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Friday, October 22, 2010

Behind enemy lines: Kentucky edition

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Greetings from Bluegrass country, where I spent this afternoon at the horse track, along with Uga, UGA president Michael Adams and a ton of red-clad Bulldog fans.

Adams, who used to be the president at nearby Center College, was honored along with Uga in a pre-race ceremony near the paddock at Keeneland. Georgia fans honored themselves by, as far as I could tell, drinking a lot of beer and spending 15 minutes each trying to figure out the automatic betting machines. (Hey, I found it kind of hard myself.)

Kentucky is one of the more underrated trips in the SEC. The horse track is one reason. Even if you don’t gamble much (this was only my second time betting on the ponies) the atmosphere and ambiance is pretty cool. Plus the track is literally a two-minute drive from the airport.

The town of Lexington itself, its bars and restaurants, also sometimes gets overlooked when people discuss the SEC’s best spots. Lexington is about the size of Columbia – but Columbia doesn’t have a race track.

One of my hosts at Keeneland on Friday afternoon was Mr. Brett Dawson, the esteemed Kentucky beat writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal. Brett’s among the best in the biz, and before we hit the track he was kind enough to answer my questions about the Kentucky-Georgia football game:

SE: What do more Kentucky fans care about at this moment: This football game, or whether Enes Kanter will be eligible? Or is that an extremely silly question?

BD: Not a silly question. I would say in the grand scheme of things more of them probably care about Enes Kanter. There are probably more ‘Free Enes’ shirts than there are “Cobb for Heisman’ shirts. I think people were disillusioned two weeks ago and at halftime of the game last week. But the way they came back re-energized people. They sold out this game. But if they announced that Kanter was eligible at halftime of the football game, there’d be more interest in that than the final score of the game.

SE: I’ll ask a football question, just for giggles: Is Kentucky ripe for an emotional letdown after the comeback win over South Carolina?

BD: You know, you’d wanna say no in the sense that they just beat a South Carolina team that everyone knew was a candidate for a letdown after the Alabama game. The Kentucky guys have said the right things this week, essentially, We’re not gonna let that happen to us. But yes, in some ways, I think they are (susceptible). They really had two straight games that I think have taken a lot of them. So if Georgia were to get out to a big lead, you wonder if Kentucky has another rally in it.

SE: Randall Cobb caused quite a stir on Twitter last Sunday, criticizing the fans. Joker Phillips talked about banning players from Twitter, but by Thursday Cobb was tweeting about whether he should see Paranormal Activity. That leads to the natural question: If Cobb went to see Paranormal Activity, and was so scared he had a heart attack and couldn’t play, would Kentucky lose to Georgia by 16 touchdowns?

BD: They would lose to Georgia. You know, 16 touchdowns may be excessive. But Cobb absolutely is, especially with Derrick Locke out of the game, the most important part of Kentucky’s offense by a wide margin. Let’s put it this way: Playing Georgia, without Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb, would be a terrifying movie for Joker Phillips to watch.

SE: How much does the loss of Derrick Locke affect Kentucky’s running game, and the offense in general?

BD: Well a lot. They haven’t really mustered much of a running game without him. Donald Russell had about 30 yards against Auburn. They have two guys, Russell and Raymond Sanders, that look like they have a chance to be good backs down the road. But they don’t have another Derrick Locke, they don’t have another guy that can beat guys to the outside, like Locke can. What it does to the offense: If they’re really gonna get anything going in the running game, the way they’re going to look to do it is with Cobb in the Wildccat – or the Wild Cobb, as thye like to call it.

SE: Is Mike Hartline’s performance, ranking second in the SEC in passing yards and just three interceptions, a bit of a mirage, or has he been that good?

BD: He’s been good. It’s not a mirage, but it is a product of what he’s got around him. His receivers are playing much better. Chris Matthews is coming into his own. They’ve got a third guy in Laron King who knows what he’s doing. Hartline, as much as anything else, he’s been a victim of some poor execution the last couple years and I think they’ve cut down on that other stuff.

SE: Georgia has a guy named A.J. Green, whom no one has stopped yet. Kentucky’s run defense has been not-so-good. Given that, should Georgia’s offense be salivating?

BD: I would say yes. Except, if Kentucky plays the way they’ve played they have in the last two firest halves, absolutely they should be salivating. If they play the way they have the last two second halves, Georgia should be worried.

SE: Finally, what are the two or three things Kentucky would have to do get a victory?

BD: I think they’ve gotta get some kinda running game, whether it’s Cobb or one of the backups to Locke. They can’t turn the ball over. And I think the most important thing is they’ve gotta get off to a good start. They’ve been almost hopelessly behind the last two weeks, and again I don’t know if they have a comeback left in them, because the last two comebacks have taken so much out of them.

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