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This weekend, the University of Kentucky (2-4) football team will begin the 2nd half of its 2011 schedule when they host Jacksonville St. (5-2) out of FCS Division. For the Cats the season started off 2-0 although there were early concerns about the anemic offense. Those concerns would only be heightened over the next four games, all losses and all but one by 4 touchdowns or more. In all 4 losses the Cats were held under 250 yds of total offense and not since the U of L game have they put up more than 1 TD in a game. So with two weeks to basically get ready for Jacksonville St., it will be interesting to see what, if any changes Joker Phillips and his staff have made.
They have to get the offense going because State will not be easy to defeat, regardless of the division they play in because they are an athletic team that will not be intimidated. They also have former Georgia RB, Wasuan Ealey on the team…….that would be the same Ealey who ran for over 130 yds and 2 TDs last year against the Cats when he as playing for the Bulldogs. So while the “O” line at J’Ville St. may not be the Georgia offensive line, Ealey has proven skills and UK will have to slow him down early.
The defense may have to carry the load (i.e. WKU & Central Michigan) if the Cats are going to win, but if that is the case and the offense has not improved “one single iota”, then this will be the last game they will win all season. I would like to think I know better than that and I expect better than that from Joker and his staff. So I will say UK gets the “W”, but it may not be real pretty… give me the Cats 28 – J’Ville St. 20.
South Carolina 14 – Mississippi St. 12: In a game that seem to lack the luster it did before the season started, it was a hard fought contest that went right down to the wire. The Gamecocks (6-1) won the war but may have lost the battle; RB Marcus Lattimore was lost for the remainder of the season with a knee / leg injury. In a contest where the defenses ruled and neither offense looked particular sharp, South Carolina made one more big play than Mississippi St. (3-4) did. The Bulldogs are now 0-4 in conference play and but can all but just about bury their bowl chances needing to win 3 of their final 5 to be eligible. For the Gamecocks, the win keeps them ahead of Georgia in the SEC East but now you have to wonder what they will do for a ground attack with Lattimore done for the season. He was held to just 39 rushing yds and 1 TD before going out so State did a great job of containing him. Both QBs, Connor Shaw for South Carolina and Tyler Russell for Miss. St. threw for 1 TD & 2 picks but Shaw had the last laugh when hit Alshon Jeffery with a 4yd TD pass with 3:50 to go in the 4th. Both teams will be off this coming weekend.
LSU 38 – Tennessee 7: The good news for Vol fans was that RB Tauren Poole was able to play after all (19 carries, 70 yds & 1 TD); the bad news was it was against LSU (7-0). The Tigers led 17-7 at the half and then defense pitched a shut-out after intermission as Matt Simms only completed 30% of his pass attempts. Tennessee (3-3) knew this would be a tough task on the road in Baton Rogue but without QB Tyler Bray, the task got just that much tougher. The Vols were limited to less than 250 yds of offense an LSU continued to strengthen their hold on the #1 spot in the Polls. Tiger’s QB Jarrett Lee passed for 115 yds and 2 TDs while the defense hounded his counterpart all game long. LSU will host Auburn this Saturday while UT will travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama.
Alabama 52 – Ole Miss 7: For the 1st quarter, Ole Miss (2-4) was just as good as Alabama (7-0); for the rest of the game, the Tide was on a different plateau than the Rebels. Bama would finish the game on a 52 – 0 run after spotting Ole Miss a TD on their opening drive. Alabama RB Trent Richardson ran for 183 yds and 4 TDs and QB A.J. McCarron passed for 224 yds and 1 TD. Ole Miss was held to less than 200 yds, most of which came on the opening series of the game. For Houston Nutt, it continues to be a problem to find any source of offense as his time in Oxford appears to be about over. The Rebels will host Arkansas Saturday and I would not expect the home fans to hold back in voicing their displeasure with how this season is going.
Auburn 17 – Florida 6: The Auburn Tigers (5-2) have been able to consistently prove the skeptics wrong this season as they took care of the Gators on Saturday. In a game that featured shaky QB play from both sides and good defensive play from both, it was poor special teams play from Florida (4-3) that proved to be the difference. The Gators muffed or bobbled 4 different punts and a pair of them led directly to Auburn scores. Without John Brantley under center, the Gators have not scored more than 1 TD in a game. They tried three different guys under center Saturday and none of them were very effective. They also had to play the game without RB Jeff Demps who was out with an injury. Add to that, RB Chris Rainey was held to just 33 yds on 16 carries and the Gators tallied less than 225 yds of offense for the 3rd consecutive week. Auburn was not much better on offense as QB Barrett Trotter continues to struggle in the passing game. He would give way to Clint Moseley who managed to pass for only 90 yds himself. Bottom line is the Tigers just made less miscues than the Gators.
