In a rambling mood, so here are five thoughts about tonight’s game.
1. Josh Clemons
Truth be told, we’ve only seen Adonis at Media Day and when he’s walking off the field after practice. We in the media don’t actually get to see practice. It’s another media rule. Perhaps you’ve heard/read something about those lately. There was one day in which we were allowed to view 30 minutes of practice for video/photo purposes. Sorry, but you can’t really tell a lot in a random 30 minutes in a random practice. But let’s get back to Clemons.
The buzz around the camp is that he could be the real deal. He’s not a burner, a la a Derrick Locke. The runner who some have mentioned is Mark Ingram, the former Alabama running band former Heisman Trophy winner. You could do a lot worse than have your running style compared to that of Mark Ingram. And Kentucky hasn’t really had a good, big back since maybe Artose Pinner. Maybe.
2. Morgan Newton
In Monday’s press conference, Joker Phillips became tongue-tied when he started talking about his quarterback’s improvement. Said the difference between the Newton of the bowl game and the Newton of now is night-and-day. He’s more confident. He’s more accurate. He’s more effective. Lip service? We shall see.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Newton is not my concern. I think he’ll be fine. I doubt he’ll be all-conference, but he’s capable of getting the job done. I liked the way he threw the ball in the spring game. I do hope they don’t try and rely on him running the football. I’m not sure Newton is quick enough to pull that off in the SEC. But I am more concerned about what happens when the ball leaves Newton’s hand.
3. The defense
Rick Minter has a commanding personality. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean that in the way that he gives off an air that he knows what he’s doing. He should. He’s been the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. He’s been the head coach at Cincinnati. He was sort of bouncing around, on the down side of his career path, when Phillips asked him to move to Lexington. Minter seems re-invigorated by the opportunity, his confidence bolstered by the fact that someone wanted him to come fix a problem.
Minter’s job now is to bolster the defense’s confidence. This unit has been the UK whipping boy. When was the last time that Kentucky had a really, really good defense? A defense that kicked butt? A defense that dominated? Jerry Claiborne’s defenses would hit you. Hit you hard. You might have beaten the Cats back then, but you had the bruises to show you were in a football game. But to pick out a truly dominant Kentucky defense you have to go all the way back to Art Still and that 1977 team. Now that was a defense.
4. The uniforms
Well, I’m sort of looking forward to the uniforms. They’ve changed slightly from last year. The sleeves now have a checkerboard design. And I’m a huge uniform guy. I wasted many a school day doodling uniform designs and helmets in notebooks in my youth. Kentucky football uniforms have never wowed me, to be honest, and I wasn’t wowed by these duds when they were revealed over the summer.
Still, I am curious about the helmets. After stripe-less helmets in the Rick Brooks Era and first year of the Joker Era, tonight’s helmets – be they blue or white – will sport a single stripe. UK hasn’t had a single stripe on its helmets since the Bill Curry Era. The Cats haven’t had a single stripe on a blue helmet since the Charlie Bradshaw Era. Those helmets were blue, with a Wildcat face on one side and a numeral on the other. Now those were cool.
They also remind me of a long-gone newspaper tradition. When I was a kid, the then Lexington Herald used to run those black-and-white pictures from the game the night before with arrows on the picture identifying the players, or the path of the players.
There was a UK-Florida game in which the Cats were called for a key clipping penalty that nullified a touchdown and ended up costing Kentucky the game. I remember a series of photos depicting the supposed penalty, with arrows on the page showing the players and that it wasn’t really a clip. (Even back then, the SEC refs were out to get the Cats.) We don’t do that anymore.
5. The (non-)atmosphere
Reports say only about 29,000 tickets have been sold for tonight’s game at LP Field, which seats something like 70,000. I’m surprised that many tickets have been sold. The scheduling of this game, much less the series, was a mistake from the jump IMHO.
Western Kentucky is a great school with a fine football program and I’m all for UK scheduling state schools. But a four-year/four-game series against the Toppers is just too long to hold fan interests. With Louisville a yearly opponent, adding Western leaves the non-conference portion of the sked too locked-in.
And the scheduling of this particular game was an absolute disaster. Thursday night? A 9:15 p.m. kickoff? The game is being televised by ESPNU. Why would anyone drive any distance to go see a late game on a workday night that is already being televised? Did UK or Western not know that Tennessee State had first call on LP Field and that TSU would/could schedule a Saturday game? Someone should have known or checked that out.
To play in a half-full stadium three-and-a-half hours from home for your opening game is a disservice to the football program, feeding the perception (of some) that the administration doesn’t care as much about football as it should.