I'll be moving along to the 5 things you'll see versus Kentucky in a moment, but first a little news and commentary regarding the basketball program. As you may have heard, Bulldog starting guard Billy Humphrey was arrested yesterday for having an illegal weapon on campus. A larger than allowed pocket knife. No, I am not making this up. Now, I understand that our Uiniversity has a zero-tolerance weapon policy. And in the wake of the school shootings at Virginia Tech you cannot take these things lightly, or even be perceived as taking them lightly.
But three points are worth noting here. One, if you searched the trucks or living quarters of every forestry student at Georgia you could put together an impressive arsenal of pocket knifes, bowie knives and even a few brush clearing machetes. That's not an insult because I happen to have some of those myself and see no problem with it. I think the odds of some kid going on a hall-to-hall slashing spree with his 3 inch Cabela's special pocket knife are slim to nill. This is why so-called "zero tolerance" policies never really work in the real world. They lead to ridiculous results eventually, such as this.
Second, I don't think they were searching his room for pocket knives and that worries me a little, in a "details not yet released because of student privacy but that sounds bad" kind of way. On the heels of the recent academic suspensions, any new hijinx involving the basketball program would call me to once again question Coach Felton's credentials as a disciplinarian. That's why I'm hoping that someone with an ax to grind decided to take it out on Humphrey with an undeserved anonymous tip to University Police.
Third, if the only contraband found in the kid's room was a pocket knife, that's a warning offense in my book. I'm not going to call the University Police a bunch of jackbooted morons. I don't know the officers and I don't know the circumstances. But this sounds like the kind of thing a jackbooted, power hungry moron would do. And spare me the "department policy" line. Had the officers involved wanted to warn Humphrey or simply confiscate the knife, they could have. Common sense may dictate that they should have. On the bright side, I suppose this means that Rennie Curran's scooter must be off the street, and the po-po now have free time on their hands to tape their own version of "Room Raiders".
Again, more details to come. Now onto the show.
As big as the Auburn game was, the Kentucky game may be even bigger. That's the thing about this time of the year in college football. The longer you're still in the running, the more you have to play for every week. This week Georgia is playing to stay alive in the SEC East race, and alive for a shot at a BCS Bowl. Many of the prognosticators see us playing Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, assuming we win out and LSU goes to the BCS Championship. Obviously, things get a little more complicated if a) we lose, b) Tennessee loses and we go to Atlanta to play LSU, or c) LSU wins out but somehow slips out of the BCS top 2. As with last week, all that stuff is academic. The linchpin is beating Kentucky.
I think we'll do that (and will explain why below). But on the way to victory I think you'll see:
1) Andre Woodson squarely in the pocket. Much like former LSU quarterback Jamarcus Russell, Andre Woodson is a battleship, not a schooner. His longest run of the season was for 12 yards. He's rushed for a total of 3 touchdowns. This is an encouraging sign for a Bulldog defensive line that has been teeing off on quarterbacks lately. Woodson will counteract this by using the screen game. All things considered, Kentucky's offense is a much harder matchup for us than Auburn because of their ability to go to a variety of different receivers and make plays after the catch. When we've struggled defensively this year, tackling has been a major component of the problem, and these receivers and backs do a good job of making people miss.
The antidote to Kentucky's screen game is upfield pressure into Woodson's throwing lanes by the defensive front four. The big guys up front will be key, which leads me to . . .
2) Jeff Owens. In the backfield. The defensive line has really been coming into its own since the Florida game, and it's getting harder and harder to double Jeff Owens. Not to mention that he is no longer playing on a gimpy ankle, which limited his production early this season. If we can bat down balls and get in Woodson's face from the inside out, he'll have a long day.
3) 1 minute scoring drives. Last week in Kentucky's 27-20 victory over Vanderbilt, the Commodores held onto the ball for 10:00 more than Kentucky. Why did they lose? Quick strikes. Kentucky's 4 scoring drives lasted 1:37, 1:34, 0:41, 4:50 and 1:33. All but one of those drives (the first one, which went for a field goal) covered more than 50 yards. The quick strikes we've come to enjoythe past few weeks are Rich Brooks' modus operandi on a weekly basis.
This means that we absolutely cannot take our foot off the gas. Ever. Brooks' offense is like the horror movie villain who gets shot 15 times from close range, then disappears in the 1.5 seconds it takes the protagonist to look down and reload. This is the aspect of this game that scares me the most. I am afraid of a game in which we physically dominate the Wildcats and give up enough big plays to still lose. As Danny Ocean would say "You lose focus in this game for one second and somebody gets hurt."
4) A Gut Check Day for our secondary. Kentucky is going to come after them. They have four upperclassman wide receivers with 30+ catches and 400+ yards apiece. So, with stats like that, how do we stop this offense? It helps to ask, WWSD: What would Sly do? You may (or may not, because like me you were otherwise engaged) recall that Sly Croom's Bizarro Bulldogs beat Kentucky at home 31-14 back on October 27th. They did it by gathering in 6 Kentucky turnovers, including 3 Andre Woodson interceptions. Croom likely picked up that formula from one Steve Oscar Spurrier, whose Gamecocks created 4 Wildcat turnovers (2 returned for touchdowns) in a 38-23 win over Rich Brooks' squad back on October 4th. We will have several opportunities to make interceptions and cause fumbles in this game. If we can create at least 4, I think we win going away.
5) UGA 41, UK 31.This game really, really worries me. I just don't think we match up well against their offense. I think our best bet is to establish the run early and keep Woodson and his receivers from establishing a rhythm. If we can get a decent lead, then Knowshon and Thomas can step in to eat up clock. But unlike Auburn's plodding attack, this Kentucky team can put 21 on the board in a hurry. It will be a barn burner. I think the last thing we want is a shootout. As potent as our offense has been of late, there's no reason to go blow for blow with a team who's standard attack is to throw as many punches as possible.
The number that provides me with the most comfort is 34.2. That's the number of points per game that Kentucky has given up since October 4th in 5 SEC games (wins against LSU and Vandy, losses to Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina). Kentucky is starting to show some wear and tear, which I think is partially due to a general lack of depth, especially on defense. I also think that last year's upset in Lexington is a huge motivating factor. A lot of our players have talked about that being the low point of the season last year. I think this game provides a chance to exorcise the demons of 2006 once and for all. I think Matt Stafford will remember getting hit helmet to helmet without actually wearing a helmet. I think the players will remember walking off the field in Lexington as the goalposts came down. It's payback time.
Join me tomorrow for Cocktail Thursday, which is just bound to involve a spirit welknown to our visitors from the Bluegrass State. Until then . . .