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sec east runs through woodson's hands..


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sec east runs through woodson's hands

kentucky qb can affect outcome against uga, vols

by thomas stinson

the atlanta journal-constitution

published on: 11/17/07 lexington, ky. the kid who can determine the fate of the sec's eastern division doesn't play for one of the contenders. he learned to throw with his mother in the backyard. he is a kinesiology major and soft-spoken. only last year, he almost quit.

but in these heady times of kentucky football, andre' woodson has become his own weather system, and georgia, which fell before him just last season, must withstand uk today at sanford stadium to retain any chance for a divisional title. one week from now, tennessee may also have to beat woodson to secure the title from the bulldogs.

in that way, kentucky's sweet-slinging 23-year-old quarterback becomes the league's most interesting component this final month. and that is a reward in itself.

"andre' became a different quarterback last year," uk coach rich brooks said. "he's following up on it this year."

"the way he throws the ball, the way he handles himself, the way he's grown as a leader," tight end jacob tamme said, "that all gives you the confidence that when he's in there, we can do anything."

woodson leads the sec in passing yards per game (265.3 yards), touchdown passes (29) and has a string of 16 games with at least 200 yards and one touchdown pass. though his ncaa record of 325 consecutive attempts without an interception ended in september, he will throw to anyone anywhere on the field, which becomes georgia's biggest peril this afternoon.

four uk receivers have 38 catches or more. seven players have caught scoring passes. eight of woodson's touchdowns have covered at least 30 yards. four have gone 50 yards or more. in six of uk's past 11 wins, the wildcats trailed in the fourth quarter before woodson pulled them out.

for the first time since 1964, kentucky has beaten two top-10 teams, and woodson was all over both of them. he threw for four touchdowns to brian brohm's two in a 40-34 win over then-no. 9 louisville on sept. 15. he threw for three more in the 43-37 overtime win over then-no. 1 lsu on oct. 13. even in losing 45-37 to florida the following weekend, woodson passed for 415 yards and five touchdowns, compared to tim tebow's 256 and four.

great mechanics

yet it is how he delivers the ball that, in some ways, is more striking than his numbers. at a lanky 6-foot-5, his mechanics remain nearly flawless, each ball delivered from the fingertips, released with a final flick. off the nfl boards two years ago, he has played himself into first-round consideration for the spring draft with a technique he taught himself in junior high while throwing to his mother, robin.

so how did her fingers hold up?

"they're looking better now," woodson said.

keenan burton, the wildcats' leading receiver, saw woodson play only once in high school, when burton's dupont manual high faced woodson's north hardin team from fort knox in the 2002 playoffs. north hardin was a running team but burton still couldn't believe his eyes.

"it amazes me how effortless it is," burton said. "i look at films and he just flicks it out there with one smooth motion. no hitch. he has such great touch.

"when i have to make a hard catch, a one-handed catch, it's such a tight spiral that you can just cradle it in. some quarterbacks have a wobbly spiral. i don't think i've ever seen andre' throw a wobbly ball."

new coach helps growth

none of this might have been possible if woodson in the summer of 2006 had not walked into the office of randy sanders his third position coach in three years and admit he didn't really know what he was doing, from comprehending defense alignments all the way down to running a huddle.

following a 3-8 season in his first year as a starter, woodson had been demoted to the second team after the 2006 spring practice.

but sorting through his anger, woodson came to realize that for his first three years on campus, he had been merely skating. he had achieved nothing.

"he was used to getting by just on his ability," brooks said.

sanders, fired at tennessee after 22 years, liked plenty about woodson but came to question if he understood the composition of the complete quarterback. it was a demeaning process and woodson had to reconsider if football was worth it, before submitting himself to sanders.

that choice changed his life.

"there was a lot i had to learn," woodson said. "coach sanders helped me understand what it was going to take to be a leader really step up, take control of the huddle, demand more out of the players at times, look them in the eye and tell them, 'i run this huddle. i run this team.'

"obviously, i didn't know a lot about that and he really helped to open my eyes."

last fall revealed a different player, which in turn led to a different kentucky team. spiked by pivotal win over georgia woodson engineered a 69-yard drive in the final two minutes to pull out a 24-20 victory kentucky finished 8-5, the most wins by the program in 22 years.

stellar senior season

today, he intends to become the first uk quarterback to ever beat georgia in consecutive years.

"he has a unique ability to really think fast," said sanders, who worked with a generation of tennessee quarterbacks, peyton manning chief among them. "i've coached ball players where you can give them all the information and if they have two or three seconds to process it, they can give you the right answer every time.

"well, you don't have two or three seconds as a quarterback. you got it do it like that. and he can do it like that."

in a season that had certified a host of top-flight quarterbacks tebow, brohm, oregon's dennis dixon, missouri's chase daniel, hawaii's colt brennan, boston college's matt ryan, west virginia's pat white andre' woodson will yield to none.

a semifinalist for both the maxwell award (player of the year) and the davey o'brien award (top quarterback), he needs just 132 more yards to pass tim couch (8,435 yards) for second place in uk's career passing list. he will not catch all-time leader jared lorenzen (10,354) but then, lorenzen quarterbacked just one winning season in lexington and he never managed to beat georgia.

yet the kid who can determine the sec east also plays today with a regret for the time passed, the opportunities lost.

"for me, the harder i practice, the more film i watch, the better understanding i have of the game, the defenses, where to go with the ball, what plays to get the offense into, and things become easier," woodson said. "if i would have the opportunity to work with coach sanders for four years, there's no telling how good i could be right now."

right now, he is more than good enough.

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