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Three reasons for optimism in Kentucky’s offense

Not everyone is oozing with excitement when talking about football. Fans of the Big Blue may look at the five-win season from a year ago, see many of the same faces and expect identical results. Not so fast, my friend. Believe it or not, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the direction of Kentucky football. You don’t have to be the biggest Joker Phillips fan to appreciate the positives that the program does have.

 

A QUARTERBACK COMPETITION AFTER ALL

It seemed unlikely heading into fall camp, but Joker Phillips and his staff continue to say that Morgan Newton is further along in his re-development than we initially thought. Throw freshman sensation Patrick Towles into the mix and you have a three-way battle for starting quarterback along with current favorite Maxwell Smith.

Smith seems to be a step ahead in the race, having practiced with the first-team throughout the spring. Taking over for Newton after he went down with an injury, Smith earned the fan’s good-will late in the year, throwing for 770 yards and four touchdowns in just four starts. Newton has watched Smith take the limelight for the past nine months. How will that affect him? The coaching staff seems to think it has in a positive and competitive way.

It’s all between the ears for Newton. How will he respond after the rehab from his surgically repaired shoulder? Some players come back better than ever after sitting out awhile and getting a “new life,” but others whither and fade away under the pressure. Will Newton find a new sense of urgency to make it a competition? All indications are he wants that starting job, and is willing to work for it.

As for Towles, it is likely he gets the redshirt. It’s only fair to him to not have the pressure thrown on him as a true freshman coming into the mighty SEC. But he will surely be a factor in camp and make everyone better as he showcases the talent of the future. Plenty of fans called for Bookie Cobbins to break out of his redshirt last season and play quarterback, but Joker Phillips stuck to his guns and saved his three-star athlete for another year.

And I won’t forget Jalen Whitlow either; the quarterback from Prattville, Alabama who Joker Phillips has praised will be a difference-maker. Though it seems likely his services will be better suited at another position, much like Cobbins’ move to wide receiver.

With three players at quarterback who are hungry for a starting role, and a fourth as an unexpected possibility, it will make everyone at the position better. Whether it’s Smith, Newton, Towles, or Whitlow all four are going to be improved come September 2nd when a decision has to be made for good.

 

EXPERIENCE AND DEPTH AT SKILL POSITIONS

A season ago, Kentucky was rotating a lot of freshman on the field. A blessing in disguise, perhaps, as those young players have now had a full season of SEC experience under their belt. The jitters should now be well beyond them and the development phase of Joker Phillips’ system begins to show its effects.

But it wasn’t just freshmen; Kentucky had a few old guys too. They lost five starters from the offensive side of the ball and four of them were offensive lineman. The only non-lineman who is not returning is wide receiver and Tennessee-beater Matt Roark, so skill positions for Kentucky remain loaded. Make no mistake, it is going to take a herculean effort to shore up the front line to true SEC caliber, but Matt Smith and Larry Warford are two solid anchors that will help the new guys find their spot.

The wide receiving corps is led by senior La’Rod King, who is one of the better pass catchers in the conference. Young guns Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins are poised to be breakout players for the Cats as they have SEC speed and size built in. Utilizing the experience of Gene McCaskill and E.J. Fields as some added depth, there are plenty of guys to haul in the football whoever may be throwing it. A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat are two freshmen that have the coaching staff buzzing as well.

CoShik Williams, Raymond Sanders, Josh Clemons and Jonathan George make up the best position Kentucky has on the entire team. The four running backs each showed flashes of brilliance a season ago, and Joker Phillips’ platoon is poised to have a big year on the ground. Success in the running game hinges greatly on how well the line opens holes, but each player offers a unique skill set, be it speed, agility, brute force or a balanced attack, that may be able to work around a weaker line. Depending on the situation, Phillips will rotate a fresh tailback in to move the chains. As icing on the cake, newcomer Dy’Shawn Mobley is getting talked about a lot, and Joker Phillips makes it sound like he could be a record-holder when his tenure with the Wildcats is finished.

 

PLAY CALLING WILL BE MORE EXCITING

The inconsistent passing game for Kentucky was a glaring weakness in an offense that ranked near the bottom in all of division-I football. For reasons already mentioned, the quarterback competition and returning depth and raw talent at wide out give reason to expect a drastic improvement. But the coaches have a change in philosophy that may lead to better results as well.

At SEC Media day last week, Joker Phillips talked about the need for “explosion plays.” Those being the big 30- or 40-yard gains on an air-it-out pass or a breakthrough run. He said it is too much to expect an offense to regularly drive the ball 80 yards on 18 or 20 plays for a touchdown, especially against SEC defenses. Teams with big momentum plays win more ballgames. Kentucky needs more of that, and one way of doing it is stealing a page out of Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense. Take advantage of your play makers on the outside. Cut them loose and throw it out there for King, Robinson or Collins to come down with.

