The Thursday night college football game this week features my alma mater, South Carolina and fast-rising Kentucky that is coached by my former defensive coordinator in Atlanta, Rich Brooks.
Kentucky is off to one of its best starts in recent history and is shooting up the Master Coaches Poll at No. 12 this week. South Carolina is not far behind at No. 14, with just one loss coming at No. 1 LSU. Steve Spurrier has done a super job at South Carolina in his short tenure. He has recruited well, particularly in going out and getting players that fit his system. Spurrier will always have a good offensive ballclub, but he has drastically improved his defense over the last couple of years. By having a good defensive team, the Gamecocks are now able to compete each and every week.
Coach Spurrier decided to make a change at quarterback after their loss at LSU. He chose redshirt freshman Chris Smelley over the veteran, Blake Mitchell. Steve knows what it takes to win, and I believe that he is doing what is best for the team. Coaches are in meetings with their players and on the practice field day in and day out. For a very young quarterback, Smelley has done an outstanding job.
South Carolina put 38 points on the board against a scrappy Mississippi State defense and they will only get better as Smelley matures. Rich Brooks will have his hands full when he goes on the road at South Carolina on Thursday night. When I was looking for a defensive coordinator in Atlanta, I had never even considered Rich as an option because I thought he was an offensive coach. The Oregon and St. Louis teams that Rich coached for always had such dynamic offenses, and I just assumed he was an offensive coach.
When I was searching, one of my assistants asked if I had talked to Rich Brooks. I told him that I knew Rich, but I was looking for a defensive coach. I soon discovered that he in fact IS a defensive coach, so I gave him a call. Whenever you talk to Rich, you can’t help but like him because he is such a personable guy. The more I spoke with him, the more I realized that he was exactly what I was looking for in a defensive coordinator. He joined my staff in Atlanta from the St. Louis Rams for two years and together, we reached the Super Bowl. I loved working with Coach Brooks, and he did a tremendous job for me. When he took the head coaching position at Kentucky, I knew he would succeed and he is most definitely proving it this year.
When you look at Brooks’ staff, he has a lot of coaches with experience. Just like you need talented players, you need good coaches as well, and he has a put together a talented, veteran group. I have always believed that as a defensive coach, you know what gives your defense problems, therefore you have a better feel of what to run offensively. Coach Tom Landry was a great example of this in Dallas. He was an outstanding defensive coach, but he also had one of the brightest offensive minds I had ever been around. The same thing goes for Bill Belichick in New England. I believe he knows offense really well because he knows how to stop it.
Kentucky has one of the most potent offenses in the SEC right now because Rich Brooks is running an offense that would most likely give his own defense problems. Not only that, but he has a quarterback that makes good decisions. Andre Woodson broke the NCAA record of another excellent decision-maker, Trent Dilfer, throwing 325 passes without an interception. With his great play thus far, Woodson is now being mentioned as a contender for the Heisman. The toughest teams to beat are those that don’t beat themselves and Kentucky certainly makes you beat them.
I am really looking forward to this match-up between South Carolina and Kentucky. It is going to feature two great college football coaches with teams that are on the rise. I think that Kentucky should have the edge, even though the game will be played at South Carolina. The Wildcats have a lot more experience at quarterback, so if Rich can figure out a way to stop Coach Spurrier's attack, Kentucky should get the job done.