Three thoughts for Sunday.
1. Cats fall in Knoxville:
Kentucky suffered their tenth defeat of the year at the hands of the Volunteers Saturday afternoon. In a game with statistics that were almost identical for both sides, the Kentucky defense was just a little more porous than Tennessee’s and allowed the Volunteers to edge out the win. The Wildcats played relatively well for a team full of underclass men that were playing in the road in the SEC but couldn’t overtake the underachieving Volunteers when it counted. The running game was surprisingly effective as the Kentucky offensive line has been shockingly good all season and opened up some big lanes in this game, but the inability for the offense to punch the ball into the endzone consistently did the team in. Joker Phillips and his staff have officially coached their final game at Kentucky and the team and the fans can move on to the offseason. I know this is horrible to say, but I am truly relieved that this season is finally over.
2. Rumors are flying in the coaching search:
It seems like a new name pops up each day in the Kentucky coaching search. The flavor of the weekend has been Mark Stoops, the DC from Florida State. Mitch Barnhart made some extremely vague and non-committal comments on Saturday about the coaching search but really didn’t tip his hat in any one direction. For what it’s worth, the names that have continued to be mentioned to me for two solid weeks are Bobby Petrino, Butch Jones, and Dirk Koetter. I would be happy with any of those three, Mark Stoops or Kirby Smart at this point, but optimism is reigning amongst most UK fans. The only real concerns I have with any of the potential new coaches are their ability to recruit the south and midwest, their availability to start right away, and their history of winning. The only big-name candidate that scares me is Dirk Koetter. While I really like him as a coach, a deep playoff run by his Falcons and he may not be available until February. Regardless of who the new coach is, expect an announcement or at least an update to be released very soon for the anxious fans.
3. Talent returning:
Yesterday’s game got me thinking about how many young players will be back next season.
QB: The new coach will have 3 sophomore quarterbacks with SEC experience under their belt. Best part? Theres a QB on this roster for every scheme.
RB: Two senior running backs and highly rated sophomore and redshirt-freshman will be available next September.
WR: A receiving corps with the top talent all heading into their sophomore season awaits the next coach. Collins, Legree, and Sweat are particularly promising.
TE: The team will return 4 senior right ends.
OL: Losing Warford and Matt Smith is tough, but the team will return both starting tackles, a starting guard, and several top backups that saw time this season.
DL: Only Ukwu and Wyndham will not return. Everybody else is back, including the teams full rotation of defensive tackles.
LB: Everyone returns in the linebackers, and most of them with extensive on-field experience.
DB: Mike Benton, Martavius Neloms, and Cartier Rice are all graduating, but the extensive injuries to the defensive backs this year forced a whopping five true freshmen on the field.
K/P: McIntosh’s rough year has made his graduation easier to swallow, but bringing back Landon Foster is huge.