Georgia 33 – Vanderbilt 28: In what proved to be the most entertaining game of the day in the SEC, the Bulldogs (5-2) held off the Commodores (3-3) in wild game. Georgia led 20-7 at the half and appeared to be on their way to an easy win. But in the second half, Vandy’s special teams (a KO return for a TD) helped ignite a Commodore rally that would eventually fall short. After Vandy had been embarrassed in its last two outings, they actually showed a lot of moxie after falling down 13 in the 1st half. RB Zack Stacy ran for 97 yds and 1 TD but the Commodores struggles can be found at the QB position where neither of the two they used were very effective. For Georgia, QB Aaron Murray passed for 326 yds & 3 TDs, because Vandy shut-down the Bulldog’s ground game. Georgia will be off this week while Vandy will host Army as they try to get that elusive 4th win of the season.
With the weekend upon us and the Kentucky Wildcats on a bye week, you have to find other games of interest. That will not be hard to due as some of this weekend’s match-ups will play a pivotal role in the BCS poll as well as conference races. There are still several undefeated teams that will get a stiff test Saturday and those should make for some thrilling contests. With that being said, let me tell you the games worth keeping an eye on.
#11 Michigan (6-0) vs. #23 Michigan St. (4-1) – In recent years this game has had little or no impact in the National scheme of college football because one or the other has been on the downslide; well this year is different. Michigan comes in, winners of the first 6 games of the Brady Hoke era, and they have done it in a variety of ways. On offense, they boast one of the most dangerous players in all of college football in Denard “Shoelace” Robinson and a defense that is seemingly improving each week. In fact, the Wolverines are near the top in defensive statistics in the 2nd half of games; in fact only 3 of their 6 opponents even dented the scoreboard after halftime. For the Spartans they have had week off to prepare for this game. Last year, they forced Robinson into 3 INTs and knocked him out of the game late in the 2nd half as the Spartans routed the Wolverines. Spartan’s QB Kirk Cousins must be sharper than he was in their 10-7 victory over Ohio St. 2 weeks ago when he threw 3 picks and missed a ton of open receivers.
#6 Oklahoma St. (5-0) vs. #22 Texas (4-1) – The Cowboys are fresh off of a 70-28 wood-shed game against Kansas and their offense does not appear to be slowing down; they led 56-7 at the half last week! QB Brandon Weeden is thedirector of this potent offense and unless you can put pressure on him, he will pick your defense apart all game long. The Longhorns will have to try and pull it together after they were destroyed by Oklahoma last week. Mack Brown knew his team would be young but a 4-0 start had Longhorn fans on “cloud 9”; but they fell hard to earth last week. The offense was exposed as not being very good, as was the defense. Texas needs to stand tall this week or risk possibly falling apart for the rest of the season.
# 15 South Carolina (5-1) vs. Mississippi St. (3-3) – At the start of the season this was one of the “prized” games circled on the calendar for both of these teams. Well the luster on this match-up has faded just a bit, mainly due to the troubles in Starkville, particularly with the offense. The Bulldogs offense has been non-existent as of late, in fact against the three SEC (0-3) opponents they have already played, they are averaging less than 2 TDs a game. They managed just 21 pts. against 0-4 UAB last week and they even benched QB, Chris Relf. For South Carolina, the past week has been turbulent due to the fact that QB Stephen Garcia was kicked-off the squad for what will be the last time. But the Gamecocks are fresh off of a good performance by QB Connor Shaw against UK last week so I would say Spurrier feels good with Shaw as the starter right now. The Bulldogs can’t afford to go to 0-4 within the conference and still maintain high hopes of going “Bowling” at the end of the season. South Carolina wants to maintain the leg-up it has on Georgia in the race for the SEC East, a loss here puts Georgia in the driver’s seat.
#18 Arizona St. (5-1) vs. #9 Oregon (4-1) – This game out west could be the most intriguing of all this weekends games, if you can stay up to watch it. The Ducks are anything but healthy as they will not have star RB LaMichael James (injured elbow / arm) and his back-up was even dinged up last week. Oregon at times does not look to have the same flow to their offense as they had last season. The receiving group is “suspect” at best and when you are without your RB that is not good. The Sun Devils are a possession or two away from being 6-0 (lost at Illinois) and they are a team that rides their defense. The defense is an attacking group that goes sideline-to-sideline as well as any defense in the nation not named LSU or Alabama. For Arizona St, this is a statement game and a chance to maybe get some national attention. For Chip Kelley and the Ducks, this game is about trying to keep their hopes alive for another shot at the BCS Title game.
