Regular Season Recap: Kentucky

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Kentucky Wildcats

Final Record: 2-10 overall, 0-8 SEC

The biggest Kentucky guy in college football couldn’t be saved for another season with a tumbling program in Lexington. Joker Phillips entered as the head coach, and he exited the Florida wide receivers coach. Kentucky finished as the worst SEC East team, only winning two total games and going winless in the SEC.

Kentucky knows it won’t compete for East division championships against Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, but they do expect to be relevant. And Phillips had made them relevant the last two years of his tenure by making it to a bowl his first season and just missing a bowl and beating Tennessee his second season. However, 2012 was a forgettable year, as fan optimism hit an all-time low.

Kentucky scored an SEC-low 17.9 points per game and was 12-14 in every offensive category. Kentucky’s defense allowed opponents to score 31 points per game on average. That’s not going to win you football games, no matter how good of an offense you have (see Tennessee).

In Phillips’ defense, his best player got hurt early in the season in quarterback Max Smith. Smith was out with a shoulder injury early, and he broke his ankle on the first drive upon returning against South Carolina. It became very clear that Smith was the offense, as the Wildcats smoked nearly BCS bound Kent State by 33 points. And after Smith went down, Kentucky used three different quarterbacks in freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles and senior Morgan Newton. With Smith, Whitlow and Towles returning, it’s a good nucleus to build around.

The running game of Raymond Sanders, Jonathan George, and Whitlow, among others, was serviceable. But after Smith went down, teams could key on the running game solely to stop the offense. George looks like the premier back to help out next year’s new offense. He’s a power back with some pop and upside. Running back should be a position of strength in 2013.

Coming into the season, the defensive line was considered the strength of the team. However, this group never could produce any difference makers. Collins Ukwu, Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph underperformed at their position, and the three only combined for 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Linebackers Avery Williamson and Bud Dupree did have good seasons, as Williamson led the team in tackles with 135 total, with three sacks. The secondary finished ninth in the SEC defending the pass, and they were forced to play younger players at the position in an effort to find any impact players.

Offensive MVP: There’s no other place to look other than Max Smith for what he gave the team when he was healthy, and how horrible the offense was when he was out. Smith played in only three full games and got hurt the first drive against South Carolina, and he threw for 975 yards and eight touchdowns. Backups Whitlow, Towles and Newton combined to throw for 1,107 yards in eight games. Smith actually gave the offense and the team a chance to win some ballgames had he have been healthy the entire season. The sophomore will return for another year under another coach in Mark Stoops, who will try and maximize his potential.

Defensive MVP: Avery Williamson led the team in tackles, but the best defensive player on this unit was sophomore Bud Dupree. Dupree led the team in sacks with 6.5 and notched 12.5 tackles for loss, good for fifth in the SEC. Dupree, only a sophomore, will be the nucleus of Mark Stoops’ new defense in Lexington. He’s a great looking player with great ball skills who will only get better.

Where To Next: Upon Mark Stoops’ hiring, the BBN looked excited about football again. Stoops has only hired one staff member at this time, but he promises a new era in Kentucky football and has already started talking about that word championship. Kentucky just wants to be relevant in the East and win eight games per year. Stoops will try and do just that, but first, he must start by replenishing the defensive side of the football in recruiting. There are better days ahead for Wildcat football.

Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

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