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24 Kentucky
Dana Gelin
August 31, 1998
It's bombs away again in Lexington, with a pass-happy coach and the nation's most prolific drop-back quarterback
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August 31, 1998

24 Kentucky

It's bombs away again in Lexington, with a pass-happy coach and the nation's most prolific drop-back quarterback

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Fast Ftots

1997 record: 5-6 (2-6, 5th in SEC East)

Final ranking: unranked

1997 Averages

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

Scoring

31.6

32.9

Rushing Yards

108.6

170.8

Passing Yards

365.4

221.5

Total Yards

474.0

392.3

Unless you are in the habit of cheering for Kentucky, this will come as bad news: The Wildcats' attack—which generated 31.6 points per game and set 51 school records last season—should be even more explosive this year. That comes from reliable sources. "There's a lot we can do better," says coach Hal Mumme, who continually refines his patented aerial assault. His quarterback agrees. "The more you know, the more points you can put on the board," says junior Tim Couch, who broke or tied 17 Kentucky marks in his first year as a starter.

Entering the second season of the Mumme era in Lexington, the coach-Couch combo looks all the more formidable. A former Kentucky high school sensation, Couch was not enamored of coach Bill Curry's option offense and was on the verge of transferring after his freshman year. Instead, Curry was replaced in December '96 by Mumme, with whom Couch clicked immediately. Last season the Wildcats finished 5-6, their best record since 1993, and beat SEC rival Alabama for the first time since 1922. Better yet, Commonwealth Stadium crowds averaged a record 59,110, up more than 18,000 from the year before. With sirens wailing in the background at home games—"Air Raid" became the team's slogan—Couch led the nation in passing yards, with 3,884. More bad news for the opposition: He says his arm has gotten even stronger in the off-season.

Couch's backup is Mumme's son, Matt, a senior who sat out last season after following his father from Valdosta State. With the younger Mumme available—he's been running Hal's offense since the sixth grade—the coach is considering redshirting sophomore quarterback Dusty Bonner and two promising freshmen, Chase Harp and Mike Scipione.

On defense, Kentucky expects a few newcomers to contribute immediately, including 6'7", 256-pound Dennis Johnson. The national defensive player of the year, out of Harrodsburg (Ky.) High, Johnson chose the Wildcats over Notre Dame. He will line up both at linebacker and on the line to take advantage of his versatility and to prevent offenses from keying on him.

The defense as a whole will play more aggressively than last season's unit, which yielded 392.3 yards and an SEC-worst 32.9 points per game. In spring practice the average 40 time for this fall's projected starters was 4.57, compared with 4.75 by the starting 11 the year before. Mumme's staff also installed some new defensive schemes in the spring. "We'll get up and challenge the receivers more," says sophomore free safety Willie Gary, the only returning full-time starter in the secondary. Kentucky's receivers, a talented bunch in their own right, back up Gary's claim. "All I have to say about our defense is that I'm glad we don't have to play against it," says senior wideout Craig Yeast, the top returning pass catcher in the conference (73 receptions).

Junior linebacker Jeff Snedegar, who came to Lexington as a quarterback, led the team in tackles last year, with 97, despite playing most of the fall with a torn rotator cuff. "When he gets in the huddle," defensive coordinator Mike Major says, "he commands a lot of respect."

The Wildcats hope to command respect all around this season. Their goal is to ring in 1999 at a bowl game. "It's not out of our reach," Yeast says. "It's just a matter of which bowl game we're going to push ourselves to get to."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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