Kentucky quarterbacks averaged 4.8 yards per pass last season, good for dead-last out of all 120 NCAA division-I football teams. A predictable offense is a bad offense. Joker Phillips had a few trick plays up his sleeve last season, and they worked more than once, but it was never a regular wrench in the system. It seems simple: the more variables a defense as to game plan against, the less prepared they are as a whole for your attack on any given Saturday. Last season teams could stack the box against the Cats, regardless of down or situation. It was too simple to keep the ball in front of them. That will surely change this season.

When it is all said and done, wins and losses likely won’t tell the whole story. The Cats could certainly underwhelm, even for the most modest predications. But they could just as easily fly under the radar and shock a few teams en route to an exciting season. More than likely though, the results will fall somewhere in the middle, and fans will undoubtedly call for Joker’s head. But those blindly following their record may be missing the bigger picture.

Article written by Stuart Hammer

B.S. Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kentucky. @StuartHammerKSR

28 Comments for Three reasons for optimism in Kentucky’s offense



  1. Jokersajoke
    2:20 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Number one recruiting class, big time momentum, keep the snowball rolling downhill. We are gonna have a sick season; bigtime repeat potential



  2. J-Hi
    2:30 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I honestly can’t tell if this is written as a joke or he’s trying to be serious.
    Quarterback competition – maybe they just all suck. (and for the record, Max Smith did NOT win my good will with his 192 yds and 1 TD per game)
    Experience and depth at skill positions – first of all…no. Just no. And secondly, O-line is not a skill position.
    Play calling – you’ve got to be kidding. Joker has given NO indication he is willing to open it up.



  3. theWilkman
    2:31 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    There’s no way to go but up!



  4. ukcat58
    2:40 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Same hype as last year – Joker is a joke, way over his head – Sept 2nd will be the begining of the end, more excuses. ( We will lose by 21 or more) If we are lucky it will be a 3-9 season -we are the OLD VANDERBILT; no respect! Coach Franklin of Vandy gets it – Joker does not – The SEC media days with Joker was an embarasement for the fans of UK. Keep dreaming, UK FB will break your heart, again –



  5. TrueFan
    2:43 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I agree with the entire article. No joke and 2.) if u could read he did not call the o-line a skilled position, there is depth at the skill postions we lost 4 O-linemen last year so therefore we do not have depth at that position. Simple reasoning must be above you.



  6. Union Farmer
    2:47 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Best case scenario for Joker, if everything goes perfect for him, he’ll be 5-6 headed into Knoxville with his career on the line in the last game of the season.



  7. knightynight
    2:51 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    #4 – are you embarrassed that you can’t spell embarrassment?



  8. ukcat58
    2:54 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    # 7 Not as embarrased as Joker will be on Sept 2nd



  9. r
    2:59 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    7: pedant.



  10. kes
    3:04 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    we were told LAST SEASON that the O- line would be the strength of the team, how did that work out?



  11. Maxwell
    3:10 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I must be one of the few who is really excited about football season. With that being said, we better start Maxwell Smith (or Towles if Smith doesn’t make the cut). There is no reason to start Morgan Newton this year. Was Maxwell Smith elite in his 4 starts last year? No. Was our offense more explosive with Smith running the show? Absolutely. Remember how we owned Ole Miss in the 4th quarter last year? That was Maxwell Smith. He needs to be our quarterback and Towles needs to redshirt (assuming Smith stays healthy).



  12. Dear IU and UL, We are National Champs; you are not. The end.
    3:10 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Joker might want to consider throwing the ball over the line of scrimmage this year then.



  13. St. Paul Raiders
    3:24 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I REALLY want to believe that there is reason for optimism this season, but two years of play calling/production/results says otherwise. I’ll hold out hope through the UL game and I honestly believe that we’ll know all we need to know for the rest of the season based on how the coaching staff chooses to handle the game. Will we see a coach calling plays, making personnel decisions, and showing the fire that says “I know my job is on the line?” Or do we see the same stubbornness and lack of creativity that has been the hallmark of the current leadership? Like I said, I’ll give it one game and I think we’ll know what we’ll be getting the rest of the way.



  14. Head Bussa
    3:28 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I do not think it is likely Towles gets a redshirt. We will play Towles at some point this season, just wait and see.



  15. Head Bussa
    3:30 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Joker’s playcalling is Joker’s playcalling. It will not change. He has a system and it will be the same. His playcalling has always been the same. Why do people think all of the sudden he’ll be making play calls like Bobby Petrino? I just think it so naive to think otherwise.



  16. mike d
    3:35 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I feel like this article is a NotJerryTipton in reverse



  17. bosshogg24
    3:47 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Unless Randy Sanders goes to OC School between now and the Ul game, it will be 3 runs into the middle of the line and punt! Good Luck with promises!



