I spoke with SEC Network play-by-play announcer Dave Neal for this week’s “Pick Six” heading into LSU’s game Saturday with Kentucky. Neal, who has worked the SEC Game of the Week for 13 seasons, will make the call for Saturday’s 11:21 a.m. contest. Here’s the Q and A:
You called Kentucky’s season opening 14-3 win over Western Kentucky and you’ve studied them heading into this game. This was a bowl team last year and now they’re really struggling with perhaps the worst offense in the SEC. What’s wrong with the Wildcats?
It’s not that they lost Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline. One glaring stat for them is that their quarterback has been 16 times this year. The past few years Kentucky was one of the SEC’s best teams at not getting sacked. Hartline wasn’t flashy, but he was solid. (This year’s starting QB) Morgan Newton is having to work his way into being the same type of quarterback, but he hasn’t come along as quickly as they have hoped. Kentucky is certainly facing an uphill challenge. They don’t run well, they don’t have the pieces they had a year ago and they’ve had to play a lot of young guys. They just haven’t evolved into the team they hoped to be a month into the season.
That said, LSU players say they expect Kentucky’s best shot in part because of the Tigers’ No. 1 ranking. Do you think the ranking will help the Wildcats’ effort?
It helps. That (48-10) loss at home to Florida hurts, and maybe if they were playing another opponent it would be tough for them to rebound. But the fact they are playing the No. 1 team in the country gives them a reason to try harder. And I will say while most of them weren’t around in 2007 (when UK beat No. 1 LSU 43-37 in 3 OTs) it is still talked about. Who wouldn’t want to play No. 1?
You haven’t called a game in Tiger Stadium since 2006. Now you get to come back and LSU is ranked No. 1. You have to be pretty excited.
No question. SEC football is great anytime you get a game, but you throw in the added bonus of having the No. 1 team in the country coming off a great win at West Virginia is huge for the SEC Network.
People talk about how LSU fans hate playing day games, but I’ve been there lot in the last 13 years and I’ve always been treated with kindness by the LSU fans. They know their time (for an early game) comes up every once while. I look forward to come there. I really enjoy being around the LSU fans in every sport.
I was surprised to see that stations in 28 states will be carrying Saturday’s game. You did games in this time slot for Jefferson Pilot and Lincoln Financial, but this is a much bigger broadcast now, isn’t it?
It’s not the old school Raycom/JP umbrella. We go into Alaska and Los Angeles and New York. It’s truly a national game, unlike a few years ago. The way it used to be, Raycom really had to stay within the SEC footprint. Under the new (SEC/ESPN contract) those boundaries have been wiped out. It truly gives us a national identity. It replaces an SEC Network channel, if you will, if ESPN promised national distribution. ESPN went out and got about 80 million households. It’s the third-largest ESPN platform on Saturday besides ESPN and ESPN2. It’s a pretty good deal.
You had the call on LSU’s “Bluegrass Miracle” victory at Kentucky on 2002. Do people still ask you about it?
It’s unbelievable. If there’s one game I’m tied to of the 200 or so I’ve done, it’s the Bluegrass Miracle. I was playing in a golf tournament on Monday and the group of guys I’m playing with on the third hole start asking me about the LSU-Kentucky game. Here we are, nine years later, and people still remember that play like it happened last week. It’s truly amazing how that game has lived on. It wasn’t a game that determined a championship, it just happened to be one of those games in the SEC that had a fantastic finish. If it happened in the ACC, I don’t think it would get talked about as much. I’m glad I was a part of it.
You’ve often said at the end of a game you’re usually getting ready to bolt out of the press box as soon as it ends, but that for some reason you decided to pay close attention to the last moments of that LSU-Kentucky contest.
It was a great learning experience. Sometimes in the last minute of the game I’m getting my stuff together, putting my notes in my briefcase, but for whatever reason I never took my eyes off the field. I don’t know what it was. I felt something would happen. Maybe not the finish we got, but the fans interrupting the game or tearing down the goalposts or something. I locked in to the play. I’m just glad I didn’t screw it up.