What if Kentucky still had its star-studded offense to join its stout defensive unit this weekend for the showdown at No. 2 Alabama?
It's certainly a nice thought, and it would definitely make game-planning easier for UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips. But the reality is that the Wildcats will take an inexperienced offense that has been inconsistent through four games to face a Crimson Tide defense that has already shut down two high-octane offenses (Clemson and Georgia).
"It would make it easier if I could look up and have a Keenan Burton or Andre Woodson and some of those guys, but we don't have them," Phillips said. "We have to scheme people to try and get first downs, and hopefully we can crack a big play. But first downs are the most important thing for us in a game like this."
Alabama is giving up more than 205 yards a game through the air, but many of those yards were compiled at the end of blowout wins. 'Bama has stuffed everybody on the ground, ranking fifth in the nation in run defense and allowing barely more than 2 yards a carry.
Still, UK Coach Rich Brooks said his team can't totally abandon the run.
"We've got to try to run," Brooks said. "If we don't keep the defense honest with the fact that we're going to try, even if we don't have great success, then our quarterback will be in trouble throwing the ball from a protection standpoint."
While the personnel is different, Phillips said the blueprint is similar to the one Kentucky used last year to knock off No. 1 LSU. The Cats didn't run the ball great that game, but they ran it well enough (125 yards on 41 carries) to keep the Tigers honest. That paved the way for Woodson's 250-yard, three-touchdown performance. Phillips said that even minimal gains on the ground can be a good thing.
"We can't afford minus-yardage plays," Phillips said. "A 2-yard run is a successful play. We've just got to try to move the down marker forward. We can't go backward. Second-and-15 is unmanageable. We've got to try to get it to second-and-7, second-and-6, and then get to third-and-short. We can manage that."
One man who will be standing in the way of the UK run game is Terrence Cody, Alabama's 6-foot-5, 365-pound nose tackle who has been labeled "Mount Cody" and reportedly can dunk a basketball.
"He's a load," Phillips said. "He's like those guys they use in the NFL, Gilbert Brown and Ted Washington, to plug two gaps. He creates a lot of problems. Our center (Jorge Gonzalez) will definitely need some help."
While Cody has garnered the most hype, UK Coach Rich Brooks doesn't think Cody is Alabama's best overall defensive lineman.
Phillips is particularly high on defensive end Brandon Deaderick, a 6-foot-4, 287-pound junior from Elizabeth town who was heavily recruited by the Wildcats. "I'd sure like to have him; I think he's playing as good as anybody," Phillips said of Deaderick. He's real active and uses his hands well. I think he's going to play with even more intensity against us because he knows our guys, and he played against one of our guys (offensive lineman Zipp Duncan) in high school. If you put on the film, he's one of the most intense guys we've played against."
Johnson, Cobb, Lumpkin work out
Middle linebacker Micah Johnson, quarterback/wide receiver Randall Cobb and defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin participated in some drills in Tuesday's practice. All three players suffered high ankle sprains in the Middle Tennessee game. Brooks said he'll monitor the players' progress in practice the rest of the week before making a final determination.
"They worked out," Brooks said. "We'll see how they respond tomorrow, see if it gets real sore or not. None of them are close to 100 percent. It's not even in that ballpark. Whether they can be functional or not is the question."
Cat Walk at Alabama
The Cat Walk will be at 12:15 p.m. (CDT) in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. The team will enter the stadium through Gate 23, and fans can line the path leading into the stadium that goes under the scoreboard.