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Kentucky Football 2008: Reality rudely intrudes into scrimmage

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Reality.  It's that thing that pours cold water over fan excitement, the Yang to the Yin of high expectations.  Reality is like an unexpected weekend visit from an offensive cousin or annoying mother-in-law.  Reality bites, and yesterday, it bit the Wildcats.

From all the reports I have read (subscription), the Kentucky defense utterly dominated the offense in yesterday's scrimmage.  It was so complete that the coaches had not one bit of praise for anybody on the offense -- first team, second team, "not nobody, not nohow."

Here is a quick and dirty look at the various components:

  • Offensive line -- Not awful on the edge, but completely unacceptable in the middle.  Pass blocking was poor, and Hartline was harried and harassed all day by the defensive line.  Corey Peters was said to have built a small vacation residence in the offensive backfield.
  • Running game -- Derrick Locke and Moncell Allen sat out the scrimmage with minor injuries.  Brooks had little to say good or bad about the backs, except to point out essentially that running the football without an offensive line to block for you is really, really hard.
  • Passing game -- According to this report from Matt Jones, the wide receivers were nowhere to be found except for Lyons.  We knew this would be a questionable position this year, and despite all the good stuff we were hearing during drills, they are simply not ready when the rubber meets the road.  It also hurt that Hartline is suffering from a sore shoulder from throwing so many balls.  Apparently, that effected his efforts yesterday.  When it was Cobb's turn, he pretty much reminded everyone that he is just a freshman.
  • Kicking game -- Brooks was not at all pleased with the kicking game.  Tim Mastay did not punt the ball particularly well, and Lones Seiber missed a chip-shot field goal that even the 52-yarder he made could not make up for in the eyes of the coach.
  • Injury update -- Redshirt defensive end Greg Meisner will be out indefinitely due to a torn labrum in his shoulder which will require surgery (the same injury that kept him out last year, only to the other shoulder).

Apparently, the combination of poor offense and domination by the defense made this scrimmage a difficult one to evaluate.  With minor injuries dogging some critical players on both sides of the ball, Joker Phillips said that there is absolutely no reason to tinker with the depth chart at all at this point, except as a motivational tool.  But needless to say, Steve Brown and Rich Brooks were pleased with what they saw from the defense, especially from Corey Peters and Danny Trevathan, a true freshman linebacker, who is currently playing the weak side (Will).  He had the hardest hit of the day yesterday, and was said to be flying around the field.

Now, before you give in to your urge to panic, don't.  Two weeks is a long time in college football, and the light can come on at any moment for some of our younger guys.  The most important thing here is for the fans not to get down on the team because of what boils down to struggles of a sore-armed quarterback and an offensive line that has not gelled in the middle yet.  Add into that the fact that Corey Peters is a likely All-SEC defensive tackle this year (remember, he was a 4-star recruit, one of the few Kentucky has), and even though there is not much encouragement to be found in the performance of the offense, the staff now knows exactly where the biggest problems are.

In the next two weeks, Hartline has to embrace the position of quarterback and lead the offense.  We have to get past these nagging injuries and get some guys reps at wide receiver, and the middle of the offensive line has got to find a way to block defenders.  Since most of these things are fundamentals and not issues of talent, we should expect to see rapid improvement once the coaching staff begins to concentrate on greasing the squeaky wheels. 

It seems to me that the little aches and pains and minor injuries are really hampering our development on the offensive side of the ball.  The defense has just been tougher and more focused, as you would expect from a squad that has so many returning and mature players.

In summary, it seems that Brooks' prediction that Kentucky would have a strong defense is right on the mark.  Conversely, our offensive players, which have looked good in drills, are not quite ready to deliver against an SEC-quality defense, which UK likely has.  Keep in mind that the UK defense will probably not be the toughest that the 'Cats offense faces, so significant improvement will be mandatory if UK is to have a good season this year.  But improvement will come.  If this staff has proven one thing, it is that they know how to motivate and coach players into playing quality football.