1. Going into the season knowing you had one of the best quarterbacks in the country lining up under center, what were your expectations for the year?
I think my expectations were in line with those of most UK fans, probably 8-4 best case and 6-6 worst case. Obviously, there are a whole range of possibilities that others considered likely, including a losing season, but I never really thought it would happen and still don't.
Obviously, with our relatively flashy start, my expectations have been revised upward a bit. We expected our running game to be improved, but we didn't realize it would be this improved. We expected our defense to improve on 118th and they have, but also perhaps a bit more than expected. Now, I don't see 6-6 at all, but 7-5 could happen. I have an absurd hope for 9-3, but 8-4 seems to be the most likely outcome.
2. Despite last week's loss, with UK being one of the surprise teams across the country this year, are Cats fans pushing off focusing on basketball for a bit?
In Kentucky, it's hard not to focus on basketball. Basketball is a real passion here, very similar to Alabama or LSU's enthusiasm for football. We live for the game.
With that said, there are many die-hard football fans in Kentucky, and despite our incredible futility on the gridiron over the past couple of decades, fan attendance at games is quite a bit better than you might expect. No, we aren't at 101% like Tennessee, but 92% is pretty good for as badly as our teams have performed over the last 5 years
So to answer your question, I think we will see more focus on football than in an average year, but you won't notice it if you aren't a Wildcat fan. Our passion for basketball, especially with a new coach and the attendant high hopes for the team's performance, is undiminished to any degree noticeable by fans of other programs.
3. Given the last two LSU trips to Kentucky have resulted in heart-wrenching losses for the 'Cats, what's the fanbase's feelings towards LSU? To the extent Cats fans even have a football team you hate the most (Louisville?), who is it and where does LSU rank?
Most UK fans are fairly ambivalent toward LSU. Yes, the "Bluegrass Miracle" was a huge disappointment, but we have had some historical success against LSU over the years in football, and although we are on the short end as we are with most SEC teams, LSU is just a little to far away and plays us too rarely these days for any sort of meaningful rivalry to exist. You guys thumped us last year, but that was before we got on a pretty good roll.
With all that said, Kentucky fans are very impressed with the state of LSU football. The Tigers are playing a kind of throwback football eerily befitting their unique H-style goalposts at Death Valley, a combination of traditional SEC speed and Big Ten power football. It's intimidating stuff, and while we might thump our chests in your general direction, we know that LSU has a superior team in every position other than the skill spots. We probably have either the first or second best skill position players in the SEC, but the "big uglies" and in particular the defense of LSU are fearsome.
4. Back to last week's loss: Woodson made some uncharacteristic errors, but were there any other surprising breakdowns? Playcalling, for instance? Were there any signs of this going into the game?
I thought there were. As well as we were running the ball, the pass down in the red zone that Woodson got picked off seemed really foolhardy. In my mind, you take a shot at the back of the end zone or at the corners if you really think a pass will work, not on a crossing route to the tight end on a short field like that. Dumb, if you ask me.
I felt like Kentucky was nervous going into Columbia, partly because we had such an unexpectedly strong start, and partly because it was the biggest game of the week and they had the national college football audience pretty much all to themselves. Kentucky isn't used to playing in games that important, and I think it showed all the way from our coaching staff (mainly the coordinators) on down to the players on the field.
5. The world knows about Andre' Woodson and Rafael Little. Who don't we know on the Cats that we should?
Well, we have a pretty good safety in Marcus McClinton, and a right good defensive cornerback named Trevard Lindley that can play football. Wesley Woodyard is a name you guys will get to know well on defense.
On offense, Dickie Lyons Jr. and Tony Dixon are two names you may well remember after Saturday's game. Lyons is a dangerous wideout and Dixon is the number two back right behind Little. We have numerous backs that can run the football, as South Carolina found out the other day.
6. Last year Woodson had his worst game of the year (statistically, at least) in the 49-0 loss to LSU. Were there any simple fixes - or even just maturation - that gives you confidence it will lead to a much better outcome this time?
I think maturation is a big deal, but more for our offensive line than anything else. Last year, our offensive line was incapable of producing a running game, and defenses knew that to beat the Cats, all you had to do was pressure Woodson. Kentucky had a combined 12 yards of rushing last year in Death Valley, and it is easy to play defense against a team that one-dimensional.
LSU will not find us so unfortunate this year. We rank 17th in the nation in rushing and 9th in scoring. We are able to move the football many different ways, and take what the defense gives us. That was one thing that was so frustrating about the USC loss -- we didn't take advantage of what they gave us. USC denied us the vertical pass, but left open slant routes and passes in the flat. Despite that, Joker and André kept going vertical, and it didn't work. Hopefully, we learned from that.
7. How do you expect LSU to attack your defense? Are there any glaring holes that have been consistently weak all year?
LSU will do what they have done to every other team they have played -- run the football. They are 77th in the nation in passing and 16th in running, so why would they not go to their strength? Besides, UK has a very decent secondary. Our weakness is and has been against the run, and Les Miles surely knows this -- we are only 91st in the nation against the run, and it just doesn't make sense to take on our defensive strength, especially on the road. So I expect LSU to run 60-70% of the time, pretty much as they have done all season.
Glaring holes? Sure, our run defense already mentioned. Also, I think Glenn Dorsey will be too strong for us to throw the ball deep a lot unless we run the ball very effectively and use play action. Assuming we run about average, quick routes and flats are going to have to be the order of the day. Protecting Woodson against LSU's intimidating defensive line is going to be very difficult. We have had some trouble with it against far lesser teams.
8. What's your prediction for the game? If UK wins, how will it compare to the Louisville win this year?
I would love to pick an upset, but I can't. I think LSU will win the football game in a one possession affair, maybe 30-27 or 30-23. LSU is coming off a grueling, emotional victory and is likely to underestimate Kentucky, even this year. Even if they don't, I do not expect LSU to give their best effort under the circumstances. LSU's offense is good, but not great like it was last year. If we get some stops, LSU could be forced to throw more than they are comfortable with, and that plays more to our strength than LSU's.
But overall, I think LSU is just too tough a nut for us to crack this year. They aren't the #1 team in the nation for nothing.