Many thanks to Truzenzuzex of the fantastic SB Nation Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue, who joins us this morning for the traditional swapping of questions. My answers to his questions will be up over at his place a bit later on.
ROCKY TOP TALK: Your first question to made me so nervous I figured I'd just reshape it and swat it right back at you. Tennessee has defeated Kentucky every year in football since 1984, Johnny Majors' 8th year in Knoxville and really, the beginning of the most recent rise of Tennessee's football fortunes. How important is ending this streak to Kentucky fans, and what would be the consequences of its ending?
A SEA OF BLUE: Twenty-two years is a very long time. I have nieces and nephews that weren't even born the last time we defeated Tennessee. So much has changed since then, it fairly boggles the mind. Twenty-two years is over two decades - by some reckoning, a generation.
This is a streak Kentucky desperately wants to end. Not because of some hatred of Tennessee, but because it is a reminder of how long we have wandered in the wilderness of inferiority, of futility. It is like a bitter taste that never goes away. How important is this streak to us? It represents our "coming out" as a football team, the end of laboring in vain to do that which we aren't able to do. It is Everest. K2. Mars.
In other words, pretty important.
What would be the consequences of it's ending? I can answer that in one word: Ecstasy.
ROCKY TOP TALK: As you know, Tennessee was a football school with a red-headed stepchild of a basketball program until the arrival of Bruce Pearl altered those dynamics. Kentucky, a tradition-rich basketball school, is experiencing a similar phenomenon with its football program. Have you noticed any increased impatience in the fan base with the 'Cats basketball team as a result of the recent success of the football team?
A SEA OF BLUE: Not really. Kentucky fans have always been impatient with a basketball team that doesn't compete for the national championship every few years. Basketball expectations are a relative constant at Kentucky -- Wildcat fans don't have off years, or years of low expectations. We expect to win every year, a lot
What I have noticed is a resurgent interest in the football program, and a bit of impatience there. This is surprising, because most long-suffering UK football fans understand that this is the SEC, and to come from the basement even to the middle of this conference is almost never done. It is surpassingly difficult, and we have yet to prove that we are on the road to accomplishing that, although the signs are very positive this year. Consistency is a thing we have lacked over the years, and we are hoping against history that the program is on the way to achieving it.
ROCKY TOP TALK: Kentucky leads the league in passing offense (for the second year in a row, I believe). How much of this is attributable to Randy Sanders' work with Andre Woodson?
A SEA OF BLUE: Opinions vary, but I think the majority opinion would be that Sanders has be indispensable in Woodson's development. We are very fortunate to have someone of that quality on our staff, and make no mistake about it, Kentucky will take Tennessee's leavings and scrapings -- we know that the Volunteers have a superior football program to ours, and if we have to take people you reject to improve, we will.
Sanders has done an awesome job with Woodson in my opinion.
ROCKY TOP TALK: Y'all started the season 5-0, but in the last six games, you're 2-4. Aside from the opponents being different, what's changed?
A SEA OF BLUE: If I knew that, I would be a lot happier, but I do have some thoughts.
First off, we have seen significant injuries since the LSU game. Raphael Little has been ailing from a deep thigh bruise up until the Vanderbilt game, and various of our other running backs have been injured. Against MSU, we were running our 5th string tailback, and the fact that he hadn't run many reps really hurt us. We also had a couple of our best receivers out for that game.
Really, the only game we lost since South Carolina where we really had no excuse was last week at Georgia. The Dawgs played fairly well, but it was an effort we could have and should have overcome. But Woodson chose that game to throw the ball particularly poorly, and the Dawgs shut down our running game. Bottom line -- we don't have many excuses, but we have been very dinged up all year. I know that happens, but we just don't have the kind of depth most SEC teams do at most positions, and when our best players are hurt, it impacts the Cats disproportionately.
ROCKY TOP TALK: Kentucky is near the bottom of the league in rushing, total, and scoring defense. Where's the weak spot, or is it a team effort?
A SEA OF BLUE: Our weak spot is our d-line, and it has been all year. Injuries, youth, and general lack of depth are the problem there, but we showed some improvement last week at Georgia. Maybe our d-line has turned a corner, I don't know. But they don't get sufficient penetration on the better SEC teams we have played, and it shows. Our linebacking corps is good, but without a solid effort from the line, SEC tailbacks have pretty much run all over us.
If Kentucky can do a better job against the Volunteer's running game, it bodes really well for this team. We have a good secondary, and if we can stop the ground game, our defense starts to look a lot more like a contender.
ROCKY TOP TALK: Tennessee ranks 11th in the league in sacks, but Kentucky ranks 11th in the league in sacks allowed. Who wins this battle of futility on Saturday?
A SEA OF BLUE: Good question. I have no good answers, though. Tennessee should theoretically do better, because other teams like Georgia have managed to get to Woodson. Woodson has an unfortunate habit of holding on to the ball too long, and is thinking too much right now. That makes him more vulnerable to a rush than he would otherwise be.
We throw a lot of passes downfield, and that also exposes Woodson more because of the time it takes. So I expect UT to do a bit better if for no other reason than our play calling and quarterback tendencies will provide more opportunities for the Volunteer defense.
ROCKY TOP TALK: And for you, who wins tomorrow, by how much, and what is the big reason why?
A SEA OF BLUE: I'm going to pick UK, 35-30. André Woodson comes out of his slump and has a big day, and our running game gets untracked.
Hope springs eternal. Well, 22 consecutive years may not quite be an eternity, but it certainly feels like one to me.
Thanks, Tru. Good luck tomorrow.