Back in the day, Tim Couch made Commonwealth Stadium his personal stage. More often than not, Couch earned boffo reviews for his performances.
On Saturday night, the former University of Kentucky star quarterback will be back in Commonwealth in a very different role.
Couch is the color analyst for Southeastern Conference football games on Fox Sports South. This week, the FSS crew of Bob Rathbun (play-by-play), Kristina Akra (sideline reporter) and Couch are working Mississippi State at Kentucky.
"It's going to be fun for me to be back in Commonwealth because I don't get a chance to see Kentucky play much during the season," Couch said Wednesday. "I'm always on the road doing other games. It will be fun just to be around and see familiar faces and just be in the stadium again. I'm really looking forward to it."
In preparing to broadcast the Cats, Couch has seen the same thing that many who have followed the 2011 UK football season have noted — not enough offensive weapons.
"The first thing that jumps out to me is the lack of playmakers," he said. "When I think of Kentucky in recent years, they've always had a really good group of wide receivers. I don't see that right now.
"Obviously, La'Rod King has put up some nice numbers. I don't see anyone else on the outside that is going to threaten a defense or anyone else who can go up and make a play the way La'Rod can. So if you can take away one guy, they don't have a lot of options."
Last Saturday, Couch had an off week and was able to attend the Kentucky-Jacksonville State game. It's hardly surprising that one of the best quarterbacks ever to play at UK spent a lot of his time watching the current Cats signal caller.
"The thing that jumped out at me, especially early in the game, was the body language of Morgan Newton," Couch said. "I just didn't think he was playing with a lot of confidence and, rightfully so, they haven't had a lot of success offensively. They have to find a way to get him going and, especially early in games, get him some confidence going."
One QB to another, Couch has empathy for what Newton has faced in 2011.
"They've had some injuries, especially early in the season, on that offensive line," Couch said. "So he's taken some hits. (As a result), I think he is kind of rushing his throws a little bit.
"Then, they've had a lot of (pass) drops. Even when (Newton) does find the time to throw and he becomes accurate, the guys are usually dropping the football on him. It's just disheartening for him, I'm sure."
Those who recall the days in the late 1990s when Couch was rewriting the Kentucky record book while running Hal Mumme's Air Raid offense will note a special significance that the ex-UK QB will be broadcasting a game with Mississippi State from Commonwealth Stadium.
It was against MSU in 1998 that Couch and his favorite receiver, Craig Yeast, combined on one of the more memorable plays in Commonwealth history.
UK was nursing a 30-29 lead with about eight minutes to go against a State team that would go on to win the SEC West when Couch took a snap from the MSU 6-yard line.
Under a fierce rush, he dropped back — and back and back and back. Couch had faded to near the 22-yard line and was about to be crushed when he fired a pass off his back foot into the unoccupied left corner of the end zone.
Racing along the back end line, Yeast beat two Bulldogs defenders to the ball and leaped to make an acrobatic catch.
"It was one of those chuck-and-duck deals, trying not to get my head taken off," Couch remembered. "I saw Craig going around the back of the end zone and I just threw it out to the corner. I knew no one was over there and I figured Craig could outrun the two guys covering him. He went up and made just a great play."
That throw/catch ultimately provided the winning margin for the 37-35 victory that made the '98 Cats bowl eligible. They went on to play in the Outback Bowl.
Had his life gone according to plan, Couch, 34, would still be an NFL quarterback. The physical pounding he took playing behind an expansion offensive line in Cleveland and arm/shoulder injuries ended his pro football career prematurely.
So the pride of Leslie County is in his second year doing analysis on SEC games for Fox Sports South. Couch has become more comfortable and polished in that role this season.
"I know how to prepare myself for a game now. Last year, I was just kind of winging it a little bit," Couch said. "I had to figure out how to take what I was seeing and put it into words where everyone could understand. I think where I've gotten better is being able to tell why a play happened or why it worked or didn't work."
On Saturday night, Couch the game analyst will face a vexing challenge.
Back in the stadium that was once his stage, working a game featuring the team he grew up rooting for and then starring for as a player, Couch has the task of providing even-handed commentary.
"When the game comes on, I have a job to do, and it's my job to stay neutral and give my opinion honestly on both teams," Couch said. "And I certainly will do that."