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Rich Brooks Hangs It Up

The last press conference for Kentucky's Rich Brooks

While it doesn’t come as a surprise after his post-Bowl 80% declaration, hearing Coach Rich Brooks hang it up for the Cats truly leaves me both sad and inspired. After the Wildcats Bowl loss, coupled with Ball State’s overly disappointing season along with the Holidays, the urge and passion to blog dissipated. Today’s announcement has certainly rekindled that urge, and that is due in no small part to the achievements and success that Brooks has led the Wildcats through over the last 7 seasons.

There are some Cat fans that will point only to Brooks’ record against Florida and Tennessee as some sort of indictment of his ability, or some sort of “status quo” that Brooks maintained rather than advancing a program. Some will point to his failure to contend for the SEC East and therefore the SEC as a failure, or a reason to not be thankful that Brooks was here. Perhaps I am an optimist, or at bare minimum a defeatist, but to me, what Brooks accomplished at Kentucky was extraordinary, and not something I thought I would see in my lifetime.

Granted, there were no BCS aspirations for the Cats. No giant Sears Trophies or whatever they call it now, made it’s way to Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky was never lauded under Brooks by the Tom Lemming’s or Rivals and Scouts as THE team to beat in recruiting. There were no Cotton Bowls. No Outback Bowls. No Peach Bowls. On paper, those folks who would clamor for everyone to wait just a moment before celebrating Brooks may indeed have an argument. Sub-.500 record (7 games under, to be exact), a Liberty Bowl appearance, 3 Music City Bowls, and never finishing above 3rd in their division of the SEC. At Florida, that will get you fired. At Kentucky, they mint bourbon bottles with your picture on them.

The numbers in and of themselves tell just a small snippet of a much larger story, totally devoid of context, and paying no attention to the virtual wasteland that Brooks took over. And while that hump was never crossed with Florida or Tennessee, and that gap between Kentucky and the SEC upper echelon still exists, the gap is smaller than it ever was in my lifetime, and I no longer look to Saturday’s with doom and gloom about the colossal ass thumping that Kentucky will have to endure.

Does that sort of positivity and progress continue under new head coach Joker Phillips? Hard to say. Many say Phillips was the architect of not only the offense, but also the recruiting, two areas where Kentucky has advanced more than many of us thought possible, and the credit for that is due in no small amount to the man who now wears the crown at Kentucky.

There will be ample time in the coming months for folks to critique Joker Phillips and his play calls this season and how that is bound to bode poorly for the Cats come fall. Folks will blame athletic director Mitch Barnhart for not ponying up facilities and money to keep Brooks employed. There will be a small minority of fans glad to see him gone, I’m sure, since in their minds Kentucky should be 12-0 each and every season. All that will have more than enough time as we hit the spring doldrums after signing day and before the spring game. So that can wait.

What can’t wait, at least for me, is reflection, gratitude, and a heartfelt thanks for the amazing 7 years in Lexington that was the Rich Brooks era. 8 wins in 06 after 9 the previous 3 years… combined. An upset at Georgia, snapping a 9-game streak against the Dawgs who had won the SEC the previous season. An 07 that started with an upset against #9 Louisville and included an appearance in Lexington of College Gameday and a triple-overtime win against #1 LSU. A 2008 that while not nearly as exciting and riveting as the previous season, saw Kentucky make inroads in recruiting that were shocking with the signing of two top-tier QBs in Ryan Mossakowski and Morgan Newton along with DeQuin Evans and Chris Matthews. This season, a season that began with Kentucky picked by both the Associated Press and the league coaches to finish dead last in the SEC East, saw the Cats be one game shy of finishing 2nd with upsets at Georgia and at Auburn. Truly a remarkable year, especially considering their starting QB in the toughest league in the country was a true freshman. Not to mention that it was Kentucky who delivered the hit heard round the world when they sent Tim Tebow to a Lexington hospital. All of that in addition to 4 consecutive Bowl appearances, 3 consecutive Bowl wins, and most importantly… making the Wildcat football program something to pay attention to. Something to not poke fun of. Something, in most unbelievable fashion considering where it started, to be proud of.

All of that possible because of the hand and effort of Rich Brooks. So forgive my positivity. Excuse my inability to see the gap (for now) between Kentucky and the Alabamas/Floridas/LSUs of the SEC. Disregard my inability to focus solely on the number of wins and losses while Brooks was in Lexington. For now, all I choose to focus on is two words for one Coach Rich Brooks: Thank You.

Don’t Look Now… Kentucky Matters in Football

You would think that a team that is headed to their 4th consecutive Bowl trip, vying for their 4th consecutive Bowl win, who just clocked their 4th straight winning season wouldn’t need to do any sort of spin job to make people take notice. You would think that the fans of that program would be ecstatic, joyous, and football crazed after so many decades of futility. You would think a program that ranks 7th among the 62 teams with 13 or more Bowl appearances in terms of winning percentage would be the talk of the town. In Kentucky’s case this season, you would think wrong.

