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Joker Phillips needs to resurrect the "ghosts of 2006" to save Kentucky's football season


It was only five years ago when the Kentucky Wildcat football program was at a defining moment.  They were turning to a mostly unproven QB who had passed for just six TD’s versus 6 interceptions the previous year.  The head coach was highly embattled in just his fourth season with a 12-29 record and the cries to fire him were getting louder every week.  The Wildcats had an embarrassing loss to the Louisville Cardinals on their resume this season, as well as some wins over cupcake teams.  The running game was largely anemic, rushing for just 39 yards on 22 carries in yet another double digit loss to Florida.  And things were set to get worse with a road game to ranked LSU on the schedule.

And it did not get better as LSU crushed the Wildcats 49-0 and it seemed like another disastrous season was underway.

Yet something funny happened after that 49-0 loss on the way to another 3-9 season.  That 2006 version of the Kentucky Wildcats woke up and won four games in a row and five games out of six to close out their season.  The next season, Kentucky faced the then #1 LSU Tigers at home and knocked them off 43-37 to zoom to a #8 national ranking.

It has happened before for Kentucky football, and Joker Phillips needs the same kind of magic out of this team after the LSU game to save this Wildcat season and possibly his job.  Rich Brooks did it.  Can Joker?

Let’s be honest.  This game at LSU on Saturday has the potential to be even uglier than the 49-0 whipping that LSU put on them in 2006.  But Kentucky has to show something this week.  They have to make some progress and not look as horrendous as they have in the first four games this season.  But there is a recent track record for Kentucky to get on the right track after the LSU game.

Yes, I know,  That 2006 team had Andre Woodson.  But in 2006, Woodson came into the season as a largely unproven commodity.  Morgan Newton actually has more experience than Woodson had and Newton has won some big games for Kentucky in his career.  And Newton has the prettiest deep pass since Andre Woodson.  The potential is there for Morgan Newton.  He just needs some help.

Kentucky’s running game has disappeared lately, but looking at 2006, Kentucky was not running people over.  Kentucky carried 10 times for 22 yards versus Louisville, 33 for 87 against Ole Miss, 22 for 39 versus Florida, 27-62 versus South Carolina, and 23-61 versus LSU.  That’s pretty anemic.     Kentucky actually probably has a better offensive line on paper than that 2006 team but have been plagued by injuries.  Ditto for the defense.  I think Kentucky has a better overall defense as well.

The real difference is the receivers. Kentucky’s offense was humming through the air headed into the LSU game in 2006, but the 2011 version has shown lashes but yet to get untracked.  It is inexcusable that Kentucky can not catch the ball four games int this season and this has to change now.

Look.  I’m no trying to sugarcoat Kentucky’s season right now.  As I said in the SEC Power Rankings last night, Kentucky is one of the worst D1 teams right now.  But they have more talent than the 2006 team.  And they need a coach to get them untracked and get them fired up to actually play the game of football rather than half-assing it all over the field as they have done all season.

LSU and Florida are the best teams Kentucky will face this season and I still think there can be six or seven wins on the schedule.  Don’t believe me?  It’s a weak SEC this year if you are not named LSU or Alabama and the tough part of the schedule is over after Saturday.  Let’s take a look:

  • Based on how they have played this season, I have to put South Carolina on “upset alert” every game.  Stephen Garcia is dreadful and Kentucky always plays the Gamecocks close. 
  • Jacksonville State should be a win any season. 
  • Mississippi State has been unimpressive and needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech at home. 
  • Mississippi is just plain dreadful.  Enough said
  • Vanderbilt looks better this year but as always, they tend to play worse near the end of the year.  And Kentucky has more talent.
  • Georgia will be tough, but this team is a question mark if the losses mount up and Richt continues to be on the hot seat.  This team could shut down after a couple of tough losses.  Or be very good. 
  • Unlike Florida, there is no reason for this streak to still be in existence.  This is still Kentucky’s best shot to end it. 

Call me overoptimistic.  Call me insane.  Call me delusional, but Kentucky has the talent to be in every single game and even if they lose to South Carolina and Georgia (the two toughest teams the rest of the way) will be 6-6.  I know that is short for mediocrity, but right now, 6-6 sounds pretty damn good to me.  This team has talent, but they have to have a coach to get them inspired and have a game plan to win.

Which brings it all to Joker Phillips.  Will his Wildcats come out swinging like they did for Brooks in 2006?  Or fall flat and be uninspired like for all of 2011?   First thing Joker needs to do is to get on the phone to Rich Brooks and see how to conjure up the spirit of 2006.  If not, Joker’s  next call may be to the unemployment office at the end of the season.

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