Last Saturday's loss against WKU still stings. All of the excitement of the offseason started being chipped away with each long scoring drive that the Hilltoppers put together. The hope for a new look, more disciplined, more passionate team was dashed as the Wildcats failed to tackle and execute the way we thought they would. It was heartbreaking to see.
But it's a new week and changes have already been made. Maxwell Smith was named the starter on Monday. While Jalen Whitlow impressed with his legs, he failed to move the ball with his arm. Neal Brown's Air Raid offense didn't take off as expected under the sophomore QB. Now it will be Smith's turn to showcase his skills and try to get the ‘Cats into the end zone more often.
Ryan Timmons was also named as a starter as he showed flashes of speed. Hopefully his presence in the starting lineup will ignite the offense.
Despite the loss to WKU, Commonwealth Stadium should be jam packed on Saturday afternoon. The fans are still very excited and aren't yet ready to close the door on Mark Stoops and his staff. It appears this rebuilding project is going to take more than just a new group of coaches, some good JUCO transfers and one top 30 ranked recruiting class. Big Blue Nation is still firmly behind coach Stoops, but a misstep on Saturday against a bad Miami (OH) team could do further harm to the support.
Saturday, September 7th: Miami (OH) Red Hawks (0-1) at Kentucky Wildcats (0-1)- 12:00 PM on ESPN 3
The quarterback change does indeed seem to be the right move after watching both Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow on Saturday. Whitlow played the bulk of the game but went 10/15 for 78 yards and no passing touchdowns. Contrast that with Smith, who played the fourth quarter and was 8/13 for 125 yards and a touchdown, and it is pretty clear that Smith may be more suited to run Neal Brown's offense and put the receivers in better position to make plays. Smith averaged 9.6 yards per pass compared to Whitlow's 5.2 yards per pass.
The running game was actually quite effective against the Hilltoppers. Raymond Sanders rushed 14 times for 98 yards. Ryan Timmons only received one carry for 33 yards, but it was electric and earned him a starting position this Saturday. Whitlow rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown. Even though he is no longer the starter, he should still see some action on the field in some capacity. Brown should have some packages in place to put Whitlow's rushing ability as the focus.
The defense was pretty awful. The defensive line disappointed for the second straight season and the linebackers and the secondary were as bad as we expected them to be. The bright spots on defense were Avery Williamson, Fred Tiller, and true freshman Blake McClain. Za'Darius Smith had a sack but he and Bud Dupree must put more pressure on the quarterback in order for this defense to have any type of success. I won't get into how truly awful our run defense was. It's too painful to rehash.
Miami (OH) is, to be blunt, a terrible football team. They opened up the season by going on the road and getting blasted by Marshall 52-14; and this isn't the Thundering Herd of Chad Pennington or Byron Leftwich. Their leading rusher put up 27 yards against Marshall's defense and they had limited success passing with QB Austin Boucher going 10-22 for 165 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Marshall did whatever they wanted offensively. The Red Hawks gave up 304 rushing yards and 287 passing yards. Kentucky's offensive woes could improve in a hurry against the Miami (OH) defense.
Can Mark Stoops' team improve in front of a packed house in Commonwealth? I'm sure the mental errors and the lack of quality tackling will be addressed this week at practice and the Red Hawks are the perfect team to seek redemption against before taking on the tall task of playing the Louisville Cardinals. We will hopefully see the Max Smith that was poised to put up big passing numbers before going down with injury last season. I look for this Saturday to be a shot in the arm for Kentucky.
Kentucky Wildcats 48-Miami Red Hawks 20
The top ten Bulldogs of Georgia went into Clemson for an epic battle against another top ten team from the ACC and came up short. An offensive shootout ensued and Tajh Boyd out-dueled Aaron Murray. Murray, as great as he is, has not been able to win the big game in his career. While the Georgia offense was as impressive as everyone thought it would be the defense seemed to be the weak link. The Dawg D gave up a ton of yards to the Tigers.
But this is Georgia's reputation. They always stumble out of the blocks only to improve as the season goes on. I don't expect the defense to stay this porous; besides, Clemson is one of the better offensive teams in the land.
The South Carolina Gamecocks also played an ACC opponent but the outcome was vastly different. They beat up on the North Carolina Tarheels in Columbia to the tune of 27-10. Steve Spurrier has two very good quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Shaw saw the bulk of the plays but Thompson threw one beautiful touchdown pass for 29 yards. It was his only attempt.
Running back Mike Davis rushed 12 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. He seems like the guy that is ready to take Marcus Lattimore's place in the backfield.
The USC defense looked good until UNC started to pick up the pace offensively. The Gamecocks quickly became tired with the faster pace and Heisman hopeful Jadaveon Clowney looked gas late in the first half. He didn't quite have the dominant game that everyone expected due to the heat or maybe poor conditioning.
UGA's offense won't nearly be as fast paced and up-tempo, but it's a great offense. Can USC keep up? I think that Georgia played well against a very good opponent while South Carolina played well against a so-so opponent. I'll give the edge to the home team.
Georgia Bulldogs 34-South Carolina Gamecocks 28
What is one of the best rivalries in all of college football will be coming to an end thanks to conference realignment. The two college football blue-bloods will meet only twice more, this Saturday and one last time in 2014, before ending the series. Notre Dame will replace Michigan with one of four ACC teams that they have agreed to play every season. The Irish joined the ACC in all sports except in football and made a deal to add four ACC teams to their slate every season. This effectively ended the game against the Wolverines.
There is nothing like watching the Irish take on their rivals in the Big House on Saturday night. The history of the programs can be felt in the air as two of the greatest fight songs in all of college athletics echo through the air.
This season the Irish are looking to continue their reemergence. Last season they went 12-1 with their lone loss coming to Alabama in the national title game. The Irish were embarrassed by the Tide and want to erase that memory. Senior QB Tommy Rees looked great against Temple at home last week. He threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
The Irish defense is supposed to be one of the best units in the country. While holding Temple to only six points, Notre Dame let a first year starter pass for 228 yards. Temple could have scored more but shot themselves in the foot by missing field goals and were on the losing end of a couple of fourth down conversions in the red zone.
The Michigan Wolverines are looking to rebound after a disappointing 2012 campaign. They too were embarrassed by Alabama but that came in the first game of the season. They never seemed to fully recover but did make it to the Outback Bowl only to lose to South Carolina.
Michigan's Denard Robinson and his high octane playmaking skills are gone and junior Devin Gardner has taken his place. He threw for 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 59-9 victory over Central Michigan.
The Wolverines did most of their damage on the ground as they rushed for 242 yards. They had three players rush for over 50 yards, including Gardner. They had five total rushing touchdowns on the day.
Can the big front four for the Irish slow down the Wolverine rushing attack? Brady Hoke has indeed brought traditional Michigan football back. But it won't be enough.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 30-Michigan Wolverines 20
Last Week: I went 1-2 in last week's picks. I correctly predicted Ole Miss defeating Vandy, but I missed with losses by UK and Georgia. I have a feeling I will be back on the winning side this week.