Those who don't believe... go stand in the corner

This isn’t the first time we’ve said it, it won’t be the last time we champion it, but the dream that Kentucky fans have had for years is finally coming to fruition, and yet, most in the fanbase approach the football Cats with an apathetic sort of indifference. They will point to the Mississippi State, Tennessee, and South Carolina games as empirical evidence that this team is unworthy of celebration. They will dream of what the record could have been had those three games resulted in Ws instead of Ls, and wistfully long for a 10-2 record instead of the respectable 7-5 that Kentucky ended up. Has Kentucky fans become copies of Notre Dame faithful? Have we forsaken the reasons for celebration in pursuit of the next brass ring, however unattainable it may currently be? Worse yet, have Kentucky fans become Louisville? Most Cardinal faithful sit by and watch their program transition from BCS Bowl penthouse to Big East outhouse in record epic time without so much as a care from the majority of their fanbase. Kentucky is going in the opposite direction, yet the fan result is ultimately the same.

On December 27th, Kentucky will face Clemson in Nashville at the Music City Bowl. Is this a premier Bowl destination? Traditionally, no. But let’s not lose sight of the opportunities this Bowl provides. All year long non-SEC fans have pointed to Kentucky and labeled them a middling mediocre team relegated to the margins in a power conference they do not belong in. In the Music City Bowl, Kentucky can showcase itself against a BCS conference runner up, and while the ACC is hardly the SEC, it is still an automatic qualifier and with several Top 25 programs. Kentucky can showcase its defense, its much maligned defense at times, against one of the most exciting and energizing players in college football in CJ Spiller. Minimizing Spiller will be challenging, but whether or not Kentucky can do it is not the primary question. It is whether or not doing it will matter in the eyes of our SEC peers.

As Kentucky’s 2009 season unfolded, and wins were achieved against Auburn and Georgia on the road, the feeling throughout the SEC blogosphere seemed always poised and ready to take a passing swipe at Kentucky as a fraud. Certainly their failure to beat Tennessee and Mississippi State contributed, but to base a season on two bad games is just as dangerous as basing it off two good ones. Was Kentucky the class of the SEC this season? Of course not. That mantle is reserved for Florida and Alabama. The second tier held for LSU and Ole Miss. It’s that third level, composed of the Tennessees, the Georgias, the South Carolinas and the Auburns that all seem hesitant to welcome any other members into their club. Will a Music City Bowl win change that? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is a resounding no.

So with the blog peers and the rest of college football decidedly content to relegate Kentucky to the Pile-O-Mediocrity, it becomes imperative for the fans of this program to rally. They, and they alone, will be responsible for championing this team, supporting this program, and standing behind the coaching staff that made it all possible. Grumbling about losses while ignoring the monumental wins, complaining about recruiting while forgetting the talent this staff has brought, and losing the current success for potential future bright spots and the hurry to get there is a disservice to the staff, the team, and the coaches that have brought Kentucky back from the ashes. The time to demand excellence will soon be upon us. For now, we should all be content to enjoy Nashville, support these Cats, and celebrate a 4th consecutive Bowl win.

When In Doubt, Accuse Tennessee of Cheating

Lane is not welcome at our house for Thanksgiving

It’s not a secret to anyone that knows me that perhaps the sole reason I am a Kentucky fan is because of my father. As a young boy, you idolize your dad, as well as blindly supporting all things he does, likes, or believes. Thank Jeebus that Dad was a Kentucky fan.

Dad has ventured onto this blog on occasion, or more apt, his commentary has. It’s refreshing to have some commentary that stretches back further than I’ve been alive as to the state of the program, the attitude of the fanbase, and the lack of truly celebratory moments for this program in recent memory.

For example, after the Mississippi State debacle, Dad put forth this nugget:

Now, this is why people say “let’s tip-off the round ball and forget football”. I’ve been watching this sorry shit for 50+ years and it’s always the same, Big game…..big loss. You’ll get there, you just haven’t been disgusted enough, but it will come. Bring on the basketball……….

While frustrating, I totally understand where he’s coming from. I can’t say I haven’t even felt that way about my alma mater of Ball State from time to time, including their magical season last year. Week in and week out, I simply kept waiting for the anvil to fall on our proverbial heads. Blame Lynch and the 24 losses I witnessed… who knows. And that’s a relatively new phenomenon for me. I cannot imagine decades, nearly a half century, of futility, defeats, and games that it would have been more productive to simply slam your head into a brick wall for three hours.

Over Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to sit and chat a bit with Dad about the football Cats and their pending battle with Tennessee, and frankly, the mood and tone of that conversation was something truly odd. It was peppered with hope and littered with optimism. After becoming Bowl eligible, and a win over Georgia, Dad (as well as a plethora of other Kentucky fans) seemed more positive than ever before. Granted, while the attention over Thanksgiving was  dominated by the basketball Cats and their Cancun Challenge, football wasn’t nearly as far away from the collective thoughts as they normally are in November.

We all know the outcome of Saturday’s game… another Tennessee loss, their 25th consecutive loss to the Volunteers. On Sunday morning I thought long and hard about what sort of tone to take regarding that game, my thoughts on it, and more importantly, the atmosphere of this site about Kentucky over the next few weeks. Celebrate a truly special season with another 7-win improbability coming to fruition, or be negative, vindictive, and borderline asshole-ish about the inability of this team to beat Tennessee? It was a tough challenging call that I could not make, and simply avoided. Until Dad showed me the light yesterday with his take on the Tennesse game:

Picture Charlie Brown with his forehead pressed against a tree…..”rats”.

