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UK vs. Middle Tennessee: Will MTSU raid UK's (football) field party?

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What are the players thinking?

After defeating their chief rival, and FCS member Norfolk State, UK's football team decided to take the week off.  Was this a scheduled week off?  No. 

OK, so they didn't literally take the week off, but Rich Brooks has indicated through his rather emphatic words that the UK football team took a figurative day off this week.  To write that the UK head coach was upset would be an understatement, squared.

Asked Wednesday after practice how the team was progressing, Brooks had this delightful ditty:

"We're not practicing well.  We've got a lot of work  to do.  We better understand that we've got to work a lot harder than we are in practice.  It was a lack of energy, lack of effort, focus, you name it.  We're not getting a lot of leadership in practice, and this is very, very disturbing.  We've got a lot of guys talking the talk, abut they're not walking the walk.  I'm not very happy."

Thanks for your honesty, coach.

I don't understand this.  How a team with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity collectively decides that they are going to let up in their practice effort, after only two games, is beyond my comprehension ability.    

It's not as if they have actually accomplished anything meaningful.  Coach Brooks agrees:

"What have we done?  We haven't done anything."

Call that my favorite quote of the year  ( I'm certain Brooks did not intend to deride U of L's football program with his statement, but I thought it was funny ... well, actually hilarious ). 

More to the point; what is this group of players thinking?  My father would respond, "They aren't thinking."  And he would be right. 

UK has proved nothing ( other than they have an improved defense ) to this point in the year.  They should be focused on getting better, in order to be able to compete once the SEC season starts.  That should be their sole goal.  For the players to relax, and presumably rest on their laurels at this point in the year is ludicrous, and inexcusable.

Where exactly is Dicky Lyons, Mike Hartline, Trevard Lindley, Jeremy Jarmon, Tony Dixon, and Braxton Kelley?  Why aren't they kicking some tail?  Why aren't they motivating ( to put it politely ) the younger, dumber guys?  There was one area I thought UK would be strong in this year, and that was in the leadership department.  They have so many returning players who have vast amounts of experience.  There is simply no excuse for there to be a leadership vacuum.

Steve Brown feels the same as Brooks.  He cites a lack of leadership as a major problem for the defense:

"All you hear is my voice screaming.  I'm tired of screaming.  You'd think you'd hear a couple of guys saying, 'Let's go!  Let's Go!'.  But we're not getting it.  No one's assumed the leadership role."

The only thing one can say to the team; "You've been called out men.  Will you rise to the challenge, or will you fold like Tony Soprano's 'Benjamins'? 

MTSU -- Here comes the 'spread'  

Tom Leach told Brooks last week in his post-game interview that Middle Tennessee had beaten Maryland 24-14;  the coach responded, as I did, with a "Wow!"  Suddenly this game with MTSU, a Sun Belt Conference member, loomed a much tougher task than originally thought.

As the Herald-Leader's Chip Cosby points out in his excellent column on UK's history versus the spread offense ( "Dread the Spread " ), the Wildcats haven't exactly enjoyed great success in stopping the highly fluid offense.  Vandy and Florida are two teams that UK has played recently that run the spread, or some variation of, and both teams have lit up the scoreboard with alarming regularity.

So at first blush, this game seems to be a legitimate test of UK's improved defense.  But a closer look at MTSU"s "vital stats" tells a slightly different story:

