I had the opportunity to take in the University of Kentucky spring football game yesterday from the pressbox at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington yesterday. It was one of the coldest days of the spring and lightly raining for much of the day, so attendance was very low (officially listed at 4,500 but I would be stunned if there were more than 3,000 people there). As we've mentioned in other spring reviews, there's limited information you can get from a spring scrimmage since teams are competing against themselves and the play-calling is virtually always as vanilla as possible. Nevertheless, here's some takeaways from the scrimmage of Louisville's opening day opponent.
The Offense Will Be Different In 2012 - After years of essentially running a conservative, pro-style attack, it appears that new passing game coordinator Pat Washington is bringing a large piece of the offense he was a part of at Southern Mississippi with him to Lexington. For almost all of the scrimmage, Kentucky's first team offense operate from the shotgun formation with three wide receivers, a running back, and a tight end. All of the running plays were either sweeps to the outside or some kind of inside zone running, but nothing where Maxwell Smith kept the ball and ran with it (likely because this was the spring game and he wore a red non-contact jersey). In postgame interviews, Joker Phillips told reporters that this is the offense now, and that fans can expect a 70/30 pass/run ratio in 2012. He said they hope to run 80 plays per game and if they throw it 45 times or more per game, he still considers that balance. The offense also made very nice use of the tight ends in the screen game and over the middle. Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson both caught several nice throws down the field. Having a pair of dependable tight ends will be a big improvement in 2012.
The Morgan Newton Era Is Over - Maxwell Smith looked good throwing the ball yesterday and will be the starter this season barring injury. He certainly looks more poised and accurate than Morgan Newton typically did. Smith stands tall in the pocket, was very accurate with throws to the outside and throws working the middle of the field where a quarterback can't afford to float the ball or be inaccurate. The only real negative from yesterday's game was Smith struggling to get the ball downfield on deep throws. Twice in the second half his deep passes fluttered and were intercepted. All of that being said, it's hard for me to envision Morgan Newton coming back from his torn labrum injury and earning his job back, especially with highly touted freshman Patrick Towles also set to arrive in August.
Still Questions About Playmakers At Wide Receiver - DeMarco Robinson had a fantastic game, working on the outside and some in the slot. He should be one of the team's main weapons at receiver. The coaches are high on Darryl Collins but he only caught two passes for 20 yards. If Collins develops into what the coaches think he will, then Kentucky will have two solid receivers. The other on the team were not that impressive. I think there will be chances for some freshmen like A.J. Legree to play early. (T.J. Walker reminded me that La'Rod King is still Kentucky's number one receiver but did not participate in the spring scrimmage, so add him to the group for next year as well).
Avery Williams Should Be The Next Star Linebacker - One of the bigger questions coming into spring practice was who would replace Dany Trevathan at linebacker. If the spring game was any indication, it will mostly be Avery Williamson. Williams is a bowling ball of a linebacker who had 8 tackles and a sack and appeared to be everywhere for much of the scrimmage. T.J. Walker with Kentucky's Rivals.com site Cats Illustrated site has a good piece on Williamson here.
Kentucky Can't Suffer Any Offensive Or Defensive Line Injuries - The first team offensive line of (left tackle to right tackle) Darrian Miller, Teven Eatmon-Nered, Matt Smith, Larry Warford, and Kevin Mitchell performed pretty well and should be good enough to execute Kentucky's new offense. The second team offensive line, however, got thoroughly pushed around. If Kentucky has to rely on two or three of those players this season, that would be a big blow for the offense. Defensively, Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble are a bona fide pair of SEC defensive tackles. Both are north of three hundred pounds and get up field well. Behind them, though, are very undersized guys (259, 272, 279 pounds). Kentucky will be in trouble if they lose either defensive tackle for significant time in 2012.
The Early Louisville -10 Line Is About Right - Doing my best to avoid sounding like a homer, Louisville is better than Kentucky at most positions, but not so much better that September's opener will be a 2006-style blowout or that Kentucky can't win. The biggest mismatches will be the Louisville receivers against a Kentucky secondary that has questions (cornerback opposite Marcus Caffey, who is adequate, who will replace Winston Guy) and the Louisville secondary that returns everyone from a year ago and adds a number of talented freshmen against the Kentucky receiving corps that is still looking for playmakers. Louisville should be favored and should win the game, but it would surprise me to see a real blowout (which there have been very few of in this series).