That is how I feel, following the Cats game against the UT football team. However, it dawned on me that the downside is not nearly as weighty as the upside. So, what’s the upside? The fact that UK is 7-5 and going to some sort of a bowl game and I’m disappointed. Do you realize how many years of hopeful watching of the Cats with a prayer we’d have 6 wins (back when 11 games was the average season). To the point, a prayer for a winning season was almost more than could be expected. So, occasionally Jerry Claiborne or Fran Curci, or even further back, a coach would produce a winning season. That was enough to nurture hope for the future, even though you knew in your heart it would have to last for several years, but it was hope and it was enough. Now, we’ve had 4 consecutive seasons of 6 or more wins, with bowls, and I’m disappointed. This speaks well for the Cats and it has come to me that my absolute hatred for the Tennessee crooks, the Tennessee meat packing business of graduating illiterates to become the future liquor store robbers and the bozo coaches that wallow in the cheating with a sly grin is what really bugged me about this game. We had a great season and I’m proud of the team, every member of the team. I love Grandpa and the future looks to be competitive against the likes of the Tennessee’s in spite of them giving out the green handshake to their employees…oops, I mean their players.

GO CATS

Moral of the story? When in doubt about your own team’s ability, when in doubt about whether or not anything is worth lamenting or being disappointed, when in doubt about whether or not to lambast a coaching staff or point fingers of blame at those in the program, pass. Simply accuse your opponent of future armed robberies and bozo coaches who pay their players. Brav-freaking-o.

Pessimism About the Wildcats? Not on OTP

brooks-1

I have no idea why people are negative!!

It amazes me, truly amazes me, that there are only 3 games left in this football regular season. It seems like only yesterday the doldrums of summer were painfully dragging by with us longingly looking forward to September. And now, as Turkey Day is just a few weeks away, football is getting itself ready to disappear for another 8 months. This is the time of year when some fanbases simply write off the season and take a Cubs-esque approach to next fall. “Wait ’till next year!” is interspersed in conversations about what could have been or what should have been while totally paying no attention to what is reality.

Kentucky fans have certainly had their fair share of experience with this. From 1952 to 1998, a span of 46 years, the Wildcats made 4 Bowls, and finished each season with a “Wait till next season!” sort of rally cry. That optimism at the end of one season quickly faded, though, as each new season dawned and losses began to arrive. As the discrepancy between Kentucky and some of their SEC brethren began to show itself, the fans would always just assume that the worst was yet to come. As a little boy I was indoctrinated with “Kentucky will always find a way to wrestle defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Even during the brightest spots of Kentucky football during my lifetime, the football Gods seemed to always be against UK. The smiting of the Wildcats always seemed only 1 play away. Whether it be Marty Moore’s dropped Peach Bowl INT or coming up just short of Penn State and Syracuse in back to back Bowl trips under Hal Mumme. The fanbase itself, and observers not clad in blue and white apparently noticed this as well and let it not only necessitate a post season “Wait till next year!” but also a sense of defeatism amongst the fans and a general sense of apathy towards the program from those not in the ranks of Big Blue Nation.

While this old sort of thinking certainly did no good, with the results on the field I cannot say it was out of place. The Wildcats, as much as it pains me to say it, brought much of this on themselves. But the problem that I have, and it’s a major one, is that this sort of attitude continues unabated throughout the SEC, the nation, and most disappointingly, the UK fanbase itself. Hell… even in my own family. But we’ll get to that.

Week in and week out this season in the SEC Power Poll hosted by TeamSpeedKills that we’re a voting member of, the Cats are unanimously ranked in the bottom two or three. The comments usually range from people poking fun at Rich Brooks, poking fun at Kentucky’s schedule, or pointing out that Kentucky is a “basketball school”, all the while giving Brooks, the players, and the program no credit whatsoever for the journey that they’ve been able to make.

Is this not a program that is vying for it’s 4th consecutive Bowl trip? Is this not the program that has won 3 straight Bowls? Is this not a program that in the past few years has knocked off the likes of Auburn, Georgia, and LSU? More importantly, amidst the slings and arrows from around the league, the fact is lost that this is the same coach who came out of retirement, was nearly run off by the fans, was under some of the toughest circumstances a coach could face in probation and a depleted roster, and yet, Rich Brooks went out and achieved anyway.

It isn’t just on the outside observers that those facts are lost on. Even those amongst the fanbase sometimes lose that perspective. I talk with my father, a lifelong UK fan on an almost daily basis. After Kentucky was defeated by Mississippi State, I received an email from him. His words? “Now, this is why people say “let’s tip off the round ball and forget football”. I’ve been watching this sorry shit for 50+ years and it’s always the same, Big game…..big loss. You’ll get there, you just haven’t been disgusted enough, but it will come. Bring on the basketball.”

I certainly see where he’s coming from. If I had to watch year after year of misery, I would be upset as well. But I simply hope that the fans of this program can turn the corner. On Saturday Kentucky has an opportunity to guarantee itself another .500 or better season. Their 4th straight. They have the opportunity to make themselves eligible for their 4th straight bowl. A school record.

Forgive me for being positive. Forgive  me for thinking this Kentucky team is worth celebrating. Forgive me for thinking that some in this fanbase need to focus on what’s happening, rather than what’s happened, because all those “next years” we’ve all been waiting for are finally arriving.

It’s Stat-tastic

2008, By The Numbers, Part 5

As we head into the last few weeks of the regular season, it’s interesting to see where certain teams fall in some important statistical categories in the BCS.  There is a lot of information to dissect thanks to all the blood and sweat I put into this… mostly blood.  For our rabid readers, hopefully you will find most of this interesting.  After the final regular season game has been played, I’ll come back with some final numbers before we head into the conference championships and bowl season.  Because, you know, it is right around the corner.