  • Blue Raider QB, Joe Craddock --  The fifth-year senior has been pretty good through the air; 48 of 72 with one interception and three touchdowns.  He's averaging 228 yards passing per game.  On the ground, though, he has struggled, rushing 20 times for a net 14 yards.  Last year versus U of L ( a 58-42 U of L win ) Craddock was 14-26 for 290 yards and two touchdowns.  He has played in 10 career games, starting eight. 
  • Running back Phillip Tanner -- The junior has struggled at times this year, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry ( 38 carries for 122 yards ).  He is a physical load, though; he comes in at 6'0", 205 lbs.  This is Tanner's first year as a starter. 
  • Running back Desmond Gee -- Also a junior, Gee's yards per carry average is lower than Tanner's, 2.8 ypc to be exact ( 26 rushes for 73 yards ).  The 5'8", 165 lb all-purpose back is a two year 1st Team All-Sun Belt performer.  Last year he amassed 1,323 all-purpose yards --  382 receiving, 162 rushing -- the rest of his yards came returning punts and kick-offs.  This year he has five kick-off returns for 111 yards ( a respectable, but not great 22.2 yards per return ).  He has yet to return a punt ( teams are punting away from him ). 
  • The receiver that stands out to me is freshman Sancho McDonald -- He has 10 catches for 80 yards and one touchdown ( he leads the team in receiving yards and catches ).  The 6'3", 197 lb wide receiver is a 3-star recruit out of Miami.  He was ranked in the Top 100 recruits in the state of Florida, and was also rated the #15 dual-quarterback threat in the nation by Rivals.  As his 8.0 yards per catch average will attest, he has yet to "break-out", but he is a tremendous athlete who poses a very real danger every time he touches the ball, because of his speed and athleticism. 
  • The other wide-out is Wes Caldwell -- Caldwell has made 10 catches for sixty yards.
  • MTSU, as a team, averages only 2.2 yards per carry, while giving up 5.1 yards per carry, and 5.6 yards per play.   
  • In their 31-17 loss to Troy, MTSU gave up 164 rushing yards on 36 carries ( 4.6 yards per carry ).  MTSU ran for 84 yards on 50 rush attempts.
  • MTSU ran 20 more plays than Troy, but gained 16 less yards.
  • Middle was down 27-3 going into the fourth quarter of the Troy game.
  • In their defeat of Maryland, MTSU had three sacks.
  • Craddock was 28-40 for two touchdowns versus Maryland. 
  • In the Maryland win, MTSU scored on three of their first four possessions.  Their sustained drives break down as follows: 10 plays for 80 yards ( TD ), 13 plays for 55 yards ( missed FG ), 17 plays for 59 yards ( made FG ).  The other drive was 7 plays for 33 yards, but ended in a lost fumble.  The next eight MTSU possessions ended in four punts and one turnover on downs.
  • One of MTSU's touchdowns versus Maryland came off of an interception returned to the Maryland 10 yard line.
  • Maryland rushed for 146 yards on only 25 carries ( 5.8 yards per carry ).
  • MTSU intercepted the Maryland quarterback three times.

The spread offense has been very good to a lot of football teams over the last few years: Utah, Florida, Vandy, Oregon, and West Virginia have all won playing the spread, but MTSU"s numbers just don't add up.  They haven't overpowered anybody with their team rushing attack, and the passing numbers are adequate, but not scary good. 

This is a game that UK should win, and win easily.

I mean that as no disrespect to MTSU coach, and Georgetown native Rick Stockstill, he's done a good job since taking over the program three years ago ( they went to the '06 Motor City Bowl ), nor do I intend to disrespect the MTSU players, but that doesn't change the fact that UK should dominate this football game.  If a team running the spread offense can't average over 2.5 yards per rush, then something is not right within that offense.  Let's just hope Stockstill hasn't solved the puzzle in this week's practice.

Miscellaneous stats

  • Rushing averages -- Derrick Locke - 8.1 yards per carry, Moncell Allen - 7.5 ypc, Randall Cobb - 5.6 ypc, Alfonso Smith - 5.3 ypc.  As a team, UK is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.  Considering how weak MTSU is against the run,  these guys should be salivating.
  • UK is only 8 for 28 on third down conversions.
  • UK's opponents are averaging only 2.1 yards per rush.
  • UK has intercepted four passes, but the offense has produced only one passing touchdown.
  • Dicky Lyons has returned 10 punts for an exceptional average of 11.7 yards per return.

Brooks on the quarterback situation

Coach Brooks had this to say Thursday about the continuing quarterback battle:

"We'll play both quarterbacks in the first half, and depending on who's moving the ball the best, that one might play more than the other one."

Mike Hartline must begin to move the team, and the team could benefit him by aiding and abetting his efforts by catching his passes, and running the ball a bit better when he is manning the quarterback position.  Randall Cobb must cut down on his mistakes, i.e., no more 'thread the needle", Brett Favre impersonations.

I'm rooting for both to experience wild success.

Wildcat's response

How will the football 'Cats respond to the very public criticism directed their way by Brooks?  Frankly, I have no idea, but if I had to wager, I would bet that the team will play well.  Most know that I am generally optimistic, and I believe in Brooks, but anything less than a three touchdown win will be cause for concern, in my view; Alabama is only three weeks away.

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I'm taking a short vacation from my slave-driver cyber-boss, Tru :)  I'll return next Friday. 

Thanks for reading, and Go Cats!