ATHENS — We’ve hardly talked about Kentucky all week, but even with Georgia favored by two touchdowns (and a point or two more) this is no gimme for the struggling Bulldogs.
So let’s check in with the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Clay, who has been covering the Wildcats for a long time. Kentucky, in its third year under coach Mark Stoops, is 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC, having lost three in a row.
1. John, you’ve been covering this league for years. What’s the “Kentucky view” of Georgia up that way? Do they think the Bulldogs are nuts to be grousing about Richt or do you see some UK basketball parallels?
Clay: Kentucky has its own problems right now, but I do think there are some Kentucky basketball/Georgia football parallels, especially as regards to Tubby Smith. Tubby was well-liked and had immediate success following Rick Pitino, but after winning the 1998 title didn’t reach another Final Four. He came close, losing three times in Elite Eight. His team’s were never terrible but never great. The longer he stayed the more the fans picked at his weaknesses. By the end, Tubby opted out for Minnesota. From up here, it looks like same situation with Richt.
2. So it looked like Wildcats’ football was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the early going this season, but obviously that’s cooled considerably in recent weeks. Was there something that happened beyond reality and a tougher schedule settling in?
Clay: Reality and tougher schedule playing a large role. Mississippi State and Tennessee are both just better than Kentucky. Injuries have played a role. Kentucky lost nose guard Melvin Lewis to a broken leg in the Auburn game and that has hurt. Running back Boom Williams, perhaps the best player on offense, injured his elbow in the Tennessee game. He’s not expected to play Saturday.
3. Tell our readers a little something about Patrick Towles. I haven’t seen him play a lot but what I’ve seen and the weekly stats updates and his measurables tell me this kid might be NFL material. What’s the thinking up that way?
Clay: Patrick Towles is a big strong kid with a big arm. He is the grandson of Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jim Bunning. He has started 20 straight games so he’s a seasoned veteran. His problem has been consistency. He has stretches where he throws the ball on target and he has stretches where his aim is way off. Fans have been down on him at times but he has NFL tools. He can also be effective running the ball. Still hasn’t put it all together.
4. Clearly the Cats’ defense is not real good. Is there an area or two that you believe they’ll out-class UGA or be able to hang with the Dogs?
Clay: The defense has regressed over last couple of weeks. Losing Lewis has had something to do with that. Jason Hatcher was supposed to step in and replace Bud Dupree, a first round NFL draft pick, but Hatcher has been set back by injuries and suspensions. I can’t think of area where Kentucky would have a clear advantage except maybe at quarterback considering Georgia’s problems there. UK also gave up two kick return touchdowns to Tennesee. And Georgia scored on a kickoff and a punt return against Kentucky last year.
5. Is there any indication that Kentucky will ever climb back to the heights it has gotten in football in rare occasions over its history? If so, any time soon?
Clay: Good question. Aside from this recent pothole, Mark Stoops has recruited well and has made some progress. Fans got hopes up for a big leap after wins over South Carolina and Missouri. Now it turns out both those teams are bad. There’s a lot of losing history with Kentucky football. It’s a tough job. Think Stoops is on right track to get back to Rich Brooks Level, which led to five straight bowls. But he’s not there yet.
Clay: I’ll say Georgia 24, Kentucky 10. Even with Georgia’s problems, it has routed UK last two years. Big gap to close.