Below you’ll see the top three teams in each category along with Ball State and Kentucky’s respective numbers and ranking.  Without any further ado:

Rushing Yards Per Game

Team Actual Rank
Nevada 319.30 1
Georgia Tech 314.90 2
Navy 286.60 3
Kentucky 191.89 22
Ball State 164.78 49

Passing Yards Per Game

Team Actual Rank
Houston 433.67 1
Texas Tech 400.44 2
Hawaii 350.33 3
Kentucky 154.00 108
Ball State 144.78 112

Continue reading

Rich Brooks & the SEC Teleconference

sec_logo1Another Wednesday and another chance to catch up with the SEC Coaches as they conduct their weekly conference call. First up for us is Rich Brooks whose Wildcats travel to Vandy on Saturday with a chance to gain bowl eligibility.

Opening Statement
Well we’re gonna be a little healthier than we’ve been in recent weeks. Derrick Locke couldn’t play last week, Randall Cobb couldn’t play last week and Matt Lentz couldn’t play last week and all of them will be ready to play against Vanderbilt. Mike Hartline has been practicing and really taking meaningful snaps in practice for the first time in four games now.  He’s missed 4 straight after being hurt in the South Carolina game. It’s possible he could see action as well at quarterback. We’re a healthier group then we’ve been in recent weeks and hopefully we can get back on track in conference play on the road.

On the QB situtaion and whether he’s gone through this type of year where he’s played 4 QBs…
We have [played 4 QBs] if you count Randall Cobb in the Wildcat formation. I haven’t experienced anything like this, especially going with a true freshman for 4 straight games. It just bodes well for the future that he’s had that experience already and will continue to play the rest of this year. Even if he is not starting I’m sure he will some action. I think the depth has improved at most positions for us because several years ago we couldn’t have gone through and lost our two starting corners, our starting quarterback, our best wide receiver and our best running back and expected to win hardly any games. And now virtually all of them are back and ready for the stretch run.

On that stretch run and closing with 3 division rivals with the injuries and whether this is a test week for Hartline…
Well, he would regain his starting spot if he’s ready to go and the rust gets off. Today’s practice was better than yesterday’s practice for him throwing the football even though he did have some swelling in his knee.. Hopefully that swelling will settle down and  the rust will keep coming off and we’ll have to see how he does in game-action when he’s given that opportunity.

On the similarities between Mississippi State’s offense under Dan Mullen and Florida’s…
I think it’s quite different actually. The run game in Florida’s offense has pretty much centered around Tim Tebow. They’ve mixed in a dose of the running backs and probably more of the running backs since Tebow’s concussion. MSU’s offense is centered around the running backs and not as much of the QB’s run game.

On the evolution of Derrick Locke to a two-sport guy…
Well, he came in and his track coaches brought him into my office with some high school film. I was shocked that he hadn’t decided to take a football scholarship. Most of the people out in the Big 12 were recruiting him as a corner and he wanted to play running back. Once I told him we would certainly give him that opportunity he jumped at the chance to come out for football and come here and compete in both. Actually, this is his third year now. He couldn’t compete in track last year because he tore his knee up in his sophomore season with us. But he did set the school record in the long jump his freshman year. I think that he’s a great athlete. The speed and explosion he brings to the tailback position even though he doesn’t have the great size is something that has contributed to him being an all around player, kickoff returner, receiver, runner, and one of the better multipurpose backs in our league.

On the other experiences he’s had with two-sport guys and the pitfalls of a two-sport athlete…
I had a lot of guys at Oregon that placed in the NCAAs in the shot put, in the hurdles, in long jump, in the triple jump and the sprints as well. A couple of them were track guys who came out for football, but most of them were football guys who went out for track. Obviously the thing you have to work through is what you’re doing in the spring and making sure they get enough repetitions which usually has to happen earlier in their career because once they become veterans, they can miss some of those practices more readily as they get closer to their junior and senior year. The other thing you have to guard against like in Locke’s situation is that in football he wants to add weight and in track, they want him to strip it. So that’s a tough thing to deal with.

Brooks and the Cats take on Vandy on Saturday at 12:21.

