Mark Story: UK woefully short of offensive weapons

UK's lack of star power is glaring in loss

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 2, 2011 

BATON ROUGE, La. — What a difference four years can make.

In 2007, LSU came to Commonwealth Stadium with the nation's No. 1 ranking and a defense reputed to be the nastiest in all of college football.

Kentucky countered with standout quarterback Andre Woodson and a stable — Burton, Johnson, Tamme, Little, Locke, Lyons Jr. — of SEC-caliber playmakers.

What resulted was one of the more electric moments in University of Kentucky sports history.

On Saturday, LSU welcomed Kentucky to Tiger Stadium with the nation's No. 1 ranking and a defense reputed to be the nastiest in all of college football.

Kentucky countered with very little.

Four years after UK upset a top-ranked LSU, a sun-drenched crowd of 92,660 saw the Tigers earn some revenge with a 35-7 plastering.

LSU now is every bit as good, if not better, than the team that went on to claim the BCS national title after that '07 season.

The biggest difference between UK now and the UK of 2007 is the current Kentucky has a glaring, almost shocking, lack of explosive offensive playmakers.

"We are not playing very well on offense, and it shows," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said.

Well, yes.

On Saturday, Kentucky did not record a first down until early in the second quarter. The Cats did not complete a pass until the final minute of the second period. UK did not go over 100 yards total offense until the fourth quarter.

By game's end, UK had punted more often (10 times) than it had completed passes (seven times). The 66 yards the Cats accumulated in the air was the least for Kentucky in a game since Elliot Uzelac's ground-hugging attack had 49 against Alabama in 1996.

UK isn't getting very good quarterback play. After Morgan Newton struggled mightily (2-for-11 passing, 12 yards) in half one, UK opened half number two with freshman Maxwell Smith under center.

"I just thought we needed a spark," Phillips said of the switch.

Smith provided no ignition.

The Californian went 1-for-5 passing for 9 yards, and he gave up a touchdown when he failed to make the proper read of what UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said was a very basic blitz look. Coming off the edge, the fabulous LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu sacked Smith, stripped the ball and ran it for a 23-yard touchdown.

Eventually, UK went back to Newton, who did lead one late scoring drive. But the junior finished with only 57 total passing yards. It is the seventh time in 14 career starts in which the Carmel, Ind., product has failed to throw for 100 yards in a game.

"He's got to play better than he's playing right now," Phillips said of Newton. "He's got to play faster. He's holding the ball way too long. We gave up five sacks again today. We can say it's all the offensive line, but some of that has to come on the quarterback."

UK isn't getting very good wide receiver play.

Against an LSU secondary considered by many the best in college football, UK's wideouts often had difficulty even getting off the line. Kentucky leading receiver La'Rod King had only two catches for (a team-high) 31 yards. E.J. Fields, star of the Louisville game, had one reception. The much-maligned Matt Roark led the Cats with four catches (19 yards) and had his first career TD reception.

Frustration seems to be mounting.

I asked King how good he thought the LSU cornerbacks were.

"Is that a serious question?" he snapped.

Yes, it is.

"They weren't what I expected them to be," King said of the LSU corners. "We should have taken more shots in my opinion. But that's all I have to say about that."

UK is getting decent running back play.

Showing nice forward lean and the willingness to run tough between the tackles, true freshman Josh Clemons ran for 69 yards on 21 carries against a stout LSU defensive front. Yet as promising as Clemons seems to be, he has yet to show — in an admittedly small sample of two tries — against elite SEC speed (Florida and LSU) that he can be a game breaker.

Kentucky had those kind of players in 2007, when it stunned No. 1 LSU.

With Randall Cobb drawing paychecks a year early in Green Bay, Wis., UK did not bring that type of explosiveness to Death Valley to face No. 1 LSU in 2011.

So the Cats got smashed.

What a difference four years can make.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230.

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