Twenty-one years and counting. Through Galen Hall, Gary Darnell, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, and now Urban Meyer; UK cannot shake and bake the hex that the pigskin Gators have placed on the 'Cats. Scores like 47-15, 73-7, 42-7, 65-0, 55-28, 38-10, 59-31, and 44-10. Florida even boasts a miracle victory over the 'Cats thanks to a Danny Wuerffel to Chris Doering 24 yard touchdown with single-digit seconds left on the evil, evil play-clock, handing the Gators the 24-20 come-from-behind win.
This year, as in many previous years, a plurality of 'Cat fans have penciled in a rather large "L" next to the Florida game on their schedule. And to support the feeling that there will be a happy group of Gator co-eds come Saturday night, Tru's most excellent stat analysis makes a great case for a Gator victory. But, does Kentucky have that indescribable something on their side this year? Something unbeknownst, at the time of their selections, to the aforementioned pencil-pushing pigskin prognosticators. Something, or should I say, someone, that has surprised even the most competent and thorough recruiting analyst, as well as hardcore fans of the football 'Cats.
Purpose Driven Cobb
Actually that 'indescribable something' is easily described; it has a name ... Randall Cobb. It is what's inside of Cobb that is indescribable. Some call it play-making ability, some call it Sunday talent. I call it the ability to change the game. Regardless of time and score, and without hesitation, players like Cobb simply take over; they refuse to lose, because they abhor losing, and they have the athleticism and requisite DNA to do something about it. They are, Cobb is, a play-maker of the highest order.
Some might say that anointing a true freshman, who has played in four college games, a player-maker, is a bit premature. Under normal circumstances I would agree, but Rich Brooks makes a strong case that Cobb is mature beyond his teenage years:
"I don't think you find very many freshman that have the maturity, the dedication, the leadership at that age. I think a lot of them learn it through their freshman year and go into their sophomore year and start showing signs of it and usually get it their junior and senior year. For a freshman to come in and be that savvy and that mature is not a common thing, in my opinion."
He continued on: "Randall is mature well beyond his years. He knows even if he is not the primary receiver to see how the defense reacts. Most guys run off in a fog and blankness if they know the ball is not coming to him. He has a purpose for everything he does.
Mature in his football playing ability, but even more mature in his thought processes.
Mature enough to know that his team needs him now more than ever. The loss of Dicky Lyons and Derrick Locke has propelled Cobb onto the main stage as the offensive weapon of choice for the Kentucky football coaching staff. I'm sure this would have happened sooner had Cobb not injured his ankle, requiring that he miss two games, but he's ready now. So ready in fact that he spoke to the team after UK's comeback win over Arkansas this past Saturday.
When asked what he told the team, Cobb had this to say:
"We have so much talent on this team and we have one of the best coaching staffs in the nation, and I just spoke up and said we have to take the enthusiasm and the momentum from the last few minutes of this game and take it into practice this week and run with it. If we bring that enthusiasm to the practice field, we're going to work hard and be more focused. We'll be into practice, and when you do that , you see good results."
A freshman inspiring the team. Now that is a fairly unusual occurrence in big-time college football.
With all of the negativity surrounding the shortcomings of UK's freshman receivers, Cobb has stood out, not only in his play, but also in his decision-making while standing on the sidelines, injured. Case in point:
Versus Alabama, while he was still nursing his high ankle sprain, and with a healthy receiver standing next to him, Cobb grabbed his helmet and ran onto the field when he saw that UK didn't have the proper offensive personnel in the game. He participated in the one play, and then left the game.
Awareness, even when he isn't supposed to be playing.
Cobb on the Field
We all are aware of Cobb's physical attributes: The ability to elude, the ability to gain yards after the catch, the ability to gain separation from his defender, the ability to go from standing stationary to a full-speed gallop in a micro-second, and most importantly, the ability to make the defense keep one eyeball on him at all times.
On a team full of injured stars, and inexperienced starters, a player of Cobb's ilk is rendered nearly as important as the head coach. And I expect to see him fully utilized beginning with the upcoming Florida game. By 'fully utilized" I mean; he needs to touch the ball at least 20-25 times per game (that includes his series or two at quarterback). The coaching staff needs to put their thinking caps on and brainstorm some clever avenues by which to get him the ball. Actually, get him the ball in open space, would be more accurate.
If UK expects to pick up the two more wins needed to ensure a bowl bid and a winning season, the time is now to quit test-driving the Cadillac, and sign on the dotted line. In order to invigorate the offense, and give Mike Hartline, Alfonso Smith, Moncell Allen, and the plethora of young receivers a chance at being their best, Cobb needs to be seen as an every-down threat by the opposing defensive coordinators. They need to be awake until the early hours of the morning feverishly drawing Cobb-stopping defenses on cocktail napkins.
Mike Hartline certainly has confidence in Cobb's game-changing abilities:
"Some guys just get open. Dicky was one of those guys, and so is Cobb. Then if the ball is near him, he's going to catch it. Guys like Randall are just special, no matter where he is playing."
Sounds like the beginning of a long and meaningful relationship.
UK vs. Florida
Florida is one of the best teams in the country, and UK winning would be seen as one of the biggest upsets of the year (LSU, anyone?). Vegas favoring the Gators by 26 points is a cold-water shower for the boys in blue (yes, they look at the line). UK"s offense is seen as such a joke, that one of the top defenses in the country is rated a 26 point dog. It's time to change all that.
From where I sit, Randall Cobb is the only chance that UK has of upsetting the swamp dwellers, and showing the nation that UK's offense has generated some juice. Not that Hartline, Smith and the other offensive personnel can't assist, they are all capable of having solid games, but at this point their status is that of co-stars; they're there to make De Niro look good.
The excuse can't be made that Cobb doesn't relish the role of major player. The excuse can't be made that Cobb isn't ready. His own words illuminate his preparedness and acceptance of the leadership role, both on and off the field:
"But when I saw Dicky (Lyons) and Derrick (Locke) go down, I felt like I had to step up and be a leader. I'm not a young guy anymore. I've been here half a year. It's time to step up."
Oh, brother, where art thou been?
The new season begins today. It's time to quit screwing around! Florida is in dire need of an education in Cobb-style reality. Only time will tell if UK is clever enough to deliver.
A hearty Happy Birthday goes out to my brother Jason, and my nephews Jonah and Josiah (and what's up with all the 'J's'?).
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats beat the Gators!