Florida (4-2) vs. #24 Auburn (4-2) – Well this game may not impact the national scene as it typically can but it will impact the SEC race. The Gators are losers of two straight, both blow-out losses and now they will play their second straight road game without QB John Brantley. The Gators running game (Demps & Rainey) has been stifled for 2 consecutive weeks and the defense has not been good either. For Auburn, it is all about scheme and timing. Yes the Tigers were smashed in Fayetteville last week, but they are still 4-2 with a good chance to get win# 5 Saturday; most people were wondering if Auburn had enough to get 6 wins total this season. RB Michael Dyer has been on a tear lately and when he gets going, he is good for 100+ yds. The problem has been the below average play of QB Barrett Trotter, especially over the last 3 weeks. He seems to be more of a game manager than a vital piece and the Tiger faithful just don’t seem to be dealing with that well after having Cam Newton last season. The winner still stays in the race both in their division and within the conference. The loser may as well forget about a conference title.
(Videos courtesy CoachCal.com and UKSportsInfo)
With this week off, the Kentucky Wildcats are officially half way through the 2011 football campaign and the first 6 games have been somewhat of a disappointment (2-4). When the schedule first came out, the thought was that UK would be 3-3 at worse with a distant shot at 4-2 should Florida not be as good as what some might have thought. The Cats were not expected to be able to “hold a candle” to either LSU or South Carolina so those were expected losses. The problem was UK was slow out of the gate against Western KY and Central Michigan, needing strong second half performances (shut-outs in both games after half-time) by their “D” to win both of those games. The issue in both of those games was all offensive, particularly the line play and the lack of a passing attack. Those two problems would only get worse when they played U of L (24-17 loss) and since then it has only been magnified by the last three losses 48-10, 35-7 and 54-3, all games in which UK managed less than 200 yds of total offense. In fact, in almost every offensive statistical category (SEC and NCAA), UK ranks either last or near the bottom. So with another week to go before they take the field again against Jacksonville St. (FCS opponent), what if anything can the Cats do to stop the bleeding in terms of their lack of offense and try to get themselves bowl eligible.
For beginners, they can try and make some adjustments on the offensive line, especially in terms of line blocking assignments. I know it may seem crazy for a team that has been horrendous thru the air, but the Cats will need to spread things out and try to create mismatches on the outside. My suggestion would be to use the TE more, possibly even two TEs; they would mainly be in there to bolster your blocking and not so much as pass catchers. The next thing would be to put your QB (Newton or Smith) in the shotgun formation unless you are in short-yardage situations. Newton has struggled mightily whether it be dropped balls, over-thrown balls or whether he has been sacked or hit in the pocket, he has had “zero” success as a passer (10 completions in his last 40 attempts for 72 pass yds). By putting these guys in shot-gun, you give them and extra couple of seconds to see the field and go thru their progressions. The next thing is to realize that with your best RB, Clemons out for the year now, they will either need to go with 1 TE and 1 RB (mainly a blocker or safety valve on pass plays)& 3 WR , 1 TE, 4 WR & empty backfield or 2 TE & 3 WR & empty back field.
With these types of sets, what you want and need from your QB is rhythm passing which will be predicated on the pre-snap reads they make. The main cog in the passing game when you spread the field is a slant route. The reason why is because you can use the inside WR to clear out (set an inadvertent pick) not only his man but the corner on the outside receiver thereby leaving the outside WR some room to operate after making the catch. This also gets the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly thereby cutting down the pressure he will come under. Other passing routes that you generally run out of a spread are bubble screens, quick outs to the sidelines and comeback routes (8-12 yds). Occasionally you can take a shot deep down the field because of all the short stuff being run, but you have to pick and choose your spots. There will be times that you have to run draw plays out of the spread or maybe even toss sweeps but the running game would not be primary.
It is clear that Randy Sanders offensive scheme is not suited for this team right now, especially based on the play of the line and the QB spot. So the best way to alleviate some of the issues is just go spread (i.e. NFL version of the spread, Patriots and Colts) and take your chances that way. The expectations or at least the hope for the next six games are 4-2 but to do that, you have to get the offense going. Starting with Jacksonville St., a win is a must here. After that, the Cats will see the likes of Ole Miss, Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, LSU and Georgia, just not in this order. So if they are sitting at 3-4 heading into the rest of the SEC schedule then you can start trying to figure where the wins would come to get them to bowl eligibility. Ole Miss (just 2 wins) and Vandy (been blown out in their last two) appear to be two good chances but neither are “gimmees”. If they were playing UT while Tyler Bray was out, then their chances of winning would go up. State seems to still be in a funk from their three early SEC losses and they look vulnerable right now. The only team that seems to have found themselves and is not playing injured is Georgia so that one may not be favorable, even if the offense got going. There is still plenty of football to play but if the UK offense does not find itself beginning next Saturday then the rest of the season may be even worse than the first half was.
