Never mind the bollocks, here's the Wildcats.
Hometown: Lexington, Ky.
Last season: Blazed out to a 5-0 start and a #8 ranking after knocking off top-ranked LSU but sort of petered out from there, going 2-5 down the stretch against the heart of their SEC schedule. Ended the season on a high note, though, by beating Florida State 35-28 in the Music City Bowl, and finished with an 8-5 record (3-5 SEC) and a few votes in the polls.
The season thus far: Got out to another fast start by romping through a quartet of non-conference stiffs, but are only 2-3 in conference play and have lost their top two offensive players, starting tailback Derrick Locke and wideout Dicky Lyons Jr., for the season. Currently 6-3 and unranked.
Hate index, 1 being the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, 10 being the Dallas Cowboys: Three. Now that we've gotten our revenge for their upset win in '06, the only thing I can really get mad at them about is stealing Tubby Smith away from us. Otherwise, I have a great former boss who's a UK alumna and a good friend from my hometown who's now living in Kentucky and has a soft spot for the 'Cats, so no seething hatred for you here, Kentucky (not that I'd have any left to spew after last week).
Associated hottie: We did Ashley Judd last time, so let's go a little outside-the-box this time and pick not only a student but a pair of students: Jessica and Jenna Ortman, members of UK's cross-country team and identical twins brought to our attention by the blog UK Wildcat Country back in the summer. Not only are they identical twins, but they apparently share the same penchant for running around in their underwear, which as I'm sure you all know by now is an all-but-certain way to receive HJS's official endorsement.
Celebrity preview: Bowl games are for closers (and for people who can play some f%$#ing defense) -- so sayeth David Mamet here.
What excites me: Remember when everyone was predicting a big step back for the Wildcat offense once QB André Woodson graduated? It may be even worse than anyone expected. Since their 4-0 start, in which they averaged Currently the Wildcats are 88th in the country in passing offense, 86th in rushing, and 99th in the country in total yards per game (313). After Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Auburn, they're the least effective offense in the conference.
And that was even before they lost perhaps their two best offensive skill players for the season due to injury. Want to know how important these guys were to the Wildcats? Derrick Locke, despite not having played the last 10 quarters due to a season-ending ACL/MCL injury, is still the 'Cats' leading rusher on the season by 77 yards. Dicky Lyons Jr., despite not having played the last 14 quarters due to a virtually identical injury, is still their leading receiver by a 67-yard margin. The shoe-fillers at those respective positions are Tony Dixon, whose best performance this season was a 12-for-66 day against Mississippi State, and Randall Cobb, whom I badly want to nickname "Tex" and who is also Kentucky's backup QB. He's been seeing increasing action at that position, incidentally, because his QB rating (109.3) is actually better than that of the starter, Mike "Turn On Your" Hartline.
Sorry, 'Cats, but I think the other Randall Cobb is just a wee bit scarier.
The end result of all this misery: an average of 14 points in five SEC games. Even Arkansas's threadbare defense held them to just 7 points through three quarters, with a furious two-TD comeback needed to save the Wildcats' bacon in dramatic fashion. And the one bright spot from an otherwise miserable Saturday in Jacksonville last week was that other than linebacker Darius Dewberry, nobody got injured seriously enough to miss much of this week's action. So that meager UK offense will have the added challenge of going up against a more or less fully loaded Georgia D. And the Dawg defense may get some opportunities to help out Stafford, Moreno, and the offense, for as A Sea of Blue morosely informs us, the Wildcats can be counted on at least once a game to hand a short field to the opponent via turnover, or even to hand a gift-wrapped TD to the opposing defense outright.
What worries me: Rare (and unpleasant) is the occasion when I'm more worried about what my own players are doing to do to my team than what the opposing team is going to do to my team, but . . . well, it's looking like this might be one of those times. David Hale brings us the whole unnerving scoop:
Get the Picture gives some thoughts on this week's game against Kentucky, saying he hopes for a blowout. Talking to Jeremy Lomax this week, I wouldn't tell Blutarsk[y] to hold his breath. "They're going to be hungry," Lomax said. "I'm going to tell you now, it's not going to be a blowout."
OK, well, uh . . . thanks for the warning, I guess. Look, I can kind of understand where Lomax is coming from: When you started out the season #1 and bearing legit national-title hopes, and you've just been thumped down to #14 after a humiliating blowout to an arch-rival that basically extinguished any last glimmer of hope you had for an MNC shot, yes, it's tough to get out of bed the next morning. If anyone's got any ideas for a rallying cry more inspiring than "Let's win one for the Cap One Bowl, boys!", then I'm all ears (as, I'm sure, is Mark Richt). But to convey that apathy on the record to a beat writer is pretty bad form, and unless Lomax is just sandbagging to try and lull the Kentucky players or something, it does not bode well at all for this weekend's game. It also reminds me of a similar situation from about a year ago, which I'll get to shortly.
At any rate, while the defense may be going up against a hobbled and unproductive unit, the Bulldog offense will not have the same luxury. That UK defense that had been so sieve-like almost ever since Bill Curry left has tightened up considerably this year, coming in at 26th in the nation with just 303 yards allowed per game; their pass defense has shown particular improvement, at 23rd in the nation (fifth in the SEC) with only 176 ypg. They're also doing a good job of snatching other teams' passes, with 12 picks on the season. The Florida game, of course, turned disastrous in a hurry, but other than that they've been holding SEC opponents to a respectable 18.5 points per game.
