The University of Kentucky football team earned a week off with a 42-0 win over Miami University on Saturday. The Wildcats have an open date this week before preparing for the Sept. 19 home opener with Louisville, the first of 11 straight games to close out the season.
When the UK schedule was announced, some expressed concern over the Cats having a bye so early and having to play so many games in a row to close the season. But Coach Rich Brooks said the timing isn't all that bad because now he has a teaching tool for the seven Wildcats who made their first career starts (tight Ross Bogue, receiver Chris Matthews, right guard Stuart Hines, defensive ends Chandler Burden and DeQuin Evans, linebacker Danny Trevathan, safety Winston Guy).
UK will take its usual Monday off, practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then get Friday and Saturday off before returning to its normal game week routine next Sunday.
"Schedules are schedules," Brooks said. "Open dates happen when they happen. Some teams go a year without an open date. In our situation, we got a game under our belt and got a good win, now we go about correcting things with players who were playing extensively for the first time. Now we can put it on film, and as I tell players over and over, films don't lie. It exposes the really bad things you do and shows the very good things you do."
On paper, it didn't seem like Brooks had anything to gripe about. UK had its best offensive performance in more than a year, pitched its first shutout in 13 years, committed no turnovers and had only three penalties.
But Brooks pointed to multiple assignment errors that need to be cleaned up.
"There were some mistakes technique wise and some assignment errors in the kicking game, on defense and on offense," Brooks said. "If we don't correct those things they will cost us football games as we move forward."
The Kentucky defensive line, which featured two new starters in Evans and Burden, also didn't generate the type of pressure that Brooks had hoped for. UK recorded two sacks, but one was by Guy on a safety blitz and the other was by backup Taylor Wyndham late in the fourth quarter.
"We did not play with the speed, and did not get off on the snap as well as we need to," Brooks said. "We were tentative at both defensive end spots. We need to pick up our play in that area."
Brooks said he will continue to evaluate freshman Morgan Newton to see if he can challenge for the No. 3 quarterback position but won't burn Newton's redshirt unless he feels Newton is ready to contribute.
"Morgan Newton can do some things, but I'm certainly not going to blow a year by playing him some meaningless snaps in the fourth quarter of a blowout," Brooks said.
UK's other freshman quarterback, Ryan Mossakowski will likely redshirt. Brooks said Mossakowski, who underwent shoulder surgery last winter, could benefit from a year in the weight room.
Newton and Mossakowski, who were considered candidates to challenge Hartline when they signed in February, could both end up redshirting.
"You just have to get on the practice field and see the progress of other people as well," Brooks said when asked about evaluating Newton and Mossakowski. "Neither one of them early on in fall camp jumped off the chart at you. They responded in a lot of ways like most freshmen do. They're clearly better than any freshmen we've had, but that doesn't mean they're ready to go in and take snaps at this level. We'll give Morgan more of the reps in practice to give him more of a chance to see if he can help us win in case of injury. I think the important thing is to focus on the play of Mike Hartline and his improvement and what he's doing for this football team."
The situation with UK's three freshmen running backs seems to be sorting itself out. Jonathan George looked like a candidate for playing time until spraining his ankle in fall camp. Another freshman, Donald Russell, was the fifth tailback to see action for the Wildcats against Miami. Brooks said now that Russell has seen action, it's likely that George and Dakotah Tyler will redshirt.
Sophomore linebacker Danny Trevathan will have surgery on Monday to repair a fractured bone in his wrist. Trevathan played in a cast in the Miami game and will have a pin placed in the bone to help the healing process. Trevathan will be held from contact for a week and will continue to play in a cast.
Senior fullback John Conner is expected to return to practice next Sunday after missing the Miami game with a sprained ankle. Also, cornerback Cartier Rice didn't make the trip for the Miami game after team doctors discovered a hip flexor injury on Friday. Brooks hopes Rice can return to practice later in the week.