3%) passing, for 555 yards, five interceptions and three touchdowns: 12 carries for 60 yards (5.0 ypc) and four touchdowns.

Running back Vick Ballard: 78 carries for 516 yards (6.6 ypc) and 11 touchdowns -- Ballard is eighth in the SEC in rushing yards; third in rushing touchdowns.

Running back LaDarius Perkins: 48 carries for 235 yards (4.9 ypc) and two touchdowns.

Running back Robert Elliot: 41 rushes for 154 yards (3.8 ypc).

Wide receiver Chad Bumphis: 33 catches for 461 yards (14.0 ypr) and four touchdowns -- Bumphis is sixth in the league in receiving yards per game (65.9).

Wide receiver Branden Heavens: 12 receptions for 187 yards (15.6 ypr) and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver and kick returner Leon Berry: Eight catches for 188 yards (23.5 ypr) and one touchdown: 14 kick-off returns for a 26.8 average and one touchdown -- Berry is fourth in the SEC in kick return average.

Linebacker Chris White: 57 tackles; 12.0 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks -- White is second in the league in tackles for loss; tied for second in sacks, and eighth in tackles.

In Mississippi State's four home wins, they've given up only 13 points per game.  In Mr. Optimistic's eyes, this game has regressed from a probable "W," to a toss-up.  If the Cats' defense is able to hold the Bulldog quarterbacks in check and not allow them to go all Cam Newton on them, then I like UK's chances.  But, if Ballard, Relf, and Russell gash UK's linebackers and secondary, it will be a long day for the boys in blue. 

As good as UK's offense is, on the road, against a team that held Florida (even a struggling Gator team) to only seven points, one has to figure the Wildcats won't reach their season points per game average of 35.  Which leaves this contest in the hands of the Kentucky D -- A scary thought, but not as scary as it was only three weeks ago.

Charleston Southern Buccaneers 2-4 (0-2)

UK plays host to CSU on November 6, in Commonwealth Stadium.

Results: CSU has lost to Gardner-Webb, 35-25; Wofford, 34-23; Liberty, 44-20; Hawai'i, 66-7.  They've beaten Mars Hill, 28-14 and North Greenville, 41-31.

Lose this game, and Mr. Optimistic's funeral arrangements will be in the paper the following Monday.

Vanderbilt Commodores 2-4 (1-2)

Vanderbilt travels to Lexington on November 13 to take on the 'Cats.

Results: On the road, Vandy has beat Ole Miss, 28-14; lost to UConn, 40-21; lost to Georgia, 43-0.  At home, the 'Dores have lost to Northwestern, 23-21; lost to then-No. 16 LSU, 27-3; beat Western Michigan, 52-6.

SEC Standing

Vanderbilt is last in the SEC, averaging 315.2 yards of total offense, and 11th in the league in total defense, giving up 378.8 yards per game.  The Commodores are also last in the league, averaging 20.8 points per game, and ninth in the SEC, giving up 25.5 points.

Individual Numbers

Quarterback Larry Smith: 72-133 passing (54.1%), for 863 yards, four interceptions and five touchdowns: 51 carries for 147 yards (2/9 ypc) and two touchdowns. 

Running back Warren Norman: 60 carries for 350 yards (5.8 ypc) and four touchdowns: 18 kick-off returns for a 25.4 average: 150.3 all-purpose yards per game -- Norman is fourth in the SEC in all-purpose yards; seventh in the league in kick-off return average.

Running back Zac Stacy: 44 rushes for 280 yards (6.4 ypc) and three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Branden Barden: 18 receptions for 200 yards (11.1 ypr) and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver John Cole: 13 catches for 172 yards (13.2 ypr) and one touchdown: Eight punt returns for a 9.8 average -- The Somerset High School alum is fifth in the SEC in punt return average.

Wide receiver Udom Umoh: Nine receptions for 166 yards (18.4 ypr) and two touchdowns.

Defensive back Casey Howard: His four interceptions leads the SEC.