The rest of the SEC…

  • Les Miles and the LSU Tigers play Louisiana Tech this weekend, a far cry from this past weekend and their battle with Alabama that drew the eyes of the entire nation. Miles chatted a bit about the spread, sounded optimistic about his team going forward, and like the coaches last week who loaded up on cupcakes didn’t get very many specific inquiries about this weekend’s game.
  • Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks play Florida this weekend and is quite happy with his team’s results this season. According to Spurrier, the Gators are “the best team in the country.” Spurrier is also “honored” to be part of the Under Armour Wounded Warrior game. Spurrier also “knew going into this year we weren’t going to compete for the SEC Championship. Our goal was to win more than we lose, and then win the Bowl game.”
  • Urban Meyer and the Gators will travel to Columbia for a contest against South Carolina. According to Meyer, “This is an opportunity to play in one of the great atmospheres and environments in the SEC.” Meyer was asked directly about Charlie Strong and his pursuit of a head coaching opportunity. Meyer said his coaches are hot commodities but while people are at Florida and during the season their focus is on the Gators but allowed, “Once the season is over, let’s handle this professionally.” Confirming also what most of America knew, Meyer said, “Jeff Demps is one of the fastest guys in America.”
  • Bobby Johnson and Vandy play host to Kentucky this weekend, searching for their first conference win and attempting to keep the Wildcats away from bowl eligibility. Perhaps the most humorous moment for Johnson was when he was asked about the ability of Florida on kick coverage to shut down Vandy’s Warren Norman. Johnson’s response? “They have some big fast athletes down there.” Apparently Johnson is pursuing a graduate degree himself in obviousness.
  • Lane Kiffin and the Volunteers head to Oxford this weekend as they do battle with Ole Miss. Kiffin and the Vols are looking for their 6th victory this season and bowl eligibility. Kiffin was asked about the officiating in the league… again. Kiffin had no comment… again. Most of the chatter this week was about assistant coach Ed Orgeron and his former connection to Ole Miss as their head coach. Nothing of note as Kiffin resorted to the coachspeak of “it’s just another game.”
  • Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated LSU last weekend and will travel to Starkville for Mississippi State this weekend in search of their 10th victory this season. Saban was asked about his role in The Blind Side and much like Houston Nutt last week, was very complimentary of the film, the actors, and the staff. Saban also commented that the Crimson Tide were “confused” for a large majority of the LSU game. No huddles, late substitutions, and that sped up rhythm made it challenging for the Tide.
  • Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks have Troy on the schedule this weekend. Like Miles above, and some other coaches last week, Petrino’s time on the call was short. He gave a ton of credit to his squad for beating South Carolina this past weekend and putting the Hogs one win away from bowl eligibility.
  • Houston Nutt and the Ole Miss Rebels take on Tennessee at noon on CBS. Nutt was asked about the impact of a former coach taking on his former team. According to Nutt, “The first time it’s always a much bigger thing than you think. It’s a very different thing coming in on the visitor’s side.” When it comes to Tennessee, Nutt said the Rebels have to “harness the run and the explosive plays.”
  • Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs will follow up last weekend’s epic tilt with Tennessee Tech with a home game against Auburn. The Bulldogs, like so many other SEC teams, are trying to hit that 6th win this weekend.
  • Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs of MSU get the privilege of having Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide roll into town this weekend. MSU has to win 2 of their final 3 to reach bowl eligibility. Doable? Potentially. Easy? Hardly. The Bulldogs will need to shut down Heisman hopeful Mark Ingram this weekend, and Mullen is certainly impressed, but has a running back of his own worth celebrating in Anthony Dixon. “Dixon brings a lot in terms of what our offensive identity is.”
  • Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers will travel to Athens for the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers, already at 7-3 are more than bowl eligible. They are now trying to play their way in to a major Bowl. Their season-ending contest at Alabama means that this weekend is their best chance to pick up that 8th win. Chizik has 8 players who already have their undergrad degree, second highest in the SEC. “The thing that’s pretty incredible is that is almost all of our seniors on scholarship. It’s a credit to those guys who are able to do it in that amount of time and shows that academics are a priority here.”

Rich Brooks & the SEC Teleconference

sec_logo1Another Wednesday and another chance to catch up and hear from the coaches of the Southeastern Conference, most notably our very own Rich Brooks.

Opening Statement
We’re coming off of a tough loss to Mississippi State. Disappointing loss. We have some further injuries in that game. Derrick Locke banged his knee up and hasn’t practiced this week and is still doubtful for this game coming up. We’ve had a bout with the flu. We had 7 guys that couldn’t practice yesterday and had about 3 of them back today. It’s not the major flu, it’s just the normal flu, so that’s a good thing. We have a chance to do something that’s never been done in school history if we can win against Eastern Kentucky and that’s win 18 straight non-conference games. That’s a significant thing. We currently have the longest non-conference streak in the nation behind LSU.

Looking back at MSU and what the differences are with the Bulldogs in his tenure at UK
Well, I said we had a real disappointing loss. Unfortunately, Derrick Locke was injured with a knee in that game and is doubtful for this week. Certainly, Mississippi State, offensively, is a more productive team than the last several years. I was impressed with their offensive line play. Dixon had a very good game against us. I think they’re athletic and they have good size and speed on defense.

On slowing down Auburn’s offense
We played sounder more focused defense in that game than we have all year. Last week we played Mississippi State and a similar offense some of the same running plays and we didn’t have our fits with our linebackers and secondary. We allowed a lot of rushing yards against us in that game where we didn’t allow any big plays against Auburn. Part of that was not allowing Todd to hit the deep long balls in the passing game. I think they do so many things offensively that a lot of his big plays had come when coverage was broken down or busted by the opponent, and in that game we didn’t break any coverages, were in position, and we broke up a lot of key third down passes in that game as well. And honestly, it was a miserably cold windy night to throw the football so that probably helped defend the pass game as well.

It was a shame to see Coach Brooks only get two questions neither of which had virtually anything to do with UK and was more information trying to be gathered about opponents of other teams this weekend. For a coach with the 2nd longest non-conference win streak in the country whose team may go Bowling for the 4th consecutive year, that’s a real shame.

