LOUISVILLE — Chuck Smith knows Kentucky fans were disappointed with the way Kentucky played in January’s BBVA Compass Bowl loss to Pittsburgh. However, he says it was not just fans who were upset.
“There is not one person that was part of the University of Kentucky that was satisfied with going 6-7 (last season),” Smith, UK’s recruiting coordinator/linebackers coach, said during a talk Tuesday to the Louisville Quarterback Club. “That is not acceptable. That is going to change. We are not going to rest until that changes.
“The bowl game was kind of disturbing to all of us. We had 18-19 practices, and I¿thought they were good practices. For whatever reasons, we never settled down and played solid defense. We went with a new coordinator (Rick Minter) and installed a new system that in hindsight we did not understand as well as we could or should.
“Offensively, our quarterback (Mike Hartline) was suspended, and they never got on track. It was all just very disheartening not only for fans, but for players and coaches as well. Maybe we were too tight. I¿don’t know. But I¿know it can’t happen again.”
Even though Smith coaches defense, he was asked about UK’s offense and have to replace Hartline, running back Derrick Locke, and receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews.
“In defense of Morgan, he did not get much time at quarterback during the season and had to split reps with Ryan (Mossakowski) in practice and then he got threw in there at quarterback in the bowl game,” Smith said. “In fairness to Morgan, it was Hartline’s team. They were comfortable with him and believed in him. Then boom, he got suspended.
“I don’t think the bowl game was a fair evaluation of Morgan. I¿think a fairer evaluation will be this fall and I think he will do well.”
Smith said Kentucky won’t replace Cobb, a second-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers and a threat to score running, receiving, returning kicks or even throwing.
“Other people have to give more. You always have star players leave,” Smith, a Louisville native, said. “What this does is give an opportunity for new stars to be born. We have good talent coming back and some good young players.”
The defense returns veterans, but Smith noted Minter’s defense will be far more aggressive than the one run by former coordinator Steve Brown.
“It is a pressure defense. If you like blitzing, you will like this defense,” Smith told the audience, which club officials said was bigger than the previous month’s attendance to hear Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. “We bring pressure based on formations, backfield sets, boundaries. It has a lot of versatility. There’s going to be a lot of pressure, moving around and an attacking style.”
Brown’s defense sometimes had trouble making third down stops. Smith says Minter has addressed stopping third-and-long plays and has a “plan” to get the Wildcats off the field.
“I don’t see a problem with us blitzing or dropping back in coverage at any point. Coach Minter is not afraid to do whatever it takes to make the defense work.¿He won’t be predictable,” Smith said. “He has done a good job of putting the best players on the field at the same time. He won’t sub just to sub. He’s moved people to best use their skills and abilities to make plays and help us win.”
He says Minter also has a way to neutralize advantages offenses have by getting to the line of scrimmage, waiting for the defense to set and then checking into a play to take advantage of that defense.
“Our defense is going to have the same kind of ability to adjust,” Smith said. “We will call two or three defenses in the huddle and we will get in the best defense to give us leverage and get a stop based on the formation we see. That will be a big advantage for us. We are going to adjust and blitz to the formation.”
That could bode well for Smith’s linebackers, especially all-Southeastern Conference pick Danny Trevathan and converted safety Winston Guy.
“We’ve had five all-SEC linebackers in the last five years and Danny may be the best of the bunch. Winston has looked very, very good. He’s very athletic and explosive. I look for him to have a big year,” Smith said. “Maybe he’ll have an all-SEC year. If everything falls into place, we would have two all-SEC linebackers in Danny and Winston.”
Smith also offered these tidbits of information:
n Mychal Bailey, last year’s starting safety, will not have his academic status for next season known until summer session ends. Junior safety Dakota Tyler will not be on the team this season.
n He said if he could have voted for the Heisman Trophy, he would have given his vote to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, too.
“That quarterback was every bit 6-6, 230. He was a man among boys,” Smith said.
n He says UK is “on the verge of taking the next step in the SEC” and winning more games.
“The SEC is the best conference in America. We have got some work to do to get to the upper level,” Smith said. “It is up to us to catch up. They are not going to stay the same. They keep improving and have the resources to do that. It’s important for us to have the same resources to move up to where they are.”
n Smith says Kentucky’s fan base is a “plus” in recruiting.
“Our fan base is special. I use that a lot in recruiting. I tell recruits Kentucky is unique because there is not a NFL team and our Kentucky football and basketball players are the celebrities in our state. There is even a large portion of Louisville that follows Kentucky. We do not have to share celebrity status like a lot of states do. That’s a reason to play for Kentucky.”