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Wisdom from the Other Side: Kentucky

This week, we use extraordinary rendition to squeeze information about the Kentucky Wildcats out of fellow SB Nation blog A Sea of Blue.

Parliament is outraged to find that the plane containing ASOB flew over Britain.

The transcript follows:

So we've heard all about Andre Woodson, Rafael Little, Keenan Burton, etc. But is Kentucky's offense the real deal, or have they just been feasting on a lot of weak teams?

First, the "weak teams" issue. Our schedule hasn't turned out to be quite as tough as was envisioned, but it's better than many pundits want to give us credit for. Louisville, for instance, is not nearly as bad as many people seem to think -- their defense is young, and we actually beat them twice -- once in a game and then the next week in a letdown game against a significantly inferior opponent.

Our offense is the real thing, but just how potent it is against a top team in a top conference is admittedly untested. With the current national rating of the Gamecock defense, we should truly be tested this Thursday.

Okay, I've given you a chance to brag a little bit. Now, what worries you about the Kentucky offense?

The same thing that has worried me all year -- our offensive line. Our o-line has outperformed expectations, but when you look at the size and talent there, and the fact that there are a couple of converted players from other positions, you have to worry a bit about what will happen when they face one of the better d-lines in the SEC, such as the Gamecocks possess.

Also, it seems that we will once again be without the services of Alfonso Smith, our primary backup to Raphael Little. While Tony Dixon and Derrick Locke have shown little drop-off in quality, you want to bring your best when going against a team like South Carolina.

What about the defense? With the meat of schedule just now coming up, are the Wildcats just going to have to win a lot of shootouts, or can they stop somebody?

Our defense is an interesting study in contrasts. We have outstanding linebackers, a good secondary and a weak defensive line. The d-line is the reason our defense has not performed much better, and it has performed in a very interesting way -- we surrender twice the rushing yards in the first half that we do in the second half. That showed up as a major reason we beat Arkansas. Steve Brown, the DC for Kentucky, is coaching a classic "bend but don't break" strategy, which has worked so far. Whether it will continue to work as we face the class of the SEC is an open question.

To answer your question about shootouts, we are likely to have to win a few of those. I just hope South Carolina isn't one, because both teams are playing strength against strength -- USC's strong defense against UK's strong offense. USC's weaker offense against UK's weaker defense. The Gamecocks are the first team we have faces all year with this theme on the macro scale. On a slightly more granular scale, UK's strong running game must face USC's weaker running defense. But UK's rushing defense is also somewhat weaker than Carolina's rushing offense. Breaking it down that way, the Cats appear to have a slight advantage overall, but I think the home field nullifies that.

Name a player on either side of the ball whose name the average South Carolina fan won't know but who will have a big impact on the game Thursday.

Micah Johnson, MLB. Johnson had a great game, a breakout game really, against FAU with an interception return for a touchdown. Johnson is one of the 4 or 5 4-star recruits UK has on it's team, and is going to be a star in this league if he continues to improve. If he has a big game, the Gamecocks will have trouble moving the ball on the ground.

This is Kentucky's first time in the Top 10 since before many of our fans were born (1977). Since then, Kentucky has had a series of teams that have done well for a couple of years, then faded back into mediocrity. Are we looking at the top of a two-year cycle here, or is Brooks paving the way for long-term success?

Mediocrity? You are being kind. Kentucky doesn't fade into mediocrity, we descend precipitously into abject futility where we remain for years, at least this has been the pattern so far. We are hopeful that Brooks' improved recruiting and steady hand will return UK to somewhere in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Kentucky fans in the know understand that this is a special year, a sort of stellar alignment that we don't get around here too often, but getting ourselves out of perennial doormat status is a goal we can achieve in the long term.

Our success this year has already had a very positive impact on recruiting, and if it continues going forward, we can look forward to even better fortunes on that front. As we all know, recruiting is the mother's milk of any college team, and Kentucky has had limited success recruiting against SEC foes over the last many years. A highly successful season will turn that around in the near term, which will hopefully lead to more success, etc. So to answer your question, Brooks is trying to pave the way for the Kentucky definition of success, which for me, at least right now, would be two or three post seasons out of five on a recurring basis. As the old saying goes, you can't run until you can walk.

Kentucky hasn't beaten South Carolina since the 0-11 1999 season that, quite frankly, we like to pretend didn't happen. Why will this year be any different?

If this year actually is different, it will be so because we simply have outstanding talent at all our skill positions, arguably the best in the entire SEC taken in total. Our offense is full of upperclassmen who have paid their dues in this league and know what it takes to compete here, and unlike teams in our not too distant past, they have tasted success and know how to win. All these factors give us an opportunity to defeat the better teams in the league this year, like South Carolina.

Is it just me, or does Rich Brooks look perpetually confused/distracted on the sideline? I mean, obviously he's not, but he just looks like he's off in another universe.

Rich is an old guy like me. We always look confused so people will underestimate us. Now, what were we talking about again ...?

Confused. Like a fox.

Is the joy of being ranked increased any by the fact that Louisville -- how shall we say this -- um, sucks?

I'd love to revel in schadenfreude, but I just can't, and the biggest reason is that "Louisville sucks this year" is simply a myth perpetrated by a very bad let-down loss. Louisville is a good team, and my guess is that they will prove it in the next few weeks. I'm not hyping them because we beat them, they do have issues -- a young defense, a new coach and a confidence problem. But that young defense is filled with 4-star athletes who are capable of vast in-season improvement, and oh, yeah -- there's that Brohm guy who everyone seems to have forgotten.

But it does feel really good to beat them for a change. Really, really good, and I would by lying if I told you I wasn't enjoying the fact that Louisville and Kentucky have flip-flopped 180 degrees from pre-season expectations. It's one of the little things that makes being a college sports fan so much fun.

Again, the toughest part of your schedule is just getting underway. What is it reasonable for Kentucky fans to expect this year? Is that a better or worse fate than you would have guessed at the beginning of the year?

Reasonable fans are hoping for 8-4. 7-5 or 9-3 is also a real possibility. 10-2 is a pipe dream, but by God, it's OUR pipe dream. Pre-season, nobody in the Big Blue Nation was thinking 8-4 (well, perhaps a few optimistic dreamers that ultimately may be seen more as prescient), we were thinking maybe 7-5 or 6-6, and trust me -- we would have taken 6-6 (but that would be a letdown now). Being only 1 win away from a bowl game and having the entire sports world talking about Kentucky football is ... surreal to Wildcat fans.

What are three concrete things Kentucky must do to beat South Carolina?

1. Run the football successfully -- Kentucky has excellent backs and has excelled in run blocking this year. South Carolina's defense against the run has been below average.
2. Convert third downs -- USC's defense is likely to force us into a lot of 3rd and 4, 5, and 6 situations. We must convert these and keep the Gamecock defense on the field. We have done a very average job of converting on 3rd downs this year considering how powerful our offense has been.
3. Continue to play well in the red zone -- Believe it or not, South Carolina and Kentucky are very close nationally in keeping opponents from scoring in the red zone, 51st and 58th respectively, both in the top 50%. Kentucky is 5th in red zone scoring and the Gamecocks are 23rd. That's an advantage we must exploit.

In closing, I will give you my prediction for this game. I see the Cats winning our closest game of the year, 30-23. The Gamecocks will be the first team all year to hold the Cats under 40 points.

Well, you surely weren't expecting me to pick the Gamecocks, were you?