John Clay: 'It's better to be 1-0 than 0-1'

jclay@herald-leader.comSeptember 2, 2011 

NASHVILLE — It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

Let's hope that's true.

Kentucky lifted the curtain on its 2011 football season with a 14-3 win over Western Kentucky on Thursday night and to be honest, no one was impressed.

"It's better to be 1-0 than 0-1," said quarterback Morgan Newton, "but we've got to do better."

Unimpressive was the crowd of 24,599 on a workday night for a 9:15 p.m. start three-and-a-half hours from campus in what has to go down as a prime example of poor corporate planning.

Unimpressive was the Kentucky offense that managed just 75 yards through three quarters against the defense of a Sun Belt Conference team that proved victorious in just two games last season.

Unimpressive was the UK offensive line, the unit that was supposed to be a team strength, if not the team strength.

Whether it missed cohesion time from too many camp injuries — center Matt Smith did not play Thursday — or suffered from first-night jitters, the offensive line was a major disappointment.

"We said the defense was going to have to carry us until the offense catches up," Coach Joker Phillips said. "It looks like we've got a lot of catching up to do."

Reality: Given its performance, if Kentucky was playing just about any FBS team on Thursday, the Cats would be heading into next Saturday's matchup with Central Michigan sporting an 0-1 record.

"The guys came in and they had their heads down," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "We put a stop to that. Wins are too hard to come by these days."

And yet, on the other side of the ball, Newton struggled through three quarters, until he finally popped loose for a 58-yard scramble, which was followed by a 31-yard touchdown pass to La'Rod King.

Newton bruised his thumb on the very first series, and finished 7-for-18 through the air for just 97 yards with three interceptions.

He didn't get much help from his receivers, however. There were drops, and ricochets, and funky passes that reached players' hands but not their grips.

"The wide receivers, I was very disappointed," Phillips said.

"It starts with me," Newton said.

The one encouraging aspect was Minter's men. The Cats did a good job bottling up Western's star back, Bobby Rainey, who rushed for 184 yards against Kentucky last year. Rainey again topped the 100-yard mark, but he could never shake loose for that one long run.

The Cats also produced turnovers. Winston Guy's pick of a Western Kentucky Hail Mary on the game's final play gave the Cats their fourth interception of the night.

"We got exactly what we've been talking about," Phillips said. "We got minus-yard plays and we got turnovers."

They also turned it over, too. Newton threw a career-high three interceptions. One was a bounce-back that caromed off an official, to offensive lineman Stuart Hines, who caught an earlier pass, and then to a Western Kentucky defender.

That didn't seem to bother Phillips as much as the lack of run production. The Cats gained just 93 yards on the ground in 33 attempts. True freshman Josh Clemons gained 39 yards on 11 carries.

"I would not say we won the physical battle," Phillips said. "We did not run the ball and they did run the ball."

The good news is that it was the first game. It's a 12-game season. At least. But if there isn't a lot of improvement, and soon, there won't be a 13th game.

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. Check out his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/johnclayhl. Follow him on twitter at @johnclayiv.

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