Stafford after his last visit to Lexington: "No, I, uh . . . just fell down the stairs. Yeah, that's it."
Particularly given what happened the last time we went into Lexington feeling sorry for ourselves, then, this is not a team we can afford to dick around against. Whatever deficiencies they may have in this area or that area, they've overcome it with strong, disciplined coaching by Rich Brooks: They protect the quarterback well, they force a lot of turnovers, and they mostly don't commit dumb penalties. If we go into this one thinking "Ehh, it's Kentucky" and counting on them to screw up the game on their own, it will not be a fun afternoon.
Player who needs to step up: QB Matthew Stafford. The nadir of Staff's rookie season came in Lexington, when he was 16-of-28 with one TD and three picks in an upset loss to the 'Cats; the nadir of his junior year arguably came last week, with another three picks (and no TDs) against the Gators. He needs to bounce back, bad, against a defense that's turned out to be pretty stout against aerial attacks. Even last year, Stafford didn't have a very good game against Kentucky -- two picks, no TDs, under 100 yards passing -- bit with the Wildcats likely to key in on Knowshon, it's going to be on Staff to hit a few deep balls early to keep them guessing.
What I think will happen: Coming off a humiliating drubbing, going on the road to play an opponent whom we've typically thought of as a doormat, heading into that game with possibly not the best attitude. Can anyone guess which recent game that reminds me of? Here, I'll give you a hint, and warning, it involves double-nesting:
Underwhelming though Vandy's offense may be in '07, at the bare minimum Georgia's defense will have to re-learn such fundamentals as "tackling" and "not lining up in the neutral zone" to have a prayer of stopping them.
So how are we doing on that one? Over to you, David Ching:The team only practiced for about 30 minutes today before it started pouring rain and there were some flashes of lightning. Instead they went over to the Ramsey Student Center and practiced for about an hour. I'm sure that unfortunate circumstance was met with a certain amount of joy, since Tuesdays are their heavy hitting days. One of the players grinned when I asked him about it and didn't seem to mind they missed out on that experience today, but noted they'd have fresher legs against Vanderbilt.
Now, as you all know, I'm not a big fan of telling other people how they should feel about things, so I'll simply tell you how I would feel in this situation and let you make up your own minds. If I had just gotten humiliated on national television by Tennessee, if the lasting impression I had made with the country was that I tackled with the intensity of a tipsy sorority girl, I would be begging to hit someone. In fact, I would probably be lowering my shoulder and running into random people on the street as fast I could, just to take out some of my frustrations. I would not be joking around with a reporter about how I was glad to be missing heavy-hitting day.
OK, I guess that wasn't so much a hint as it was an outright answer, but anyway, yeah, Vandy '07 is what I'm feeling this week. You'll recall that we had to sweat that one out until literally the last second of the game, and there's no reason to think we're a lock to avoid a similar situation this time around.
Nothing against Coutu, of course, but it shouldn't have come to that.
There are a few matchups that should be of concern to Dawg fans, one of them being a big and experienced UK defensive front that averages three sacks per game. That defense is also holding opponents to a respectable 70-percent scoring rate in the red zone, which should raise red flags for anyone who's seen the way Georgia has flailed around in the red zone over the past month. In case you needed a recap: 18 trips into the red zone in the last four games, nine TDs, four field goals, and everything else ended in either missed FGs or turnovers. That's pretty weak beer for an offense with as much talent as we've got, and it's got to change.
Unfortunately, I've been repeating that for several weeks now, so I'm not exactly holding out hope for some miraculous turnaround in that department. What I'm expecting to see is something like this: Georgia puts one or two quick scores on the board, just as we did against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but watches as a turnover or defensive breakdown allows Kentucky to make up part of the deficit and turn what should be a rout into a game that the Dawgs have to sweat for more or less the full four quarters. I don't see Stafford having as lousy a game as he had against Kentucky last year, but between his past performances against UK and his 5-7 TD-pick ratio over the past four games, I think we've got to expect at least one oskie on Saturday.
In the end, I'm figuring on a final result that mirrors the Tennessee and Vanderbilt games: statistical domination that isn't reflected by a commensurate margin on the scoreboard. With the Wildcats unlikely to put up many points that we don't hand to them on a silver platter, covering a ten-and-a-half-point spread is doable, but knowing us it'll be a back-door type deal sealed with a game-icing field goal with two or three minutes left -- a 25-yarder kicked after three failed conversion attempts on goal-to-go.
Excited? I know I am!
Go ahead, wear your red and black like a bunch of conformists. All football brings is pain.
If you're trash-talking: Kentucky is 11-48-2 all-time against Georgia, so you shouldn't need too substantial a smack repertoire this weekend, but this is one of those rare years in which we can actually talk shit with respect to basketball as well: We beat the 'Cats in overtime to advance to the semifinal of the SEC tournament. We also swept them in baseball, softball, gymnastics, and blah blah you're not even reading this anymore, are you.
Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Because you feel sorry for us after the horrendous beatdown in Jacksonville -- no, I'm not above making a direct appeal to pity, thanks for asking -- and because the Wildcats have already achieved bowl eligibility for the third year in a row. Given that that's the first time that's happened since Eisenhower's first term, they should be happy with that. We've got a trip to Orlando to clinch, dammit!
I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins, holds Kentucky to single digits on the scoreboard, and Stafford throws more touchdowns than picks. If we're playing up to our full potential, that shouldn't be that much to ask.