South Carolina 54 – Kentucky 3: Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse for UK(2-4) offensively, they are seemingly finding new lows to hit every week. QB Morgan Newton completed just 4 passes for 17 yds as the Gamecocks (5-1) unleashed a furious offensive display in the 2nd – 4th quarters after only leading the Cats 7-3 after the 1st. Newton also had 14 carries for 54 yards but fumbled once and was battered all day long whether in or out of the pocket. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks rolled up over 600 yds of offense behind back-up QB, Connor Shaw (311 passing yds & 4 TDs) and RB Marcus Lattimore (22 carries for 102 yds) in route to their best offensive output all season; WR Alshon Jeffery had 6 grabs for 95 yds and 2 TDs as he gave the UK secondary fits. UK scored first after the Gamecocks fumbled the opening kick-off; unfortunately they were only able to get a field goal. South Carolina would score the next 54 pts as UK’s bleak chance for an upset was gone by half-time.
Mississippi St. 21 – UAB: Well things are not getting much better for Dan Mullins’ ball club as they fell behind UAB (0-5) 3-0 at the half. Mullins decided to bench starting QB, Chris Relf and that seemed to jump start the offense or at least give them life. T. Russell passed for 165 yds & 3 TDS in the 2nd half and the Bulldogs’ “D” blanked the Blazers the rest of the way. State (3-3) RB Vic Ballard had 101 yds on the ground but this team still seems to be in somewhat of a daze as all of their wins have been outside of the conference thus far. The Bulldogs will finally try to breakthrough with a conference win Saturday in Starkville when they host South Carolina.
LSU 41 – Florida 11: A tale of two teams possibly heading in the opposite direction, the Tigers (6-0) beat its 4th ranked opponent of the season, further strengthen its grip on the #1 spot while the Gators (4-2) lost their 2nd straight, both in convincing fashion. Playing without starting QB, John Brantley, the Gators could never find a rhythm on offense and on defense they were helpless to stop LSU either on the ground or through the air. LSU had over 300 yds of offense while Florida was short of 200 yds for the game. LSU may have proved to every one in the nation that they have the fastest defense (the Sooners and the Tide may disagree) going sideline to sideline as the Gators couldn’t muster anything of significance on the ground as their only TD came on a 65 yd pass play in the 3rd. LSU will now visit Knoxville to face Tennessee while Florida will hit the road again this weekend to face Auburn.
Arkansas 38 – Auburn 14: For the 1st half, this game was very entertaining as the teams traded TDs with Arkansas (5-1) leading at the half, 21-14. Apparently the Tigers (4-2) forgot there was a 2nd half as they were blanked offensively while the defense could not slow down the steamrolling Razorback offense. Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson passed for 262 yds and 2 TDs and the Razorbacks defense forced Auburn into 3 & outs on just about every 2nd half possession. The Tigers played without its two leading receivers and it showed as the back-ups either dropped passes or were not running the correct routes. The only bright spot for Auburn is that Michael Dyer continues run well (21 carries f/ 112 yds & 1 TD).
Alabama 34 – Vanderbilt 0: For about a quarter or so, the Commodores (3-2) defense seemed to be inspired rather than intimidated by Alabama’s (6-0) offense. The problem was that Vandy’s offense was intimidated by the Tide defense and that meant the Commodore defense would eventually get worn down and they did. Vandy was limited to less than 200 yds of offense and Alabama rolled up over 400 yds (McCarron passed for 237 yds & 4 TD, while Richardson ran for 107 & 1TD). Alabama will visit Oxford, MS this weekend to play Ole Miss while Vandy will play host to Georgia.
Georgia 20 – Tennessee 12: Oh how costly was the Volunteers’ lost to the Bulldogs on Saturday…..Tennessee (3-2) will have to go the next 4 weeks or so without QB Tyler Bray (Broken Thumb on throwing hand). While Bray may have not been having a stellar game (251 yds passing) he is the trigger man for what can be an explosive offense; he hit his right hand and wrist on a defenders helmet while throwing a pass in the 4th quarter. Georgia (4-2) also did not get a stellar performance from its QB (Aaron Murray 227 passing yds) but the difference proved to be on the ground where Isiah Crowell ran for 2 scores. Coach Mark Richt continues to stave off the “hot-seat” talk as Bulldogs have clearly put themselves in a position to be right there in the SEC East race with South Carolina. The problem is they have already lost to the Gamecocks so they will need to keep winning and hope someone else can knock off the Gamecocks along the way.