SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Kentucky Wildcats

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Rich Brooks (1st year)
2002 record: 7-5 (on probation, ineligible for postseason play)
SEC finish: T-4th (East)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 148.5 ypg
(8th in SEC, 57th in nation)
Pass: 198.9 ypg (6th, 70th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 174.3 ypg (11th, 87th)
Pass: 226.9 ypg (11th, 72nd)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR   12   Derek Abney   Sr.  
WR   17   Tommy Cook   Jr.  
LT   61   Matt Huff   Jr.  
LG   70   Jason Rollins   Jr.  
C   78   Nick Seitze   Sr.  
RG  75  Sylvester Miller  Sr. 
RT   73   Antonio Hall   Sr.  
TE  84  Jeremiah Drobney  So. 
QB   22   Jared Lorenzen   Sr.  
FB  41  Ronald Johnson  So. 
TB  25  Alexis Bwenge  So. 
Defense (4)
DE   68   Jeremy Caudill   Sr.  
NT  99  Ellery Moore  Jr. 
DE   98   Vincent Burns   Jr.  
OLB  64  Deion Holts  So. 
ILB  52  Justin Haydock  Jr. 
ILB  59  Dustin Williams  So. 
OLB  Durrell White  Fr. 
CB   27   Leonard Burress   Sr.  
CB  36  Antoine Huffman  So. 
SS   1   Mike Williams   Jr.  
FS  32  Earven Flowers  Jr. 
Special Teams
89  Taylor Begley  So. 
93  Sevin Sucurovic  Jr. 
KR  12  Derek Abney  Sr. 
PR  12  Derek Abney  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 31  Louisville 
Sept. 6  Murray State 
Sept. 13  at Alabama 
Sept. 20  at Indiana 
Sept. 27  Florida 
Oct. 11  at South Carolina 
Oct. 18  Ohio 
Oct. 25  Mississippi State 
Nov. 1  Arkansas 
Nov. 15  at Vanderbilt 
Nov. 22  at Georgia 
Nov. 29  Tennessee 
Even when things go well for the University of Kentucky football program, there are always furrowed brows and questions about whether the Wildcats can become a force in the Southeastern Conference.

They win seven games, yet everyone looks at LSU's miracle pass and says they should have won eight. They win seven games, but don't go to a bowl because of NCAA probation. And, of course, they win seven games and head coach Guy Morriss jumps on the first job offer to cross his desk, leaving UK for Big 12 doormat Baylor, which draws fewer than half the number of fans.

Enter Rich Brooks, the former Oregon and St. Louis Rams coach, who has not worked on a college sideline since 1994. Some will tell you Brooks was Kentucky's third or fourth choice to follow Morriss, but others will tell you that the work he did at Oregon makes him the perfect man for the job.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Brooks inherits talent, especially on offense. Quarterback Jared Lorenzen has been one of the most accurate passers in the SEC for three years, and he should improve now that Brooks has encouraged him to shave 20 pounds off his 6-foot-4 body. Backup quarterback Shane Boyd is so talented Brooks intends to rotate him between quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Lorenzen has plenty of targets. Receiver Derek Abney set five NCAA records as a return specialist last season. Tommy Cook is a possession receiver and Glenn Holt should emerge as a dangerous deep threat.

Four starters return across the offensive line. What Brooks doesn't have is Artose Pinner, the best runner in the SEC last season. He's gone. Neither Alexis Bwenge nor Arliss Beach packs the between-the-tackles power of Pinner.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

New defensive coordinator Mike Archer will try to implement a 3-4 defensive set. The pass rush should be a strength. Ellery Moore takes over at nose tackle to stuff the run, freeing Jeremy Caudill and Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns to attack the quarterbacks.

Linebackers will be a problem. Kentucky doesn't have much experience or talent. Justin Haydock and Dustin Williams will have to emerge as solid run-stoppers inside, especially if they are asked to back up a three-man front.

The secondary should continue to improve. Leonard Burress is a proven cover guy and  Antoine Huffman has the size to take on larger receivers on the opposite side. Strong safety Mike Williams is a playmaker who has shown the ability to stop the sweep or intercept balls in deep zone coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Nobody does it better than Abney. He established an NCAA record for combined return yardage last season with 1,348. He also took six kicks back for touchdowns. Placekicker Taylor Begley showed a steady leg for a freshman, but Brooks must replace All-American Glenn Pakulak, who had an amazing ability to punt the ball out of bounds inside the opponent's 15-yard line.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Life is never easy for the Kentucky football program. The Wildcats were supposed to celebrate an unexpected seven-victory season last year, but they had barely put the pads away before the celebration stopped. Morriss bolted for Baylor. And then stud defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson bolted for the NFL.

Enough bad news. The good news is Brooks has assembled a remarkable coaching staff that includes Archer, the former LSU head coach, former Utah head coach Ron McBride and Ron Hudson, the former Kansas State offensive coordinator.

This team should continue to benefit from the superb field position Abney gave it last season with his dazzling returns. But the loss of Pinner will put a strain on the passing game, as well as the running game. Defensively, Kentucky should continue its solid line play. But the NCAA probation-induced scholarship limitations are apparent at linebacker, where the Wildcats don't have the talent that you see at other SEC schools. The secondary must contribute more interceptions. And the absence of Pakulak means that the defense will not benefit from the field-position advantage it enjoyed last season.

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