I had a chance this week to talk to Glenn Logan of SB Nation's Kentucky weblog A Sea of Blue about tomorrow night's match up between the Bulldogs and the Wildcats. I posed to him a few questions about the Feral Felines of the Bluegrass State and got some surprising answers:
1) What is the Wildcat fan consensus as we near the end of year one of the Stoops era? Are things looking up on the football field?
Things are looking up, but not as fast as we'd hoped. The offensive line is a hot mess, the quarterback position is below what we need, we don't have enough wide receivers and our defensive line has been a disappointment. Our secondary is too young and too small.
Most of that, though, is due to personnel problems that can only be fixed by recruiting bigger, better players. Mark Stoops is doing that, and we expect to see some improvement year over year. We are much more competitive this season than last, but it hasn't translated into victories.
2) Kentucky has made serious inroads on the football recruiting trail for 2014, quite possibly signing a top 10 class according to the recruiting services. What's the secret?
A big part of it is seriously recruiting Ohio, which no coach here has really ever done. That's where some of the best talent is coming from, and stoops is from that area. But Stoops & Co. have not neglected Florida, Georgia, Alabama or South Carolina.
This staff just seems to relate well with young players, and the promise of early playing time in the SEC is a much bigger draw than I expected, and the previous staff did little to sell players on the idea of playing in the nation's premiere football conference, even on a historically unfortunate team rather than in lesser conferences for better teams. They work really hard at recruiting and the harder they work, the luckier they get, it seems.
3) How would you rate Jalen Whitlow's performance under center this season? What does he need to do better, what has he shown an ability to do well? Is he the quarterback of the future in Lexington?
Honestly, it's about as good as we could expect. Whitlow was recruited as a wide receiver, and I hoped that was where he'd wind up. Unfortunately, Maxwell Smith's injuries just make Smith ineffective, and the rest of the QB's just aren't up to snuff, either too young or not developed enough.
Whitlow is definitely part of the future, but the quarterback of the future seems to be incoming freshman Drew Barker. Freshman quarterbacks historically struggle in this league, so it's likely that Whitlow will be a significant part of the QB picture next season, although it is possible that Barker will eventually displace him as early as next year.
We'll still have packages for Whitlow, he's too good an athlete to sideline, but I suspect the staff knows that Whitlow just isn't an SEC quarterback. He's serving now mostly because the deficiencies of the alternatives are much more glaring.
4) When Kentucky is on defense, what should Bulldog fans look for? Bonus: how badly did we mess up by not recruiting Bud Dupree?
Look for a lot of standard 4-3 sets, but UK has been very multiple out of the base offense lately. The defensive ends for UK are good, but usually only early in the game. As the game wears on, our offense is usually to impotent to give them any rest, and they wear down.
The linebacking corps is solid, but unspectacular other than Avery Williamson, who is all-SEC material. The defensive backfield will want to stay in zone as much as possible, but if you run the ball well, we'll be forced to move more men into the box, exposing our small young defensive backs to Georgia's greater size and talent.
Bud Dupree is an outstanding player, and he'll have a chance to be the best defensive player in the SEC next year. That was definitely one you should've nabbed, but we're glad you didn't.
5) If Kentucky needs to score late to win this one, who's getting the ball?
Whitlow's the guy. You have to account for him in the run game, because he may be our best runner, especially if he gets a step or makes someone miss in the backfield. He can be absolutely devastating if you aren't careful to contain him, and he throws it well enough that you must respect his arm.
Javess Blue is his main target, and while not very big, Blue is dangerous with the ball. Raymond Sanders is also a go-to player in late-game situations if UK is running the ball well, and if Whitlow makes the right reads in the read-option Kentucky runs, it can be really hard to stop.
The good news for you is that you can usually count on a substitution infraction, illegal motion, poor read that results in a TFL or a hold to kill the drive. But this team is desperately hungry for a win, so I wouldn't let them hang around if I were you.
Many thanks to Glenn for helping us out on this one. Here's wishing he and the Wildcats all the luck in the world the rest of the season. At least after Saturday. Until later . . .