Around the rest of the league:

  • Steve Spurrier would love to move one of his final games to a different point in the season. He feels like the Gamecocks are going to be underdogs over their next 4 contests.
  • Urban Meyer and the Gators host Vandy this weekend and was very impressed by his team’s ability to stay focused this season. According to Meyer, Vandy’s defense is “one of the best in the conference.” He and the Gators have “zero conversations” against the SEC East anymore. Their focus is only on “winning the 9th game.”
  • Bobby Johnson of Vandy gets the joy of preparing for the #1 Florida Gators. Larry Smith, their starter, is out and Adams steps into the role as the starting Commodore QB. Injuries have taken a toll on the ‘Dores this season, and hopefully that experience gained will pay off next year.
  • Lane Kiffin and his Volunteers have the Memphis Tigers this weekend. “It’s a very big game for us,” says Kiffin. Kiffin has no comment on the new iron fist handing out suspensions and fines from the SEC Office. Against Julio Jones, Kiffin said the Vols’ primary weapon was “confusing the quarterback” while limiting him to small plays.
  • Nick Saban is half of the SEC game of the week against LSU in this year’s edition of the Saban Bowl. Said Saban, “Offensively, they’re playing their best football of the season right now.” Perhaps a nod to the lead up angle of his association with both schools, Saban was quick to point out that “the game should be about the players.” According to Saban, because of the team speed LSU excels at special teams as well.
  • Bobby Petrino and Arkansas host South Carolina this weekend and laid a beat down on EMU last weekend. The Hogs are healthy and Michael Smith is back for them. According to Petrino their offense against SC’s defense will be a “real good game.” Petrino also had no comment on the new order regarding fines and suspensions from the league office.
  • Houston Nutt and his Ole Miss Rebels host Northern Arizona this weekend. Most of Nutt’s question were about the movie The Blind Side and Nutt’s role in it. According to Nutt, “It was a very good experience. Tim McGraw, Sandra Bullock, the producers, everybody were class people. It was a very good experience.” This is what happens when you schedule Northern Arizona this late in the season.
  • Mark Richt and Bulldogs are also on the schedule patsies late in the season gravy train, as Georgia hosts Tennessee Tech this weekend. Richt thinks this year defenses are better across the board than in year’s past. Said Richt, “It seems like the offensive numbers have been tempered a bit.”
  • Dan Mullen, whose Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats last weekend referenced that win as something that will certainly help with his recruiting efforts. Beating a team like Kentucky, a team that has won 3 straight Bowl games, will certainly propel MSU over the top of the recruiting peak in his opinion.
  • Gene Chizik is excited to be home for the second week in a row and entertain Furman for Homecoming. Inferior opponents don’t lend themselves to a hungry media group seeking answers.

Unscientific Preview: MSU

KentuckyHelmetMississippi_St

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Lexington, KY
Television: ESPN360.com

It is exceptionally rare when a college football team hits a must win in October. And though Halloween month is almost over, and Kentucky sits at 4-3, this game looms large if the Cats are to go Bowling for their 4th consecutive year. Assuming the Eastern Kentucky game on November 7th is a win, the Cats will need one more victory in their remaining 4 games, all SEC contests, to get to that magical Bowl eligible 6 wins. It sure would be nice if we could just go ahead and knock that out now against MSU, allowing the games at Georgia, at Vandy, and against Tennessee to simply be icing on an already baked Bowl cake.

Mississippi State is in much the same boat as UK. The Bulldogs now sit at 3-5, with games ahead of them against Alabama, at Arkansas, and against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. A loss to Kentucky on Saturday means the Bulldogs have to win out… a very large improbability. So as large as this looms for Kentucky it is infinitely larger for Mississippi State, and a true “Must Win” for Dan Mullen to lead the Bulldogs to a Bowl in his first season at the helm.

Offense
For Mississippi State, they are a rush-centric team, led primarily by senior tailback Anthony Dixon, the SEC’s 3rd leading rusher this season. Dixon has helped the Bulldogs to a 4th place ranking in rush offense, at a shade under 200 yards per game on the ground. Their 10th in the SEC when it comes to passing and MSU clocks in overall at 8th in the conference for total offense.

Kentucky is similar in terms of their statistical rankings, with the differences negligible between each of the offensive strategies. Each of the major categories in terms of rushing, passing, scoring, and total offense finds Kentucky and MSU neck and neck. The key to the Kentucky offense is Randall Cobb, whose talent, skill, and speed are well utilized in an offense struggling to overcome injuries and find an identity of sorts.
Advantage: Push. Statistically there is virtually no difference between the teams and the star power of Cobb and Dixon cancel each other out.

Defense
Defensively, MSU is quite better than their record would indicate. They are 9th in the SEC in total defense (passing: 10th, rushing: 7th) and have had decent outings and moments of greatness in shutting down or at least significantly impeding major offenses like Florida, LSU, or Georgia Tech. They don’t maintain their intensity all game, and opportunities do exist to take advantage, but Kentucky will need to choose their spots wisely. Hindering the ability of the opposition to find those big plays are two freshman defensive backs in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield who have a combined 7 INTs and 3 TDs. Up front, junior DL Pernell McPhee is 5th in the conference for sacks with 4.0 this season.

For the Cats, they have struggled against the rush this season, so much so that they are last in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up nearly 175 per game. Complicating matters for the Cats are the injuries throughout the defense, like Micah Johnson and Trevard Lindley. Johnson will most likely play but won’t be 100% with a high ankle sprain, and against a showstopper like Dixon, the front unit of Kentucky needs to dominate the line of scrimmage… a tall order.
Advantage: Mississippi_StInjuries make this a small advantage for MSU, in addition to the fact the MSU’s offense is strongest where Kentucky’s defense is weakest.

