Sports

Cobb's play matches his hype

Let's apply some market analysis to the just-concluded Kentucky football season with a game of Buy, Sell or Hold.

Buy: Randall Cobb. Tim Couch, Dennis Johnson and Micah Johnson are the only recent UK true freshmen that brought expectations at the level of Cobb.

The Tennessee product lived up to the hype. By the end of the season, he was pretty much Kentucky's only viable offensive playmaker.

Long-term, I now think his future is at wide receiver, not quarterback. But Cobb has star potential.

Sell: The Kentucky running game. Remember all the pre-season talk that UK would rely on a veteran offensive line and a corps of four talented backs to carry an inexperienced passing attack?

So much for that. Kentucky wound up eighth in the SEC and 79th in the country in rushing (129.3 yards a game).

Derrick Locke's blown knee and chronic injuries on the offensive line did not help. But the real issue was that UK was not up to the challenge of running the football without the threat of Andre Woodson's passing to keep defenses from loading the box.

Hold: Joker Phillips. When you finish 107 out of 119 teams in total offense, there aren't going to be roses sent to the guy calling the plays.

However, in 2007, Phillips directed what was arguably the best offense in Kentucky football history. What changed in 2008 was the ability level of the offensive skill players carrying out Phillips' play calls.

Buy: Trevard Lindley. The UK cornerback was better early than late, but he remains the best defensive back at Kentucky in my memory — which goes back to the year Commonwealth Stadium opened.

If Lindley, an NFL Draft-eligible junior, is assured of going in the top two rounds, he should go.

Sell: Kentucky special teams. I don't recall ever seeing an SEC football team have back-to-back punts blocked in the same game. UK did it (Florida) this year.

I don't recall ever seeing an SEC football team commit three roughing-the-punter penalties in the same game. UK did it (Vanderbilt) this year.

Hold: The Kentucky defense. UK finished 38th in the nation in total defense, light years ahead of where it was (118th) just two seasons ago. Yet the defense faded badly down the stretch.

My psychoanalysis of what went wrong was that the Kentucky 'D' submitted psychologically during Florida's 63-point rampage (which the two blocked punts helped create).

Before the Florida game, UK allowed 11.9 points, 282.9 yards and a 30.3 percent third-down conversion rate. Starting with Florida till the end of the season, Kentucky surrendered 35.4 points, 393.8 yards and a 41.3 percent success rate on third downs.

Buy: UK's bowl eligibility. If you believe a post-season trip should be contingent on actually being a good football team at the end of the season, Kentucky with its six losses in its final eight games is clearly not worthy.

However, the only standard for bowl eligibility is to have six wins, with at least five against teams from the division formerly known as I-A.

UK has that.

For a third straight year, that means Kentucky will essentially get a month of extra practice. For the first time since Bear Bryant slept here, UK coaches can sell three straight bowl trips in recruiting.

Bottom line: It is a positive for the Kentucky program to be bowling in 2008 even if the Cats have not looked much like a credible bowl team.

Sell: Kentucky's third-down offense. A big reason the Wildcats defense faded was that the Cats offense could not keep the defenders off the field. Out of 119 major college football programs, UK ranked 111th (30.5 percent success rate) in making first downs on third-down snaps.

To succeed at UK, you have to be able to throw the football. Kentucky couldn't in 2008.

Brooks indicated after the annual loss to Tennessee that he wants Kentucky to again embrace the kind of offense it ran with Woodson at the controls.

That is the right direction for UK football. Whether Kentucky has the throwers and catchers in its program to make that work in 2009 is questionable.

Hold: Kentucky's true freshman wide receivers (other than Cobb). It's also not fair to render a lasting assessment on the first-year receivers before they get a year of college weight training and a spring practice for improvement.

Still, other than Cobb, none of the kiddie corps of UK wideouts showed much in 2008. If they don't improve dramatically before next season, it won't matter who the quarterback is in 2009.

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