I have been away this weekend on an escape before the escape that was a belated part of my birthday present. It was a lot of fun, and provided a needed break from blogging.
Now that I'm back, I had the time to watch the football game today on ESPN3, which I have to say, was really nice. For whatever reason, the replay video quality was fantastic, rarely showed any skipping or missed frames, and gave me a great view of the football game.
Samford is not a bad team by any stretch. They are one of the better Southern Conference FCS programs over the last couple of years, and their linemen were reasonably big and solid. They moved the ball at times, but rarely achieved a threatening posture thanks to some solid defense by the Wildcats.
The reason Kentucky looked so dominant in this game was the fact that both UK's lines were bigger, stronger, and faster than those of Samford, or most likely any FCS team. When you have linemen that are superior, you can dominate teams. Unfortunately, Kentucky's line would be a very good CUSA or MAC line, but is a decidedly inferior SEC line on both sides of the ball.
In many ways, this game showed us exactly where Kentucky is in the word of college football. UK gets good enough skill players and reasonably good linebackers. Most of these guys are SEC competitive. Kentucky's defensive backs are a weakness, but not a glaring one. It is the Wildcats' lines are not good enough for the SEC. Some of the players are, like Larry Warford and Matt Smith. Some of them, like Donte Rumph, are big enough but not athletic enough. And some of them particularly on offense, just plain aren't good enough to win many games in the SEC with a conventional offense, particularly with UK's weak depth in both lines.
I have opined, most often on radio, that if Kentucky can't upgrade their line recruiting substantially, they must go to a more offense-dominant philosophy where the good skill athletes that Kentucky does get can do the most damage. To me, the offense is the most important thing because that is something that UK recruits well enough to succeed in the right system - we have seen that in prior years, and when Maxwell Smith was available, we saw it a little bit this year. Our quarterbacks are getting hurt, though, because Kentucky's offense too often exposes them to big linemen at close range.
Upgrading recruiting on the lines is the best way to see Kentucky to start developing long-term success. Obviously, though, that will take a lot of time, and if the Wildcats continue to try to compete in a conference with far superior line players in a conventional offense, that looks problematic.
So the way I see it, the next coach has to do both, if he's to be successful. He has to adjust the offense to give Kentucky the best chance to be competitive in games while trying to upgrade line recruiting at the same time. Can it be done? Probably, I don't know. I'm sure Joker Phillips was recruiting the best linemen he could, and during the Brooks years, we had some quality offensive and defensive lines, although rarely at the same time.
In my view, the biggest thing keeping Kentucky down right now is line play on both sides of the ball We saw what happened when the Kentucky lines outclassed Samford, and UK is outclassed by the same margin in the trenches against most SEC foes.
I don't know whether or not the guys UK is getting can be coached up to perform to the level of an SEC school, but it's probably going to take better coaching and better players to get the 'Cats line play up to the level where they can see success in the SEC. That, or a high-powered offense, and I see no reason why we can't have both.