Lots to like in Cats' victory ...

... But special teams still a concern

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 12, 2010 

SEC team plays Sun Belt team.

Not just Sun Belt team, but Sun Belt team that only recently moved from the NCAA's mid-major division up to the big-boy division.

A Sun Belt team that enters the stadium with a 21-game losing streak.

SEC team should take care of business, right?

So does Kentucky's 63-28 romp over visiting Western Kentucky on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium qualify as TCB?

Randall Cobb did return a punt 50 yards for a touchdown, throw for a 15-yard touchdown pass to Moncell Allen and catch a 35-yard touchdown pass from Mike Hartline.

Hartline completed 16 of 20 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns on the night, engineering a Kentucky offense that scored 42 points and gained 267 yards in the first half alone.

Derrick Locke wasn't bad, either, rushing for 102 yards and a score.

But the problem with playing a team like Western Kentucky is that even when you beat a team like Western Kentucky, handing the Hilltoppers their 22nd straight defeat, it's hard to meet expectations, and maybe harder to discern just how much said team has progressed.

For the most part, the UK offense hummed against the Toppers. After his impressive, efficient performance in last Saturday's win over Louisville, Hartline turned in a second straight strong showing. The guy is a senior. His experience is showing. He has not committed a turnover as yet. And that's what senior quarterbacks should do — play good, clean football.

Mel Kiper Jr. did not call Randall Cobb the best all-around player in college football for nothing. Can you imagine if he played at Florida, or Texas, or Southern Cal? He'd be at or near the top of the early Heisman Trophy polls right now. He's that good. We know that. The rest of the country is starting to know that.

And the receivers are getting better. La'Rod King caught a touchdown pass. Matt Roark made some nice moves. Chris Matthews is starting to show signs of reaching his potential. He made a terrific catch on a jump ball/fade pattern in the first half.

And, by the way, true freshman running back Raymond Sanders is going to be really good.

To nit-pick, the special teams had their problems again. Western Kentucky's Willie McNeal returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. After missing a 25-yard field goal and a PAT last week, Ryan Tydlacka missed a 35-yard field goal against the Toppers. The coaches say freshman Joe Mansour has been too inconsistent in practice. Sounds like he may need some accelerated training.

As for the defense, well, maybe Steve Brown should go back up in the box. The UK defensive coordinator decided to come down onto the field, to get a better view this year. He saw his defense allow Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey to rush for 184 yards on 22 carries. That tough little Topper — 5-foot-8, 196 pounds — is a terrific back. He rushed for 155 yards last Saturday at Nebraska.

And, yes, after leading by 28 at the half, Brown played a lot of young, second-teamers in the second half.

Still, when Western drove 80 yards in nine plays for a third-quarter touchdown to cut the Kentucky lead to 42-21, first an animated Joker Phillips and then an even more animated defensive line coach David Turner could be seen giving the defense what-for on the sidelines.

That's the thing about these types of games, it's hard sometimes to get your team's attention. And it doesn't figure to get much easier next week when Akron limps into Lexington. The Zips lost to Gardner-Webb 38-37 on Saturday. (Admit it, you didn't know Gardner-Webb played football.) Akron is 0-2, and another opponent against which Kentucky should take care of business.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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