Coaching
Dan Mullen is in his first season as a head coach, after a successful career at Florida. Offensively, Mullen has worked with the likes of Chris Leak, Alex Smith, and Tim Tebow, and given the opportunity to recruit to MSU over several years, most expect him to be successful. For Kentucky’s Rich Brooks, you’d be hard pressed to find Kentucky football fans who are not remarkably impressed with the successes and achievements that Brooks has been able to accomplish while at UK. Three straight Bowl wins, recruiting classes that get better and better, and winning the right way all make Brooks a great coach.
AdvantageKentuckyHelmet In several years it may be a different story, but for now Brooks has the experience, the results, and the edge.

Googling
Random Page 4 Google Image Result for Mississippi State:
MVU_ft
Camouflage on the shoulders? Interesting.

Random Page 4 Google Image Result for Kentucky:
ashley_judd_kentucky_jersey1
Perfection.

Advantage: KentuckyHelmetWhen it comes to chicks in jerseys, Kentucky has the market cornered. By far.

Overall
For both these programs, this game is one of the remaining chances to get a win. It is one of the last times this season that both teams will line up against a conference opponent with similar talent, depth, and skill. For MSU and Dan Mullen, they must rely on their defense to disrupt a Wildcat offense that at times this season has ranged from stagnant to mediocre. For the Wildcats, they must try and contain the Mississippi State rushing attack while limiting mistakes. The difference, in my mind, may very well come down to a home field advantage in the snake pit known as Commonwealth Stadium. A hyped crowd, a black out, and a team in search of historical and unprecedented success will carry the Cats to win #5 and their 2nd SEC victory this season.

Prediction
Mississippi State 24
Kentucky 35

Rich Brooks’ SEC Teleconference

sec_logo1Each Wednesday we bring you a recap of sorts of the SEC Teleconference, where the league’s coaches have a chance to touch base with the national media regarding a whole host of topics. Here’s Coach Brooks’ comments:

  • CRB’s Opening Statement: “We came off a win last week that we got off to a good start and then didn’t do very well particularly on offense or third down defense, but got out with a good win. In the process we lost Micah Johnson on the 7th play of the game. He hasn’t practiced at all this week but will try to go tomorrow. He may play but won’t be 100%. Trevard Lindley is still doubtful, the 4th game in a row that he’s missed. Our QB Mike Hartline is still on the sideline. We don’t know when, or if, he’ll return. This game is critical for both teams. If Mississippi State wants to be in the postseason, they need to win, and if we want to continue to make an impact in the SEC than we need to win.”
  • On preparing for MSU’s RB, Anthony Dixon: “He’s one of the best running backs in the league. He’s powerful as well as having good speed. He’s a load, and it would be helpful if we had Micah. If we don’t have him it will make the job of stopping Dixon even more difficult. It would be difficult if we had a full compliment of players.”
  • On the QB rotation of Morgan Newton and Will Fidler: “Well, it’s not going as well as I’d like or we’d be throwing the ball better. With Newton and Fidler changing off, we’ve been able to get 2 wins and with the addition of Cobb in the wildcat we’ve been able to generate just enough offense to get it done.”
  • How to counteract MSU’s defense: “They do a lot of different things on defense. They play the 4 man front, then they come in with a 3 man front, they do some zone pressures s well as man pressure. In the running game we have to get a hat on a hat, and in the passing game we have to make sure our bases are covered and we don’t turn someone loose. They’ve upgraded the skill and the athletic ability on their defense since last year. The job they did on Florida has certainly got our attention. That offense is hard to slow down and they did a great job with it.”
  • On the odds of a defensive player winning the Heisman: “I think most of the front running offensive players have to have mediocre years and I think the defensive player has to be on an outstanding team and have great numbers. It’s very hard for the defensive player to get the media consensus to win a Heisman trophy.”

Other Coaches Around the League:

