Posts from Thursday, Sept. 3
Witten advances to third round of U.S. Open
Posted at 4:18 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Former UK star Jesse Witten was accustomed to being under the spotlight when he was at UK.
Arguably the best tennis player to ever grace UK’s courts and a former NCAA singles finalist, Witten is finding himself back under the limelight in the U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam of the Year.
Witten defeated Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina on Thursday, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, in the second round of the tournament. With the victory, Witten will advance to the third round and will play either No. 4 Novak Djokovic or Carsten Ball this weekend.
Before this week, the No. 276 ranked player had never won a Grand Slam match. Now entering the third round, Witten has knocked off the likes of No. 29 Igor Andreev of Russia and No. 76 Gonzalez, the two highest opponents he’s ever knocked off.
Witten reached the main draw of the U.S. Open by winning three straight qualifying matches last week.
They’ll be a full release from Jeremy Strachan up on the Web later on tonight. I’m hoping to get a few comments for the blog from Witten later, but I can’t promise anything because I know he’s busy with a bunch of interviews there – he was talking with ESPN earlier.
Scouting the Miami RedHawks
Posted at 1:50 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Prior to every Kentucky football game Cat Scratches, the official blog of UK Athletics, will offer an in-depth scouting breakdown on the Cats' opponent. Cat Scratches will provide UK fans keys to the game, players to watch for and analysis on the upcoming game in a quick-hit fashion. Want to know what's in store for the Cats? Cat Scratches will be the place to be every Thursday.
The skinny on Miami
Miami (Ohio) is in the beginning of a new era under first-time head coach Mike Haywood. It's a new coaching staff, a new system and a new attitude in Oxford, Ohio. The "Rumble at the River" will present a huge opportunity to play in a pro stadium just down the road from its university. It will provide the rebuilding program prime exposure and a possible home-field advantage. People around the program insist that Haywood has already changed the culture of the program, but a victory against a Southeastern Conference opponent would go a long way in jumpstarting the new-look program.
Keys to the game
Because of virtually an entire new coaching staff that has never coached together, Miami is a virtual unknown. And that's where their strength - and potential UK weakness - lies. UK head coach Rich Brooks has admitted that they're playing a bit of a guessing game because the current Miami coaching staff hails from different schools. Will the Cats see shades of Notre Dame, Texas or Duke, where Miami's head coach and coordinators hail from, or will they see a little bit of everything? That alone could pose early problems for UK.
If there is one component Brooks and Co. can prepare for, it's a solid Miami passing game. Senior Daniel Raudabaugh possesses a big-time arm, is just short of passing for 5,000 career yards and is on the verge of becoming one of the MAC's top passing threats. Raudabaugh has plenty to work with on the outside at wide receiver, quite possibly Miami's deepest and most talented position. Dustin Woods (35 catches), Jamal Rogers (team high 41 grabs) and Geno Harris (33 receptions) are all reliable receivers, but junior Chris Givens provides the best big-play threat (14.7 yards per catch, seven touchdowns).
The challenge for Miami is that it will go up against one of the SEC's - and quite possibly the nation's - most talented secondary. You already know about preseason All-American Trevard Lindley (nine career interceptions, 34 career pass breakups), but keep an eye out for the return of cornerback Paul Warford and sophomore Randall Burden, who should both see a lot of time in the nickel packages. If they can play up to expectations this season, SEC passing offenses better beware.
Miami might have a bit of a mystery on its hands as well when it comes to preparing for the Kentucky offense. Despite ranking sixth in the SEC in scoring offense a season ago, UK struggled to move the ball. Now, with a more experienced, more confident quarterback in Mike Hartline back and a receiving corps that has gotten significantly better, UK could make giant strides on offense this season.
The Miami defense lost its four top tacklers from last season. How Rich Brooks decides to attack that could make the difference in the game. Will Brooks use the vaunted Wildcat Formation with Randall Cobb to expose any defensive weaknesses or will he use his deep and talented backfield of Alfonso Smith, Derrick Locke and Moncell Allen to attack the Miami "D"? Expect a lot of first-quarter testing on the Cats' part to figure out the new Miami defensive schemes.
Keep an eye on...
Daneil Raudabaugh/QB/Senior/No. 12
The aforementioned Raudabaugh is just 318 yards short of the 5,000-yard milestone. The senior appeared in 11 of the RedHawks' 12 games last season, throwing for 1,960 yards and eight touchdowns, but this season will determine Raudabaugh's legacy. He has a cannon for an arm, but how he gets the ball to a talented wide receiver corps will be the difference.
