Posted: 11:00 a.m. Friday, Sept. 6, 2013
By James Streble
Miami (OH) is coming to town on Saturday for a showdown between two 0-1 teams. Kentucky learned how much improvement needs to be made in a short amount of time. In just one more week Kentucky starts a four game stretch (with a bye week mixed in) that I wouldn't wish on any team. The Wildcats need to exhibit some changes in Saturday's contest against the RedHawks.
The visiting team from the MAC isn't good by any stretch of the imagination; but this game isn't about how good or bad the opponent may be. Mark Stoops will want his team focused on their game and their growth.
There are five things that need to be seen from Kentucky on Saturday before facing off against their first top ten ranked team of the season.
1. Max Smith Needs to Get the Passing Game off the Ground- Everybody was excited about Neal Brown bringing the Air Raid back to Lexington. That excitement was put on hold as the Wildcats traded the air attack for a ground assault against WKU. Fans need to understand that the personnel for the Air Raid is not in place yet and the staff will do whatever it takes to win. Now, that being said, they have to have some semblance of a passing game in order to be successful. Max Smith looked like he was more up to the task than Jalen Whitlow. Smith averaged 9 yards a pass while Whitlow averaged 5 yards a pass. The offense looked more fluid when Smith was in the game as well. Whitlow should be utilized but more with his legs and less with his arm.
2. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline...- The most disappointing aspect of the game against the Hilltoppers was the lack of discipline. The Wildcats did not wrap up and form tackle properly. The offensive line jumped off sides multiple times. The secondary and the linebackers were routinely out of position.
Mark Stoops acknowledged his displeasure in the lack of fundamentals that his team displayed. He referred to individuals falling back into bad habits from the previous regime. These are no longer the Wildcats of Joker Phillips. This team needs to embrace doing the little things correctly; if not, then they can expect more losses in increasingly embarrassing fashion.
3. The Defensive Line Must Improve- The much ballyhooed defensive line was pushed around and run over by WKU. Aside from a sack by Za'Darius Smith and a few nice tackles around the line by Dante Rumph, the unit as a whole looked less than stellar. They put zero pressure on the quarterback and let not one but three running backs run roughshod all over the field.The linebackers and the secondary were making the bulk of the tackles seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage and that is not a good look for a defense. The interior of the line (Rumph and Mister Cobble) looked very out of shape and was seen lying on the ground sucking wind after multiple plays. This cannot happen in the future. The line was supposed to cover up the deficiencies in the secondary not be a deficiency itself.
4. The Excitement Needs to Return - One of the major things that everyone was looking for was excitement from the players. There was no life in the team near the end of the 2012 season and that appears to be the case at the beginning of 2013. Mark Stoops tried his best by yelling and punching in the huddle before the game. The players' response: ho-hum. The team looked like a deer in headlights and not yet ready for primetime. The coaches took the bulk of the blame for this but a coach can only do so much to motivate a player. There needs to be team leadership from players as well as from coaches.
The Wildcats had plenty to be excited about during the Spring Game and throughout fall camp. Where did it all go? I think much the lack of enthusiasm was due to the nervousness of losing to WKU for a second season in a row. They weren't loose; they didn't look like they were having fun. They may have been bogged down by the expectations and the prospect of letting down the coach and the fans by starting off the new era with a loss. Now that they no longer have that to worry about any longer, hopefully they throw caution to the wind and just play some hardnosed football.
5. The Home Crowd Needs to be Into the Game- This is out of the hands of the coaches and the players but it still needs to happen. The home crowd during football games has been absolutely dreadful in recent years, and understandably so. There hasn't been a lot to cheer for lately. But BBN showed the players and coaches the best of what it has to offer during the Spring Game by showing up in droves to support the team. There absolutely cannot be a letdown.The crowd in Nashville was almost equally split between UK fans and WKU fans. The game in Nashville has a weird feel to it and I've never been much of a fan of the idea of a game there to kick off the season.
But this week there shouldn't be any confusion; it's a home game and the fans need to bring the noise regardless of the previous performance and regardless of the opponent. If the team has trouble getting pumped up then it is the duty of the crowd to give them a hand. Commonwealth Stadium can be a great home advantage when it's at its peak. Will it ever be the Big House? Probably not, but 60,000-70,000 screaming fans can be intimidating. The team needs the support now more than ever. Any positive momentum will go a long way in the upcoming game and home games to come later. In short: please don't boo. It does nothing positive for anyone involved.