By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Kentucky opened the 2009 season with back-to-back victories over Miami-Ohio and arch rival Louisville, but an early stretch of SEC games proved to be too difficult for the Wildcats to handle.
They were crushed by Florida on September 26th, 41-7, and fell to Alabama and
South Carolina the next two weeks. Rather than allow the troops to hang their
heads, coach Rich Brooks rallied his Wildcats for back-to-back wins over
Auburn and UL-Monroe, pushing their overall record to 4-3. On Halloween, UK
suffered a truly disappointing setback, falling to a rebuilding Mississippi
State club in Lexington. To their credit, the 'Cats once again managed to get
off the mat, besting three consecutive opponents, including Georgia on
November 21st to move to 7-4. That would prove to be the final win of the
season, however, as Kentucky lost to Tennessee in the regular-season finale
and dropped a 21-13 decision to Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
Brooks stepped down at the end of the 2009 season as head coach, and Joker
Phillips was hired to take his place. "It's definitely been a whirlwind," said
Phillips recently. "But I'm truly living the dream. Not only am I a letterman,
alumnus, a Kentuckian, for me to be able to lead the program I truly love, I'm
living the dream, and carrying it out."
OFFENSE: Sure, there will be a number of new starters on the offensive side of
the ball, including four up front, but there is reason to believe that this
group will be better than it was a year ago. In 2009, The Wildcats ranked
eighth among SEC teams in scoring (26.1 ppg) and 10th in total offense (331.5
Junior Randall Cobb is the star of this Kentucky team, as the wide
receiver/tailback/quarterback/punt returner is electric with the ball in his
"He's got to get the ball in a number of different areas, whether it be
special teams, punt returner, kick returner, whether he's lined up at
quarterback, receiver," says Phillips of Cobb. "He's one of the most dynamic
players in this league."
In addition to Cobb, the 'Cats will rely on talented tailback Derrick Locke,
who carried the ball 195 times for 907 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.
There is a major question to be answered at quarterback, as both Mike Hartline
and Morgan Newton have starting experience. Hartline has been the opening-game
starter in each of the past two season, but he has had trouble staying healthy
and has been inconsistent. Newton was forced into action as a freshman a year
ago and threw for 706 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
Expect Hartline to be the man under center, as his senior leadership will be a
valuable asset to his first-year head coach.
DEFENSE: More than half of the starters return on defense, but the losses were
significant. Trevard Lindley, an elite corner who was drafted by the
Philadelphia Eagles, will be extremely tough to replace. Still, don't be
surprised if the secondary proves to be the strength of this Wildcat defense.
The best of the bunch is safety Winston Guy, a big-time hitter with cover
skills who is on the radar of NFL scouts as he enters his junior season.
Randall Burden takes over Lindley's role as the shutdown corner, and he
intercepted a pair of passes a season ago.
Moving to the linebacking corps, all three starters had to be replaced. Jacob
Dufrene, a senior, figures to be a fixture, but he is more steady than
spectacular. Danny Trevathan posted 82 tackles as a sophomore and may be even
better as a junior.
Along the defensive line, three of the four starters are back, including ends
DeQuin Evans and Taylor Wyndham. Evans posted six sacks a year ago and is the
team's most accomplished pass rusher. It will be imperative this unit generate
a significant pass rush early on while the secondary develops cohesion.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ryan Tydlacka returns as the punter of the Wildcats, but he
certainly doesn't have a lock on the position. In fact, many believe that
freshman Joe Mansour could be the placekicker and punter for Kentucky sooner
rather than later. The return game should be electric with Locke and Cobb
handling those duties.
OUTLOOK: Phillips is a bright coach who certainly paid his dues. He inherits a
team that has some major questions and is expected to finish in the bottom
half of the SEC standings, and the lack of major expectations in year one of
his regime could be a blessing.
Cobb and Locke will give Kentucky a chance to light up the scoreboard every
time out. The question is whether or not this team is capable of stopping
anyone. The early schedule is extremely favorable, but a September 25th battle
with Florida in Gainesville will be telling.