The general feeling coming from the University of Kentucky football team following the annual Blue-White can best be summed up by new football coach Rich Brooks, "We won!"
Well, since it was an intra-squad scrimmage it was going to be virtually impossible for the UK Wildcats to lose, although after watching the UK v. Louisiana State game last year, don't put anything past these guys. The 38-0 score in favor of the Blue team is a bit deceiving. The Blue team had the entire offensive and defensive starters, as well as the main backups. If the White team had hung in at all, well, it would not have been a glowing endorsement of UK's 2003 chances.
The Blue-White scrimmage, always a fun time for the fans, had a greater sense of purpose behind it this year. The Wildcats come into the 2003 Football season off a 7-5 record, and one LSU Hail Mary away from an 8-4 record. The highest-paid Athletic Director in UK history has hired the highest-paid football staff in UK history, and fans attending the games this year will be paying the highest ticket prices in UK history. The pressure to deliver one better-a year before the scholarship sanctions really start to hurt-is pretty high.
There were several on-the-field issues that needed to be addressed also. Would quarterback Jared Lorenzen put in the necessary off-season work? Would backup quarterback Shane Boyd finally see some quality field time? How would UK replace New York Jet draft pick Dewayne Robertson, and SEC Offensive player of the year Artose Pinner? The curious came out to Commonwealth Saturday expecting to see some answers.
The good news, well despite the fact that "We Won," is that quarterback Jared Lorenzen, a.k.a. J-Lo, a.k.a. The Hefty Lefty, a.k.a. Big Fat Ass, has lost over 40 pounds. Does anyone else remember how many times last year Lorenzen and Guy Morriss said the extra weight was not an issue, and that Jared was just a "big boy"? Remember how they said he just couldn't lose weight? Well, apparently he can and will be a better quarterback for it. The weight loss craze must have been contagious, because Boyd lost about 20 pounds as well. What is new Offensive Coordinator Ron Hudson going to do with two healthy, in-shape quarterbacks? Apparently anything he wants.
That "Oh crap!" you heard coming from the little school down I-64 was a reaction to what the UK coaches and players are calling the "Queer" formation, otherwise known as two, that's right count 'em two, quarterbacks in the backfield. Although Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum may object to the name, no one can object to the weapons it puts on the field. Boyd is one of the better athletes on the team and he was just wasting away as a strict backup. The refusal of the previous coach staff to use him in other roles is understandable, being the only real insurance in case of a Lorenzen injury, but on a talent-depleted team such as the Wildcats, you have to utilize every weapon in the arsenal. Under Hudson's play calling Saturday, Boyd was 5-9 passing for 79 yards, including a 6-yard pass to Lorenzen after J-Lo lined up in the slot. He rushed 7 times for 30 yards in mixture of option and off tackle hand offs, and caught one pass for 58 yards. Not a bad day's work. Lorenzen showed his willingness to share the glory, and still put up his own big numbers on 16-23 for 297 yards, with a touchdown pass to Derek Abney. The newly spry and svelte Lorenzen also had 21 yards rushing and one touchdown. Funny as it may sound, there may be several occasions this season where the Wildcat Faithful are yelling at their team to "Go Queer!"
The running back situation remains up in the air. Of the incumbents, Alexis Bwenge had the best day, rushing 12 times for 64 yards with three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 30 yards. Not great, but much better than the others. It is too bad that Pinner only had one season to show all his capabilities. Junior college speedster Draak Davis will report over the summer, and whether he starts or not, his speed demands he will be a factor.
Amid all the excitement of the Queer formation and the search for Pinner's replacement, it is easy to forget about wide receiver Derek Abney. UK's consensus All-American figures again to play a prominent role in the offense. He was the leading receiver Saturday, 8 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, and hopefully he can come close to duplicating his special team feats from last season.
There is a reason the price increase for the tickets went into effect this season. People still remember the excitement from a year ago, and a lot of that talent returns. The scholarship reductions mandated by the NCAA, (Thanks again Hal!), are really going to hit home in the next couple of years. A lot of drama happened before Rich Brooks was hired, and he is in his 60s, but his track record, and that of his incredible staff, makes me believe UK football is headed in the right direction. An early glance at the 2003 schedule shows that a 7-5 repeat, and a trip to a bowl this time, is a very good possibility. Hopefully we are only a few short months from Brooks delivering his real "We won!" speech.
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