Cats-Cards notes: Season opener brings fear of unknown

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 1, 2012 

Coaches devour video for a summer.

They look at every twitch of a defender to see what it might signal.

They look at personnel running in and out to try to get a jump on what the next play call might be.

They ponder the tricks and plan the treats for the first game of the football season.

But the Kentucky coaches, who open their season at No. 25 Louisville on Sunday, admit that often what happens in a first game is unpredictable at best, no matter how much footage is watched.

"Openers scare you to death, I don't care who you're playing against," UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter said.

There are "gadget plays, your whole compliment of your offense is in without anyone laying witness to it," he noted of UK's opponent.

"You never know who develops, how their depth turns out. (Louisville) had some losses at wide-out, but who are those wide-outs? You never know those things. You can only read, but you don't really know for sure until you play them."

It's enough to drive a coach insane.

"Neither one of us have seen each other on film," Coach Joker Phillips said. "It's going to come down to who's going to make the adjustments the fastest. I'm sure they've been working on some things this off-season, a little bit different things. But we have, too. We both have to find out who can adjust the fastest."

If recent games have been an indicator, one adjustment could make the difference. Five of the past seven games in this series have been decided by seven points or fewer.

If the question marks aren't enough to make opposing coaches reach for a bottle of Mylanta, both teams also could be dealing with the remnants of one Hurricane Isaac, promising torrential downpours and potential lightning and thunder.

The game could feature trick plays and trickier weather.

And then there's this pesky caveat. This game is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the season.

"It's an important game," Phillips agreed. "I hear about how important it is for us. They're saying the same thing up the road also. It's an important game. Everybody's first game is important. ... It's important to set the tempo and tone for the season.

"Again, the team that wins this thing comes out of this thing with momentum. We need the momentum, and so do they. That's why it will be a great game."

UK has won five straight season openers, the longest streak since the 1987-1994 seasons. This is the fifth straight season UK starts the season away from Commonwealth Stadium.

'Pup's gonna be good'

Coaches worry about true freshmen getting "big eyes," especially on the road, especially in the season opener, especially against a big rival who is ranked in the top 25.

But the one true freshman who will play for UK on Sunday that Phillips says he's not worried about is punter Landon Foster.

"He can handle the pressure," Phillips assured last week. "He's a different breed. We've had two freshmen (Tim Masthay and Ryan Tydlacka) out there at that position a lot since we've been here. He's no different than those guys.

"He's a relaxed guy. ... I feel good about him. He'll do well for us."

When asked about UK's special teams later in the week, Phillips again professed his faith in the 6-foot-1 freshman from Franklin, Tenn., who averaged 41.3 yards per punt as a senior. "The pup's gonna be good."

Coughing it up

In the Cardinals' six losses last season, they turned the ball over 10 times, including three in their final game, a loss to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl. The Wolf Pack turned those miscues into 14 points. In all, Louisville turned the ball over 22 times last season and opponents turned them into 56 points.

Kentucky coughed up the ball 24 times last season. But the key stat on what likely will be a sloppy weather day could be that in Phillips' two seasons as head coach, the Cats are 8-1 in games where they won the turnover battle and 1-9 when they lost it.

Digit swaps

There is always some number swapping in the off-season and this one is no different. Here are the old Cats wearing new numbers: cornerback Martavius Neloms switched from No. 15 to No. 1; tight end Patrick Ligon switched from No. 95 to No. 46; running back Josh Clemons went from No. 20 to No. 21; wide receiver Bookie Cobbins took off No. 7 and put on No. 87.

Friendly rivalry?

Three years on opposing sidelines for rival programs haven't changed the friendships for UK's Phillips and Louisville Coach Charlie Strong, the Cats coach said.

They have less time to spend hanging out after games, but the two men who have coached with and against each other are still close.

"There hasn't been any negative recruiting or anything like that," Phillips said on Thursday. "We're both being professionals about this thing. We are enemies on (Sunday). He'll be trying to rip my tonsils out and I'll be trying to rip his tonsils out."

Manning the mikes

ESPN's broadcast of Sunday's game will feature play-by-play man Carter Blackburn, analyst Rod Gilmore and sideline reporter Jemele Hill.

The UK IMG radio team is unchanged this season. Tom Leach handles play-by-play, with analysis from Jeff Piecoro and sideline reporting by Dick Gabriel.

All-time series scores

UK leads 14-10 all time; U of L leads modern-day series 10-8

Date Location Winner Score

Oct. 26, 1912 Lexington Kentucky 41-0

Nov. 22, 1913 Louisville Kentucky 20-0

Nov. 14, 1914 Lexington Kentucky 42-0

Nov. 6, 1915 Louisville Kentucky 15-0

Oct. 14, 1922 Lexington Kentucky 73-0

Oct. 4, 1924 Lexington Kentucky 29-0

Sept. 3, 1994 Lexington Kentucky 20-14

Sept. 2, 1995 Lexington Louisville 13-10

Aug. 31, 1996 Lexington Louisville 38-14

Aug. 30, 1997 Lexington Kentucky 38-24

Sept. 5, 1998 Louisville Kentucky 68-34

Sept. 4, 1999 Lexington Louisville 56-28

Sept, 2, 2000 Louisville Louisville 40-34

Sept. 1, 2001 Lexington Louisville 36-10

Sept. 1, 2002 Louisville Kentucky 22-17

Aug. 31, 2003 Lexington Louisville 40-24

Sept. 5, 2004 Louisville Louisville 28-0

Sept. 4, 2005 Lexington Louisville 31-24

Sept. 3, 2006 Louisville Louisville 59-28

Sept. 15, 2007 Lexington Kentucky 40-34

Aug. 31, 2008 Louisville Kentucky 27-2

Sept. 19, 2009 Lexington Kentucky 31-27

Sept. 4, 2010 Louisville Kentucky 23-16

Sept. 17, 2011 Lexington Louisville 24-17

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

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