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Three Things We Know and Don't Know About Kentucky // SEC 2012: The New SEC

Maxwell Smith needs to be the guy at quarterback.
Maxwell Smith needs to be the guy at quarterback.


1. If Maxwell Smith isn't the starter at quarterback, we got problems.

Morgan Newton struggled to replace departed starter Mike Hartline at the quarterback spot last year, really only having successful games against Louisville and Jacksonville State. His low point and Kentucky's both was the loss to South Carolina, a 54-3 loss in which he completed just 4-of-21 for 17 yards with a pick for a passing efficiency of 16.3. Newton sprained his ankle early against Mississippi State, allowing freshman Maxwell Smith to take over. He showed some promise over his four games running the offense, and he got a lot of the spring snaps as Newton battled injuries during that practice session too. Newton is who he is at this point, while the younger Smith is still on the upswing. If Smith can't hold onto the job, that's a bad sign for the present and future of this team.

2. The line will probably be the defense's strength.

Kentucky's defensive line has some serious beef on it. Junior tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, besides having excellent names for defensive linemen, weigh in at a combined 646 pounds. They'll have the middle of the line covered as seniors Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham (they guy who famously concussed Tim Tebow) attack from the outside. Ukwu in particular will be looked to for causing disruption in the backfield, as he is the only returning Wildcat that finished in the SEC's top 50 in tackles for loss last season. The defense is going to need some big production out of the guys up front for reasons we'll see later.

3. Things are looking up at receiver.

One help to Smith's development is that Kentucky has a nice set of targets for him to throw to. The senior leader is La'Rod King, who was last year's top receiver and who has been improving every year he's been in Lexington. Tyler Robinson is a sure-handed tight end who could play for a number of teams in the conference. It also sounds like they've got a budding star in redshirt freshman Demarco Robinson. Joker Phillips cited him as being a guy who just makes plays, and he showed it in the spring game by catching nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. If they can avoid some of the drops from the closing scrimmage, they should have a pretty good unit.


1. What to make of 60% of the offensive line.

This much I can say about the offensive line: senior Matt Smith has center locked down, and perennial All-SEC performer Larry Warford has one of the two guard spots covered. Beyond that, the outlook starts to get hazy. The rest of the line has a combined two starts among it. Kevin Mitchell is currently in line to start at right tackle, but he previously had been a reserve left guard. The actual left guard right now is a redshirt freshman in Zach West. It's never a good thing to have an offensive line in flux in this league, but UK's line is a work in progress heading into the fall.

2. Who to look to in the defense's back seven.

OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. Senior safety Martavius Neloms will be the leader back there. Besides him, it's all fresh faces. Kentucky is replacing all three linebackers and three of four in the secondary. The Wildcats will miss playmakers LB Danny Trevathan and S Winston Guy the most. Trevathan led the SEC in tackles by a mile with 143 (second place had 123), and Guy was third with 120. Guy also led the team in tackles for loss, with Trevathan following close behind. Losing two guys like that is tough for any team, much less a team like Kentucky, to deal with. One of the new guys to watch is LB Avery Williamson, who garnered praise from coaches in the spring and stood out in the spring game.

3. How the Wildcats plan to win the field position game.

One of the biggest losses from last year's team was punter Ryan Tydlacka. He was fourth in the conference in punting average at 43.65 (less than two yards per punt out of first place), but thanks to a league-leading average of 6.6 punts per game, he had the highest average of punting yards per game. Not to be overlooked, UK finished 13th nationally last year in net punting. Make jokes if you wish, but punting is an important thing to a team that's been as offensively challenged as Kentucky has been of late. Joker Phillips hasn't been impressed with the new punting unit so far, and it wasn't pretty at the spring game. If the punting game remains a mess and the offense isn't significantly better than last year's, opponents will be getting too many short fields this fall.