Countdown to Football

31 Days

Kentucky Preseason Preview

“When we’ve had good defensive linemen … that’s when we’ve won eight games and had a chance to win eight, nine, 10 games,” Phillips said.

The coach said he has high hopes about UK’s defensive front this season.

“This defensive line we have this year is older and a year more mature,” he said. “You’ll see some major results this year.”

Big quotes from Joker Phillips.

This team will need all it can get from their linemen as they lost their starting quarterback, starting running back, and top two receivers from last year’s squad.

And that was a squad that went 6-7.

Joker Phillips is a Kentucky man.  He was born in Franklin, Kentucky.  He played football at the University of Kentucky.  He began his coaching career coaching at Kentucky from 1988-1996.  He returned to Kentucky to coach from 2003-2008.  And in 2009, he was the head coach in waiting at the University of Kentucky.

But now, it’s all his.

In his second year as head coach, he is going to have to prove that he is a suitable fit for the Kentucky program.

Kentucky doesn’t have high expectations for their football program, but they definitely appreciated what Rich Brooks was able to build.

Many of Brooks’s skill players are gone, and Phillips has to replace them very quickly.

Luckily for Joker, the schedule is very manageable.  They missed out on Arkansas, Alabama, and Auburn this season.  They get Florida, Miss State, and Tennessee at home.  The first two weeks of October is their toughest stretch going to LSU and to South Carolina.

A young, inexperienced Kentucky team may see this schedule as a daunting challenge.  But at least it’s not Auburn’s schedule.

Three Questions About Kentucky 

1.  How good can the offensive line be?

They return four starters on the line.  However, they lost their starting quarterback, running back, and all world play maker Randall Cobb.

Morgan Newton has at least been in the program a few years, but he is unsteady and inconsistent.  If he’s going to grow up, he’ll need the offensive line to give him plenty of time to do so.

Also, Kentucky lost their top three rushers from last season.  It’s imperative that the offensive line with all their experience and size give the young guys holes to sprint through.

2.  Can Morgan Newton be the do it all guy Kentucky needs him to be?

Morgan Newton is big.  He’s tall.  He’s athletic.  He has a cannon for an arm.

But he was too young to be thrown into the fire.

Kentucky needs big plays and sparks of motivation in order to keep up with the highly talented SEC.

Newton has the skill set to be the big play guy.  Maybe not to the level of Cobb, but with the track stars at receiver and the gifted big guy in La’Rod King, Newton has a chance to shine especially when nobody is expecting him to.

3.  Is the defensive line ready to win 8-10 games?

Exactly what does Joker Phillips see that no one else sees?

The defensive line last season was last in tackles for a loss.  They were 11th in sacks.  And they gave up 177 rushing yards per game.

They have a great middle linebacker in Danny Trevathan, but besides him, their defense lacks star power.

Perhaps this line has greatly improved.  If so, that’s the biggest question to answer for Kentucky’s season.

Most Important Game

10/29 Mississippi State

Mississippi State is entering the season as the cinderella favorite.  A perennial doormat, Dan Mullen has give new life and tremendous hype to this year’s Bulldog team.

Talent wise, State and Kentucky are almost equal with Miss State having a slight edge.

At this point in the season, Kentucky will be fighting for a bowl game.  There’s no telling how bad it could get against Florida, LSU, and South Carolina.  But those should still be the only losses before facing a Miss State team at home.  A victory here will serve as a springboard to a bowl game.

Realistic Expectations

This is the most difficult team to predict.  Even more so than a Houston Nutt team with its back against the wall.

Kentucky lost a lot of talent on offense, but all indications show they have the potential to replace it.

They return a lot of veterans who struggled on defense, but Joker Phillips is making bold statements about their improvement.

La’Rod King is a 6’4 receiver with big play ability.  He should be a safe throw for the emerging Newton, but who will play running back?  No running game equals no passing game which neutralizes King.

The schedule is very manageable if this team can keep their heads up.

The realistic expectation for this team is 7-8 wins.

Sure fire losses are Florida, @LSU, @SC, and @Georgia.

The make or break game is Miss St.

Their seven other games of the season should be victories if Joker Phillips is truly keeping Kentucky at the same level Rich Brooks had them.

Perhaps this year, Phillips will push Kentucky into new grounds if they can win their bowl game.

31 Days

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