Dustin Woods/WR/Senior/No. 1
Junior Chris Givens has the most big-play potential, but Woods is the clear-cut leader of the best position group Miami has. Woods has 100 career receptions and the Miami coaching staff thinks he's poised for a big senior season.
Jordan Gafford/SS/Junior/No. 22
The Miami defense was hit hard by the loss of All-MAC linebackers Clayton Mullin and Joe Hudson, making the return of Gafford's invaluable experience all the more important. Gafford should be the heart and soul of the RedHawk offense, but how he recovers from a season-ending broken leg last season will be something the coaching staff will have to monitor. He finished fourth in tackles in 2007, his last full season.
Randall Cobb/WR/Sophomore/No. 18
Cat fans' eyes twinkled every time Cobb touched the ball in 2008. He's dynamic, he's electrifying and the kid can just flat-out play. But this year he'll make a strategic switch to primarily wide receiver, giving the Cats a big-play threat on the outside. Cobb will also be the primary threat in the Wildcat Package. How much we'll see of that Saturday remains a mystery.
Chris Matthews/WR/Junior/No. 8
The highly-touted junior-college receiver has not disappointed in fall camp after a wildly successful JuCo career. Matthews caught 80 balls as a sophomore, good for 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns in just nine games, and UK's coaching staff has confirmed that he has been as good as advertised so far.
DeQuin Evans/DE/Junior/No. 55
When UK is on defense, all eyes will be on the defensive end position as the Cats try to replace NFLer Jeremy Jarmon. Evans is being counted on to fill the void, and much like Matthews, he's drawn the praise of the UK coaching staff all camp long. Evans recorded 19.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in his two years at Los Angeles Harbor College.
What's on the line for UK
For Kentucky, it's simple - just win. If the Cats are going to climb the ladder in the SEC, as Brooks alluded to earlier in the week, every game is extremely important. With a difficult five-game stretch awaiting the Cats, it's crucial that UK gains gets the season off to a good start heading into the only bye week of the year. A loss could make a two-week layoff seem like a year.
Making an international splash
Posted at 1:34 p.m. EDT - Brent Ingram, UK Media Relations
Soccer is the world's most popular game. It is a game built over hundreds of years and perfected in amateur and professional leagues throughout the world.
So naturally, Kentucky men's soccer head coach Ian Collins considers recruiting international players to be a priority. Since taking over the program 15 years ago, Collins has solidified the UK program as one of the tops in the nation. Part of that program building has come through recruiting some of the best players, both internationally and in the United States.
A quick glance at the 2009 UK roster reveals that six key players hail from outside the USA, including three from England - Jason Griffiths, Matt Lodge and David Harrison. UK also boasts a talented Australian defender Brad Walker, tricky Brazilian forward Marco dos Santos and freshman midfielder Byron Vega, a native of Guatemala.
Recruiting international players comes naturally for Collins, a native of Bridge North, England. With an extensive amount of contacts throughout the United States and across the pond, Collins often times taps the international resource, bringing in impact players with an ability to fill immediate roles.
This season, coming off a 2008 campaign that saw UK rank No. 21 and finish second in the Conference USA regular season and tournament championships, Collins brought in three new international players (Lodge, Harrison, Vega). Bringing in international talent is not always an easy or a quick solution, as there is an expected adjustment period in the classroom, on the field and socially.
"It is sometimes difficult. Guys adjust differently," Collins said. "I have gotten a lot of experience over the years dealing with international players, both here and at St. Johns and other schools. Some guys walk right into the school like they have been here for years and for some guys it is like a monster shock to their system. You have to let each guy settle in at their own pace. You can't rush guys on and really force them into something they aren't ready to do. Most of it is mental.
"America is a pretty comfortable country and Kentucky is a pretty comfortable place. Some guys will come in from nothing and walk into this place and they are awestruck a little bit. Sometimes they might get homesick; there are various things they will go through. You kind of look at each guy individually and sometimes you don't see the best out of them until they have settled down."
Griffiths, a senior and native of Bracknell, England, is now in his second season as team captain, a year removed from a first-team All-Conference USA selection by the conference coaches. With 27 career points and as what Collins describes as the "engine of the team," Griffiths is a perfect example of a player who has had success transitioning to the college game.