  18. ahhh hell
    3:54 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    100+ years of UK football, and guess what??? The players and coaches ALWAYS say ‘things are different this year’ – ‘we’re better’ – ‘high powered.’ I am so frigging tired of getting my hopes up that things will actually be different – but reality sets in by game 4 (florida), and we get our azzes handed to us. This year, I’m afraid – reality will set in at about halftime of the uofl game. Joker never is prepared for games, and always looks lost on the sideline.



  19. finally
    4:51 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Is there anyway we can get somebody to write an article on the recruiting at UK in the early 2000’s vs. the recruiting in the first part of this decade? I just kinda quickly went through scout.com and looked at last yrs recruiting class and this yrs recruiting class for UK and just compared it to other schools in remote locations, with bigger programs in state taking most the talent, or that are simply smaller schools with smaller fanbases. These programs however were very good recently, are competitive each year, or are close in proximity to UK. These programs are; Baylor, Texas Tech, Utah, Boise St, Illinois, Houston, Indiana, Louisville, SMU, Southern Miss, Vandy, Iowa, Georgia Tech, and West Virginia. It would be really interesting to show UKs fans that are constantly bashing our recruiting just how much it has improved and how it compares to these other programs. If they dont like the coach, fine, that gives them no right to verbally abuse our players and bash a new recruit that hasnt even been evaluated yet just because he isnt ranked. Fans should support the players at all times regardless of who the coach is. Our team wont need any locker room material from other schools this year, their own fans provide it every day on certain websites around here, and that is absolutely pathetic.



  20. wakecat
    5:10 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    I almost stopped reading after the line, “Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins are poised to be breakout players for the Cats as they have SEC speed and size built in.” Demarco Robinson is listed as 5’10” and a whopping 158 lbs. SEC size indeed.
    I did stop reading after you indicate Sanders, Williams, George and Clemons, “showed flashes of brilliance.” 1,128 combined yards from that quartet last season. That would be considered good, not brilliant, if it were the stats for one returning back.



  21. rick
    6:05 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Best thing to do is stop caring. I go back to John Ray as coach. Firing the coach never helps. Opening up the offense doesn’t work when you don’t have the right players. Impossible to get enough good players to make a difference here. Why are we still having the same conversations over and over about how to fix this thing. It’s broke, throw it out and forget about it.



  22. finally
    7:40 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    21) but thats just it. it CAN be done, and should be! other school in similar geographic predicaments have managed to bring in equal or less than equal talent and win with it…and win big too in some cases. look at what Boise St does every year, ever see their recruiting classes in the top 10 with the elites of the college football world? no. but you also never see the kind of negativity around their program that you see around UK’s. If the oonly difference is the coaching and the development of players then by all means fire joker! however, take a look back at last years roster and you guys tell me how we could’ve done any better? we were riddled with injuries, very young, and inexperienced. there were a few bright spots, but not near enough. There is a reason we were so young though, and thats because joker doesnt let nuckleheads stay on the team like they do at Florida, UGA, LSU, ect. Joker has kicked many players off the team for off the field issues and has many others transfer out. I know its normal to lose a few, but not as many as we did the last 2-3 years. Our D was solid last year, the stats are just skewed because they were out on the field too long since the offense couldnt sustain any drives and give them a rest. Is that the fault of Randy Sanders and our Offense? no. He was playing with either a banged up O-line, walk-on RB, only one legit WR threat, and a true freshman QB. Give these boys a chance this year and IF they can stay healthy, piece together an O-line, and play RICK MINTER DEFENSE then these boys will surprise all yall haters and program bashers!



  23. CatGrad7072
    8:21 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    22; Like 21, I go back to Charlie Bradshaw (prior to John Ray-he was supposed to be the savior since he came from Notre Dame). We are great at the old ‘iffin game’; always have been, always will be.
    It CAN’T be done, not this year, not ever with Joker and Mitch at the controls.



  24. BeattheSEC
    8:39 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    Your comment: “Young guns Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins are poised to be breakout players for the Cats as they have SEC speed and size built in.” Demarco is 5’10”, 160 lbs, the smalled guy on the team. Brings a chuckle, Demarco is the smallest of the entire team. That is SEC size alright!



  25. Stuart Hammer
    8:57 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    20, 24 – So you don’t expect Demarco Robinson to have a good season? Prepare to have your foot meet your mouth, because the kid is a stud. I don’t care what his vitals say, the guy can and will play in the SEC.



  26. Al
    10:40 pm August 7, 2012 Permalink

    #23. My memory is Jerry Claiborne was the source of the “if fin game” comment



  27. erniecat
    1:09 am August 8, 2012 Permalink

    #13 Why don’t you just move on,UK don’t need your kind of fan support.



  28. erniecat
    1:17 am August 8, 2012 Permalink

    #19 These are not fans of Ky.If your’re a fan you don’t belittle your players all the time. I wish they would just move down to the big ville.