Kentucky Wildcats vs. Jacksonville State Gamecocks Preview: Something Has to Change Edition

The Kentucky Wildcat football squad (2-4, 0-2) enters their high noon contest with FCS opponent Jacksonville State (5-1, 4-0 in the OVC) today in desperate need of a win.  After four straight losing efforts -- UK's longest  losing streak since 2005 --and having driven a discombobulated fan base to the brink of madness, Joker Phillips and the Wildcat football team are looking to appease the masses, and hold-off the neck-stretchers by putting that elusive "W" in the left hand column.

It won't be easy.  Although an Ohio Valley Conference team, Jax State, led by longtime head coach Jack Crowe, are one of the consistently strong FCS football programs, having been ranked in the top 25 for 38-straight weeks. 

What UK must show is the ability to get better, possibly, by thinking outside-the-box.  After all, when a team performs as unbelievably poor as the 'Cats have, steps must be taken to right the ship which is taking on gallons of water, or risk quickly sinking into the abyss.

Jax State Stuff

The Gamecocks are led by former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey.  The 5'11" 215lb tailback has his engines firing on all cylinders as he has rushed for 594 yards on 114 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns (with three-straight games with at least 124 rushing yards).  Ealey, who spent two years at UGA, leading the 'Dogs in rushing both seasons, counts the boys in blue as the victim of his most successful rushing effort to date -- Last year Ealey ran for 157 yards and five touchdowns (tying the school single-game touchdown record) on 28 carries (5.6 ypc) in Georgia's 44-31 win over Kentucky.

The other Gamecock running threat is 5'11" 220lb senior Calvin Middleton.  On the season, Middleton has rushed for 302 yards on 78 carries (3.9 ypc) and four touchdowns.  Both Ealey and Middleton are pass-catching threats, with Ealey snagging five passes for 97 yards (19.4 yards per reception) and one touchdown, while Middleton has 11 catches to his credit, for 77 yards (11.0 ypc). 

Together the two running backs have combined for 896 rushing yards in six games (149.3 yards per game), and a total of 10 touchdowns.

Sophomore quarterback Coty Blanchard (6'0" 180lbs) is another running threat on the Gamecock roster.  Blanchard, while completing 59.3% of his passes (67-113) for 860 yards and six touchdowns, has also rushed for 244 yards on 56 carries (4.4 ypc) and three more touchdowns.  Historically, the 'Cats have not faired well against dual-threat signal-callers, something that must change this afternoon.

When Blanchard chooses to throw the all, he spreads the pigskin around between no less than five receivers (+ the two backs).  Tops in receiving for JSU is 6'5" junior wide-out Trey Smith, who has accounted for 14 catches, good for 188 yards (13.4 ypr) and two touchdowns.  James Shaw, a  6'0" junior receiver, is also one of Blanchard's top targets, catching 13 passes for 107 yards (8.2 ypr).  Speedy 6'1" junior receiver Kevyn Cooper has caught 12 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown (14.1 ypr).  Finally, rounding out the JSU wide receiving corps is Alan Bonner, who has 10 catches for 176 yards (17.6 ypr) on the season.  Bonner also returns kicks for JSU, averaging 19.6 yards per return on nine attempts, as well as punts: 16 returns for an 8.1 average. 

Tight end Justin Howard adds five catches for 100 yards (20.0 ypr) to the JSU passing ledger, but get this; Howard has three touchdown catches, hint, look for Howard as the Gamecocks near the red zone.

Defensively, the Gamecocks' leading tackler is 6'4" 210 sophomore linebacker Rashad Smith, who has 39 tackles on the year.  Defensive end Jamison Wadley leads JSU with 6.0 tackles for loss, and has 1.0 sack.  The other defensive end, 6'3" 251lb Monte Lewis, has 21 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss.  Quick outside linebacker Rodney Garrot has accounted for 19 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss.

On the season, JSU has 38 tackles for loss and 10 interceptions (led by DB Robert Gray's two picks), but only seven sacks (this should cause at least some measure of relief for UK QB Morgan Newton, after the felonious beating he's taken all year).