"Jason had the advantage of being here during the summer and he settled in and immediately became a great player," Collins said. "It can be a difficult transition. It is like moving from America to somewhere else, it is going to take you some time to settle down and some guys just happen to do it quicker."
Not all of the transitions are as easy as Griffiths' transition from England. Dos Santos, who had to learn a new language after moving to Kentucky from Brazil, battled injury early in 2008 and didn't find his form until later in the year. By the end of the season, dos Santos was named C-USA Newcomer of the Year, charting five goals and five assists.
"Marco is one of those guys who took a little bit longer to settle in to life in America and Kentucky," Collins said. "Last year he started slow. No doubt he is talented; everyone who has seen him play can tell that. He had a great finish to the year. In the last eight or nine games he was phenomenal. In the conference title game, he was the best player on the field, in my mind, no question. Now that is all gone; he has to start over this year."
As veteran players, Griffiths, dos Santos and Walker can assist the newcomers who are making that transition to college soccer.
"When all the international players come in, we just try to make them feel at home as best we can," Walker said. "For myself coming in, America is a lot different than Australia in so many different ways. Having been here for a year and knowing what it is like, we just try to get them in and get them over to the house, over to the dorm, take them out to eat. We introduce them to so many people that we already know, it just gets them used to the climate and lets them settle in easier. That also helps them socially and on the field, but they feel more comfortable coming to training and coming to class. It helps them, but it helps us as a team as well."
"For me when I came here, everything was so different, especially learning English," dos Santos said. "I will be a senior this year and having been here for a few years, I have some experience right now with college soccer and I have been trying to share with all the freshmen some of my experiences with soccer and college life. We try to put them in a good position to focus on soccer and school."
Having different academic classes of international players makes the transition easier for Collins.
"It helps because the veteran players have been through it," Collins said. "It gives them a better reference point, gives them a little more of a link right away. That is helpful; it is someone to lean on and someone to really relate to. When you can be around someone who has been through what you are going to go through, then you can really pull from that experience."
The veteran international players help in the transition of the newcomers, but with three English players and an English head coach, it makes Lodge and Harrison feel more at home.
"Being with all the English guys here, it is just like being back at home," Harrison said. "We talk, all the laughter. Some people - it's not a bad thing - but some people just don't get the English sense of humor and with all of us being around here, it just makes it so much easier as a team and as a group to fit in."
When Kentucky opens its season Friday against IUPUI with the UK Invitational at 7:30 p.m. EDT at the UK Soccer Complex, it will be the first real game-action for several new Wildcats. Not only will it be the first game action for some new UK stars, it will be yet another opportunity for Kentucky's bevy of international talent to make a splash.
"(Playing at Kentucky) is just the best opportunity that we could get at the age we are at right now," Harrison said. "The facilities we have been gifted with are better than some of the professional clubs in England. Coming from England to Kentucky is one of the best things I have ever done in my life."
Daily Johnson, Conner update
Posted at 1:36 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
The status of fullback John Conner and linebacker Micah Johnson remains uncertain after Thursday's practice, the last media availability and likely last update head coach Rich Brooks will offer before Saturday's season opener against Miami (Ohio).
Brooks said Conner (sprained ankle) is questionable for Saturday and Johnson (strained foot) is between questionable and probable. Both participated in practice Thursday, but Brooks said they'll have to see how they respond over the next 48 hours.
Brooks said Conner's ankle bothered him a little more than it did Wednesday. Leaving the practice facility Thursday, Conner said his ankle felt OK and that he hoped to play Saturday.
If Conner can't go, senior A.J. Nance and converted tight end Maurice Grinter would fill in for him.
BURDEN NAMED STARTER: Sophomore defensive end Chandler Burden will get the initial nod from Brooks at the left defensive end position opposite DeQuin Evans on Saturday. Brooks made the announcement after practice, although he said earlier in the week that Burden and redshirt freshman Collins Ukwu would basically share the snaps.
KICKOFF CONCERNS: Senior placekicker Lones Seiber could see time on kickoff duties in Saturday's game, Brooks said.
Sophomore punter Ryan Tydlacka is expected to take the majority of kickoffs, but Brooks told reporters Thursday that Tydlacka, who Brooks speculated might be suffering a little bit from a "dead leg," has struggled a little bit lately.
"If we score enough, they'll both probably kick off during the game," Brooks said. "It is something that is a concern."
The loss of punter and kickoff specialist Tim Masthay has been one of Brooks' biggest worries heading into the season.
"I'm holding the seat of my pants when we kick off," Brooks said.