Safety Sean Richardson: 49 tackles; 5.0 tackles for loss -- Richardson is seventh in  the SEC in tackles per game (8.2).

Linebacker Chris Marve: 42 tackles; 3.0 tackles for loss in five games -- Marve is sixth in the SEC in tackles per game (8.4).

Linebacker John Stokes: 44 tackles; 4.0 tackles for loss -- Stokes is eleventh in the SEC in tackles per game (7.3) -- As a team, the Commodores have recorded 45 tackles for loss (7.5 pg).

Defensive end Tim Fugger: He leads the league with four forced fumbles.

Mr. Optimistic has had this game marked down as a victory since before the season started, and he sees no reason to alter that projection.

Tennessee Volunteers 2-4 (0-3)

Kentucky travels to historic Neyland Stadium to take on the Vols on November 27.

Results: At home, UT has beat UT-Martin, 50-0; beat UAB in overtime, 32-29; lost to then-No. 7 Oregon, 48-13; Lost to then-No. 10 Florida 31-17.  On the road the Vols have lost to then-No. 12 LSU, 16-14; lost to Georgia 41-14.

SEC Standing

Tennessee is is eleventh in total offense, averaging 321.8 yards per game, and twelfth in total defense, giving up 381.0 yards.  UT averages 23.3 points per game, eleventh in the league, and gives up 27.5 points, good for tenth in the SEC.

Individual Numbers

Quarterback Matt Simms: 88-154 through the air (57.1%), for 1,136 yards, four interceptions and seven touchdowns -- Simms is sixth in the league with 189.3 passing yards per game -- Simms has been sacked 23 times ... ouch.

Running back Tauren Poole: 95 carries for 478 yards (5.0 ypc) and five touchdowns -- Poole is sixth in the league, averaging 79.7 yards rushing per game.

Running back David Oku: 27 carries for 145 yards (5.4 ypc) and one touchdown.

Wide receiver Denarius Moore: 18 catches for 257 yards (14.3 ypr) and four touchdowns.

Wide receiver Zach Rogers: 12 receptions for 196 yards (16.3 ypr) and one touchdown.

Wide receiver Gerald Jones: 12 catches for 135 yards (11.3 ypr).

Wide receiver Justin Hunter: 10 catches for 236 yards (23.6 ypr) and two touchdowns -- This kid is a freshman.

Tight end Luke Stocker: 16 receptions for 168 yards (10.5 ypr).

Linebacker Nick Reveiz: 54 tackles; 4.0 tackles for loss; one interception -- Reveiz is third in the SEC in tackles per game (9.0).

Defensive end Gerald Williams: 4.0 tackles for loss; 2.5 sacks.

Mr. Optimistic thinks this just might be the year.  Coming into the season, Mr. O had this game listed as a toss-up, but with UT struggling on both sides of the football, the 'Cats are lookin' like winners.

One stat that will quickly gray the hair of head coach Derek Dooley -- UT has converted only 24 of 86 third downs (27.9%).  That won't get it done in the Sun Belt, much less the SEC.

The week before the UT game marks Kentucky's only off week of the year.  That can't be a bad thing.

Mr. Optimistic's Final Thoughts

Will the Cats win five straight to win out the year? -- They won five straight to open the the 2007 season, and six straight (including a bowl win) to end 2006, so it's not like they haven't done it before.  Mr. O thinks it's possible, but not likely; say 2-1 against.  Instead of running the tables, winning four of the next five is a scenario Mr. O embraces.  And folks, four outta five ain't bad.

Will the Cats continue to pile up points? -- If UK's health remains relatively good, then Mr. O see no reason the Cats can't continue to average somewhere around 35-40 points per game.  And if the Cats can somehow score 24-28 points against Mississippi State in two weeks, the chance for the Cats to reach nine regular season wins goes up dramatically.

Will the UK defense show up for an entire game? --  If so, it'll be a certain UK victory. 

Happy Homecoming, everyone.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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