We chatted with A Sea of Blue's wamarsh about this weekend's trip to Lexington, which shapes up to be the biggest game between these two programs since 2010. Read on to see what he had to say. Questions in bold.
1. Kentucky recently announced suspensions of four freshmen, including contributors Stanley Williams and Dorian Baker. How will these suspensions affect the 'Cats?
I doubt they'll have much effect despite them both being promising freshmen who would have played. Running back is probably the deepest position on the team, and what Williams excels at (receiving out of the backfield, and using his speed on the edge) is replicated by Jojo Williams and Braylon Heard. Mikel Horton and Josh Clemons are two quality back-ups that will take what would have been Williams 3-6 carries.Baker is tied for UK's second leading receiver, but that stat overstates things a bit. The third leading receiver is a catch away from there being a three-way tie, and last year's leading receiver, Javess Blue, has only played one complete game this season. Throw in the fact that UK's receivers cross-train the various WR positions, and Baker's absence is further diminished.
2. From what I've seen, Patrick Towles represents a distinctive upgrade over Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith at QB. Do you agree, and if so, what makes Towles such a solid QB?
Completely agree. Towles has always had a very strong arm, and better wheels than most usually give him credit for. Those two abilities combined unlock far more of Neal Brown's playbook, and potentially erase mistakes, than previous UK quarterbacks. Towles' issues prior to this season mainly revolved around a slow release, some footwork issues, and maturity. Not to say he was a bad kid, because he never got into trouble that became public, just that he spent his time away from the football facilities acting like a college kid. He reportedly puts in the extra work these days, and as a result reads coverage schemes and blitzes better than he did previously.Last week's game against Vanderbilt was his worst this season. He threw a really bad "pick six", held on to the ball a bit too long, and had some freak fumbles in the pocket. I'd argue Florida has a better defense than Vandy, and Towles threw for 300 yards in that game (and two of his INT's that night were the WR's fault).
3. Texas A&M and ECU racked up considerable yardage with their Air Raid offenses. With Kentucky (home of the popularization of the style of offense back in the late 90s) again running this scheme, how does the 'Cats version compare to those of A&M and ECU?
My knowledge of Texas A&M and ECU's Air Raid schemes and tendencies is limited to non-existent, so I'll talk about UK and your readers with more knowledge can highlight the similarities and/or differences. Neal Brown wants to spread the field, and get his play-makers the ball in space. He wants the pass to set up the run, but the long-term goal is to have a near-balanced run:pass ratio. He stresses the importance of the offense being physical from the offensive linemen to the receiving corps.UK likes to play fast, and shoots for 75 plus plays per game. UK rarely, if ever, huddles and when the offense is playing fast they shoot for the time between plays to take less than 10 seconds. They'll do this a lot after getting a first down. Having said that, Brown talks a lot about making sure there is a balance between the offense and defense. If the defense has been on the field a lot, he'll throttle things back and play slower to get them a breather. UK won't play fast just for the sake of playing fast.
4. South Carolina struggled mightily last week with handling Mizzou's defensive ends in pass protection. What kind of pass rush can Carolina expect to see from UK?
The strength of the defense heading into the season was expected to be its pass rush from its two ends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. They've lived up to the billing for the most part, even if their sack stats don't necessarily reflect the mayhem they cause. Pleasant surprises have come in the form of redshirt freshman defensive tackle Regie Meant, and JUCO transfer defensive tackle Corey Johnson.This season UK is also dialing up a lot more blitzes due to personnel strengths in speed. Defensive backs will blitz off the inside receiver or up the middle along with MIKE backer Josh Forrest. A successful blitz on at least two occasions against Vandy was flooding the B-Gap with Forrest and one of the DB's.
5. If you could have one player from Carolina's roster, who would it be? Why?
That's a tough question because I think several players on South Carolina's roster could have an immediate impact. If forced to pick one, I'd have to go with AJ Cann. He's an All-SEC quality lineman, and UK's interior offensive line struggles at times despite being much better than last season. UK's inconsistency running the ball in short yardage situations could very well cost it games this season. Cann would definitely help matters.
6. I've read Kentucky is having a "blackout" this weekend. Have you done this before? If so, how did it go for the 'Cats?
Despite deleting most of my memories from the Joker Phillips era, I do remember UK's first university-sponsored "blackout" at Commonwealth Stadium occurring in 2011 against Mississippi State (UK lost 28-16). I'm pretty sure it hasn't been attempted since. UK won't be providing black clothing to fans, so it'll be interesting to see how much of the crowd still shows up wearing blue and white. My guess is 35%.It should be a fun atmosphere for any South Carolina fans making the trip. The weather looks good, and Keeneland will have just opened. Saturday will be a great day to hit the racetrack, take in the sights and sounds there, and then take the free shuttle buses to the stadium to do some tailgating. UK fans will generally be extremely accommodating if you join us in disparaging the ACC, and you at least pretend as if you like Calipari.
To be honest, I don't feel like I have a good grasp of this game despite watching every UK game, and 75% of South Carolina's games this season. UK's defense is playing very well right now, but South Carolina is easily the best offense it's faced yet this year. This game is a true measuring stick for the UK defense that has previously been susceptible to a power running game and physical receivers. UK's offense meanwhile did not look incredibly impressive against Vandy, and South Carolina's defense appears to be playing their best ball of the season. There are a lot of unknowns for me.
Given my ambivalence, I'm going to take the lazy route and be a homer. UK wins on the back of solid rushing, a big play or two, and field goals. UK 27 South Carolina 24.