Jax State Miscellaneous

Head coach Jack Crowe has been the offensive coordinator at several high profile football programs, including: Wyoming ('80-'81), Auburn ('82-'85), Clemson ('86-'88), Arkansas, where he was also head coach ('89-'92), and Baylor ('93-'95) ... In his 12th season at the JSU helm, Crowe has compiled a 79-29 record, with eight straight winning seasons ... Jax State can score, averaging 31.3 ppg, but they can also be scored on, as they give up 24.5 ppg ... JSU averages 209.7 yards on the ground, while giving up only 115.0 ... JSU is allowing more offensive yards per game, 387.8, than they are averaging, 364.3 ... JSU is +4 in turnover margin ... Gamecock QB's have tossed only two interceptions on the year ... But, JSU has lost nine fumbles ... JSU is converting only 34.9% of their third down tries (29-83), while allowing their opponents to convert 40.2% (33-82) ... In the red zone, though, JSU is money, scoring on 21 of 23 RZ trips (91.3%) ... Gamecock opponents have scored on 16 of 19 RZ tries (84.2%) ... Washaun Ealey, in his sophomore year at Georgia, ran for 811 yards on 157 carries (5.2 ypc) and 11 touchdowns, in 12 games ... Jax State has outscored their opponents 116-63 in the 2nd and 4th quarters combined.

Something Has to Change

Former weight loss guru, Susan Powter -- you remember her; spiked blond hair, with a big voice -- was fond of saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  While behaving in that hard-headed manner might not be insanity, for the Kentucky football team it is a way to ensure a 2-10 season.

For a team outscored 137-20 in three SEC games; for a team out-gained 1,507 yards to 550 in three SEC games; for a team which lost to Louisville, a Cardinal team which lost to Marshall and Florida International, and lost its offensive coordinator in mid-season ... for a team such as this, continuing to run the same plays, play the same players, and expect drastic improvement, is just plain crazy, in a football kind of sense.

I don't want to hear that this player or that player did really good during the off-week, and he's gonna have a great game Saturday; I don't want to hear that this play or that play really came together in the off-week, and we're finally able to execute it properly; I don't want to see the same schemes, either defensively or offensively, because if I do, I might just throw a brick through Glenn's television. 

Instead, I want to see something unconventional, something different, something drastically different ... for example, something that works; something that allows UK to start quick -- the 'Cats have been outscored 55-12 in the first quarter this year; something that allows UK to actually get the ball in the end zone without the help of 40-yards in opponent's penalties; something that allows the team to muster some confidence because they properly executed a play; something that keeps the opposing quarterback from looking like the second coming of Ty Detmer; and most imperative, something, anything different than what UK football fans have been forced to palate this entire season.

I want to see out-of-the-box-thinking.  Something like, playing Bookie Cobbins at QB, in a spread-type formation, in a hurry-up offense.  I want to see players who can actually catch the football -- not players who have been dropping balls for three-and-a-half years -- spread all over the field.  I want to see running backs hitting the edges (surely to gawd UK's backs can get the edges against Jax State), not running up the backs of the tackles.

I want to see something so different, that we have to wonder if a competent football team has stolen the 'Cats' jerseys.

Kyle Macy said on the radio show Wednesday,"It takes great players to make a great team."  Never have truer words been spoken, and with UK's best players being either young, inexperienced, or injured, Phillips simply must adapt to the talent available to him.  More importantly, he must adapt to the way the talent is performing, or should I say, under-performing.  He must alter his philosophy in order to allow his team the opportunity to succeed, e.g. giving Bookie Cobbins some time at quarterback.

Well, they say, we don't want to burn Cobbins' redshirt.  Are you serious with that?  What are you waiting on?  Patrick Towles to show up?  If Cobbins is ever going to play quarterback at Kentucky, it is going to have to be this year, or in 2012.  And yes, I think burning a player's unnecessary redshirt is worth potentially saving a disaster-filled 2011 season from being noted as the worst UK football season since 1982.  I'm flexible, though, I'm not married to the Cobbins-at-QB scenario, but the fact remains the same regardless -- Standing pat will not abide. 

I believe in Joker Phillips.  I believed in Phillips as a player, and I've believed in him as a coordinator.  I believed hiring him to lead the Kentucky football program was a good choice.  I honestly want Phillips to go down as the most successful coach in Kentucky football history, and I believe he has a chance to do just that -- He can recruit, and we know he can lead an offense, but can he change?  Does he have it within himself to change the way he does things when faced with a team totally unable to execute his game-plan.  It's not as if the players aren't trying.  I'm sure they are all leaving it on the field every Saturday, but that's clearly not enough.

Kentucky football fans don't need eight or nine wins every year, but they do need to see a team capable of winning games in the SEC.  And right now, that's not the case.  The season can't get much worse, but it quite possibly will, starting this afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.  Today the season either changes for better, or for worse, which one it will be is dependent on Joker Phillips, and his ability to change.

Prediction: UK 17  JSU 16

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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