The University of Kentucky 2008 football season is at its midpoint, and at a crossroads.
The Wildcats are coming off a debilitating 24-17 loss to South Carolina. They lost their top receiver, Dicky Lyons Jr., to a knee injury. And they have major problems on offense.
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If that weren't bad enough, what had looked like a probable win against Arkansas now appears to be a potential barn-burner. After losing its first three Southeastern Conference games by a combined score of 139-31, Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks went to Auburn and stunned the previously ranked Tigers 25-22. The Hogs (3-3, 1-2) are now suddenly back in the picture for bowl eligibility, while the post-season seems less of a certainty for the Wildcats than it did a couple of weeks ago.
The Cats' second half of the season has gone opposite ways the past two years. In 2006, the Cats lost at home to South Carolina, also by a score of 24-17, to fall to 3-3 on the season.
UK went 4-2 on the back stretch that year and beat Clemson in the Music City Bowl to wrap up an 8-5 season.
Kentucky's first loss of the 2007 season came in the sixth game, also to South Carolina. The Wildcats would go on to beat No. 1 Louisiana State the following week but lose three of their final four regular-season games.
"You've got two ways to go," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "You can go back to the drawing board and work harder at getting better, or you can give in to frustration and disappointment and screw up the rest of your season. We've been in both situations."
Brooks and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips will spend a lot of time this week trying to get the offense fixed after the Cats gained only 218 yards and converted just one of 16 third downs against the Gamecocks.
The loss of Lyons hampers a receiving unit that has been struggling even with him in the lineup. Freshman Randall Cobb resumed his quarterback/receiver role after sitting out virtually all of the past two games with a high ankle sprain. Cobb caught eight passes for 53 yards against South Carolina, but Brooks said he could get more snaps at quarterback behind sophomore Mike Hartline.
"We'll just have to judge that as we go forward," Brooks said about the quarterback situation. "Obviously, he had some conditioning issues. He tweaked his good ankle, but his bad ankle made it through OK. We'll have to see how it responds. But (his time at QB) could increase a little bit. We just need to find some way to move the football."
Brooks said the offensive players aren't on the same page.
"It takes 11 guys on offense to execute plays," Brooks said. "We had eight, nine, sometimes 10 people executing sometimes, and then somebody would make a mistake. We just have to go back to fundamentals and get things moving."
South Carolina came into Commonwealth Stadium Saturday fresh off its biggest win this season, a 31-24 victory over Mississippi. And Arkansas is in a similar situation. Junior tailback Michael Smith ran through the Auburn defense for 163 yards, and Arkansas held a 416-193 advantage in total yards.
"That was a huge win for them on the road," Brooks said. "They moved the football on a very good Auburn defense and ran it extremely well, and they smothered Auburn's offense. It's eerie. It looks a little bit like it did against South Carolina. Now we're catching (Arkansas) when they're starting to put things together. It's a huge game for us to get back on track and try and get an SEC win."
Brooks ruled right tackle Justin Jeffries out of this week's game. Right guard Stuart Hines (knee) will also be out. Receiver DeMoreo Ford (shoulder), linebacker Mike Schwindel (shoulder), receiver Kyrus Lanxter (shoulder) and tight end Maurice Grinter (ankle) are all questionable.