  • Les Miles was certainly complimentary of the Tigers’ opponent this weekend, though it was almost funny to hear Coach Miles reference Tulane as an opponent worthy of even minor attention. Listening to Miles, you’d think Tulane wasn’t 2-5 and 0-4 in CUSA. Hat tip to Les though for recognizing the fact that this Tulane game is right between the rivalry games of Auburn and Alabama. Miles is also in favor of an early signing date, as long as it doesn’t interrupt the calendar of college football or being able to show full attention to prospects on your campus.
  • Steve Spurrier was asked quite a bit about this weekend’s Tennessee matchup and thinks Monte Kiffin is quite the coach and it isn’t a transition that’s tough to make from the NFL to college. According to Spurrier, coaching is coaching and it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. That’s of course incredibly ironic considering Spurrier’s lack of success in the NFL.
  • Urban Meyer indicated that his walking wounded defensive unit is getting itself back to full strength and it will be needed considering that this weekend’s game against Georgia is between two great programs. Meyer was exceptionally opposed to an early signing period until one of the conference coaches came up with a better plan that he supports, allowing a recruit to sign early if they take no other official visits. Jeff Demps should also be ready to go at full speed this weekend. Great news for Florida, bad news for Georgia.
  • Bobby Johnson sounded surprisingly positive and upbeat considering a.) he’s facing a Top 15 ranked Georgia Tech team this weekend, and b.) his Vanderbilt Commodores have yet to win an SEC contest. He spoke a bit about officiating and sending reviews to the conference office, making it more about learning what is allowed as opposed to pointing out mistakes to the SEC. Johnson also thinks the instant replay system “works as well as humanly possible, but people are gonna make mistakes.”
  • Lane Kiffin and his Volunteers take on South Carolina Saturday night on ESPN. Jonathon Crompton, according to Kiffin has put together “2 and a 1/2 really good games.” He also thinks there is no clear cut Heisman front runner, and if things go well for Eric Berry from this point forward, he has a shot at the stiff arming trophy. Lane Kiffin had no comment on instant replay and its use choosing to “stay away from that.”
  • Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide defeated Tennessee last weekend, and now have an open date. According to Saban, “Mentally and physically this is a good time to recharge our batteries.” Saban was asked about the officials and their mistakes, and he made reference to the SEC having the best officials of any league he’s ever worked in. Also blamed the lack of offensive prowess on the defenses the Tide has played rather than something wrong with the offense.
  • Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks now start a four game homestand with this weekend’s battle against winless and hapless Eastern Michigan. Not a whole lot of questions for Petrino, mostly because of the lack of interest in an SEC-MAC bloodletting.
  • Houston Nutt spoke at length about D.T. Shackelford and his exceptional amount of talent and skill as a freshman. He’s battling a high ankle sprain, but is expected to soldier though it. The Rebels are at Auburn this weekend, but there were quite a few questions about Nutt taking on his former team in Arkansas last weekend… which he won.
  • Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs take on the Florida Gators this weekend in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. The Gators are coming off an open week, and Richt said his team and coaches “could use the break.” There is also nothing in A.J. Green’s game that Richt would change, but special attention is paid to making sure he’s fresh and not playing him every down. This weekend’s Florida game “means an awful lot” to Richt and his team. He specifically mentioned his own team, but additionally, the fans and recruits, since “the whole nation pays attention to this game.”
  • Dan Mullen and his Mississippi State Bulldogs battle our Kentucky Wildcats this weekend in Lexington. Mullen says the Wildcats will “create issues for us and we’ll have our hands full”. What I thought most odd was Mullen holds Kentucky up as an example of where he would like his program to be in terms of consecutive Bowl trips. In terms of the QB upheaval, Mullen is more worried about Randall Cobb than any of the QBs Kentucky may trot out.
  • Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers play host to Ole Miss this weekend with the opportunity to right their ship a bit after three consecutive losses to Arkansas, Kentucky, and LSU. Chizik said the players have remained positive despite the losses, as they haven’t needed any prodding or coaxing.

Rich Brooks’ SEC Teleconference

sec_logo1Another week, another Wednesday, another SEC Teleconference with Coach Rich Brooks. Today’s commentary:

  • General Commentary: “We had a much needed win on the road last week. We’re going into a very difficult game this weekend [against ULM]. Like us, they lost their starting QB, but they’ve had extra preparation time. I’m not sure what we’re going to get offensively from them. We continue to have problems with injuries as Derrick Locke hasn’t been able to practice at all this week with a sprained MCL. The flu bug has hit us a little bit. Taiedo Smith has not practiced and is questionable. Moncell Allen has not practiced either. We need to show up and play an outstanding game. Our inexperience at QB needs to grow up very fast.”
  • On how they slowed Auburn down: “We were very nervous going in since they were leading the league in offense. Our front group did a really good job with gap control. We didn’t bite on the misdirection, and while we didn’t get a lot of pressure on the QB up front, our coverage was excellent. It also wasn’t a great night to throw the ball. Very cold and very windy. We also didn’t give up any big plays, and they’ve been able to do that on almost everyone they’ve played.”
  • On how key the linebackers were against Auburn: “Auburn can get you with some misdirection. Our linebackers were the key to the victory. Micah Johnson had 14 tackles, Danny Trevathan had 14, Sam Maxwell had 10. The defensive line did a good job of plugging the gaps and keeping their lineman off the second level so the linebackers were free to make the tackle.”
  • On how he would rank the Auburn win: “I think we’ve had a lot of significant wins here and this one falls in that category. From where we were coming off of three tough losses, and without our starting QB, without our best corner, to go on the road and get a win against a team like Auburn at Auburn has to rank up near the top of the wins since I’ve been here for the circumstances. The significance will only be meaningful if we continue to win and build off it.”
  • On how the locker room was after the Auburn win: “Everyone was happy because the locker room and the trip home from South Carolina was very painful. It was great to see the young men get rewarded for making the effort and playing a great game.”
  • On why the triple option went away in college football and now has caught on again: “It has caught on again, but most are doing it from the spread and the shotgun. The fans didn’t like it years ago because there wasn’t enough passing and it wasn’t exciting. A lot of the fans, particularly on the west coast wanted to see the ball thrown some more. Some changes take place because teams stop it, others because the fans don’t like it. It’s always been difficult to stop though, and it obviously still is.”
  • On the benefit of Randall Cobb after the injury to a starting QB: “Randall is the ultimate playmaker and leader. He’s as exciting a football player as I’ve ever been around. He’s put it on his shoulders to sort of carry us in the 4th quarter. He’s the ultimate football player to me. He’s an exciting football player as well. He means an awful lot to what we’re getting done right now and what we’re hoping to get done moving forward.

Normally we give fun little blurbs on the rest of the coaches, but for the most part, there was nothing of real note. Perhaps it just seemed down because of the firestorm over the last couple weeks about Tebow, Twitter, etc. but for the most part it was a very status quo sort of conference call. Several coaches wrapped significantly early, and more than just Bobby Johnson had very few questions.

The only real note was the sidestepping from Bobby Petrino ducking question after question about the SEC officials and their nice gift wrapping skills and/or Florida favoritism. Petrino shot most of those down with a no comment, and said it was best to ask the league office. Something tells me that’s going to get a pretty resounding no comment as well.