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Talking USC-Kentucky with A Sea of Blue

I got to talk with Truzenzuzex from the SBN Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue about the upcoming Wildcats-Gamecocks matchup. My answers to his questions are here. Here's what he had to say in response to my questions.

  1. Although they ended up losing by three, last weekend Kentucky played well in the second half to make it a game against second-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa. What did you learn about Kentucky during this game? How do you feel about the Cats' ability to meet your season expectations after their first game against a major opponent?

    I think like most UK fans, I learned that our defense is the real deal.  Yes, Alabama was able to move the ball on us, but we rendered their passing game completely ineffective, and but for a long run from scrimmage, held their running game to a very reasonable yardage, particularly in their home stadium.

    I think we also learned that our offense is capable of making plays against a good defense, but that it lacks any semblance of consistency and predictability.  Being held to 35 yards rushing is unacceptable in the SEC, and even though the passing game was much more effective, an unbalanced offense in the SEC usually winds up losing more than it wins.  In many ways, Kentucky looks like South Carolina -- a strong defense with an offense that has trouble moving the football against any but weak opponents.

    Finally, we learned that Hartline's propensity to drop the football for no apparent reason is not a fluke -- once, even twice can be called a fluke, but three times is a trend, and a dangerous one.  But for that dropped football, assuming everything else remains the same, we get the win in Tuscaloosa.

  2. Tell us about any important injuries the Cats have at this point. Will you be missing any key players against Carolina?

    Right now, it looks like Ricky Lumpkin (DT) will be back.  That's good news for the D-line, but backup right guard Stuart Hines  is lost for several weeks for cartilage damage in one knee.  We thought starting RG Jess Beets was lost to a knee as well, but his was just a bruise and he will likely be available Saturday.  QB/WR Randall Cobb says he is pain free but is still fighting a reluctance to cut on his ankle, and stud middle linebacker Micah Johnson is still listed as doubtful due to a high ankle sprain.  WR DeMoreo Ford, who scored the last TD at  Bryant-Denny, is out Saturday, as is starting outside linebacker Danny Trevathan.

    Also, I have not heard the word on SS Matt Lentz who missed the 'Bama game with an ankle.  SS Ashton Cobb has been reinstated to the team, but I don't know if he'll play Saturday.

  3. The Cats currently have one of the best (if not the best?) scoring defenses in the nation. You haven't given up more than fourteen points all year and have held opponents to three or less a few times, which is pretty darn good despite the fact that you haven't played any good teams other than Bama. How did Kentucky transition from the high-powered offensive and so-so defensive teams of the past two years to a rough and tough defensive group this year? How do you think the defense will perform against a resurgent Carolina offense?

    It wasn't so much a transition as a maturity.  Kentucky is just now getting fully over the effects of probation, and even though we've had a full compliment of scholarships for a couple of years now, you know as well as I do that when you recruit at the level Kentucky recruits at, it takes several years for the players to mature to the point of being effective in the SEC.  What you are seeing are the fruits of that maturity.  Skill players are a dime a dozen in the South, but finding great lineman is hard, and takes a lot of development time.

    Hopefully, with the improved recruiting we are seeing with our current level of success, we will be able to have a better development path for both lines, which is the biggest reason why our defense has been bad the last few years.  As we get a higher quality lineman coming in, they will be ready for SEC play at least a year earlier than what we have been getting over the past few years.

    I think UK will do fine against the Gamecocks defensively.   You should fear our defensive line -- if we can sack JP Wilson three times when nobody else has, I think we can get to the South Carolina QB, be it Smelley or Garcia.  Our pass defense is one of the best in the league, and if Trevard Lindley can handle Julio Jones, I am confident that he can handle whatever South Carolina sends his way.

  4. Your offense seems to still be in a developmental stage. Carolina fans can relate to that, even though we looked much better last weekend against Ole Miss. What are your strengths and weaknesses on the offensive side of the ball, and what does your offense need to do to get the win against Carolina?

    Strength-wise, we have good runners, but they have been ineffective due to a combination of immaturity and poor O-line run blocking.  Our O-line is experienced and that has really showed by how well we have protected Hartline, but they are not dominating the line of scrimmage in the running game, and that has lead to an imbalance that makes the passing game significantly harder.

    Our weakness is our receivers, and youth.  Our receivers are mostly freshmen and converted defensive backs, and that has shown itself with a lot of dropped footballs.  Our quarterback is a good game manager, but he is young and doesn't have a rifle for an arm like Woodson did.  But we have been effective in the short passing game, especially when we get the ball to our fast running backs and slot receivers, as evidenced by the two inside receiver screens in a row that scored on Alabama last weekend.  Our line seems to do a better job of downfield blocking than inside the tackles, for whatever reason.  Also, despite the success we have had running the ball on the edge, Joker Phillips seems reluctant to do that.  I don't understand it, but there it is.

  5. Kentucky has never beaten Steve Spurrier and it's been several years since you've beaten the Gamecocks. How important is this game to you as a Kentucky fan?

    Very important.  I pointed to this game as one of the five I really wanted this year.  There is no rhyme or reason I can find behind Spurrier's success against us, it's just one of those crazy things that you see every now and then.  But South Carolina is one of the winnable games on our remaining schedule, and it is at home.  If we manage a victory against the Visor, we will be only one win away from bowl eligibility with three winnable games remaining on the schedule.  That's where you want to be if you are a Kentucky fan.

    But make no mistake, we know that the Gamecocks will be tough.  They may have turned a corner offensively against Ole Miss, and you must respect every SEC opponent, particularly one just coming off a big road win.  We know USC's defense will be good -- that has been a given all year long.  But we think we can be just as good defensively, and are hoping for a boost from the 12th man, the UK crowd at Commonwealth Stadium.

    Here's to a good game and no injuries for either side.  Thanks for asking me to contribute.