Mark Story: Kentucky football not getting production recruiting rankings suggested

Cats' offense getting little bang for recruiting buck

mstory@herald-leader.comOctober 7, 2011 

  • How UK recruits have panned out

    The offensive skill players Kentucky has signed in its past four recruiting seasons and how they have turned out, listed with star ratings from the Rivals.com and Scout.com recruiting Web sites:

    2008

    Player Pos. R/S Comment

    Eric Adeyemi WR 2/2 18 receptions in UK career; transferred to Kent State after sophomore year

    Aaron Boyd WR 4/4 Six career receptions for 51 yards in UK career

    Randall Cobb WR 3/2 Became First Team AP All-American before turning pro after three years

    E.J. Fields WR 3/3 10 career receptions, all in last three games

    Deaunte Mason QB 2/2 Never played at UK; now starting QB at Alabama A&M

    Gene McCaskill WR 2/2 35 career catches in career hampered by injuries

    Matt Roark WR 3/3 27 career catches and six blocked kicks at UK

    Sean Stackhouse TE 2/3 Played in six games at UK; transferred to Chattanooga

    2009

    Brian Adams WR 2/3 Five career receptions so far at UK

    Jordan Aumiller TE 2/2 18 catches last season; none so far in 2011

    Justin Bean WR NR/2 Never made it to UK

    Jonathan George RB 2/2 14 carries, 48 yards this season

    Anthony Kendrick WR 3/3 Three career receptions, none this year

    La'Rod King WR 3/3 Leading UK with 21 receptions in 2011; 67 catches, 10 TDs in his career

    Chris Matthews WR 4/3 Junior-college transfer had 61 catches, 9 TDs as senior in 2010

    Terrell Mitchell TE 3/3 Never made it to UK

    Ryan Mossakowski QB 4/4 Had shoulder surgery before arriving at UK; never threw a pass in a game

    before transferring to Northwest Mississippi Community College

    Morgan Newton QB 3/4 In 14 career UK starts, has thrown for 100 yards or less seven times

    Donald Russell RB 3/2 Ran for 293 yards last season; transferred to Georgia State this season

    Dakotah Tyler RB 3/2 Moved to safety; not currently on UK team

    2010

    Tyler Brause QB 3/3 Moved to linebacker

    Brandon Gainer RB 3/3 Four carries, 6 yards this season

    Tyler Robinson TE 2/2 15 catches, one TD so far in career

    Raymond Sanders RB 3/3 Was UK's starting tailback this season until knee injury

    Ronnie Shields TE 2/2 Two catches for 10 yards this year as redshirt freshman

    Miles Simpson RB 3/3 Moved to safety

    Alex Smith TE 4/3 Transferred to Georgia State without ever playing at UK

    2011

    Marcus Caffey RB 3/3 Has not yet played

    Josh Clemons RB 3/3 UK's leading rusher so far in 2011 with 269 yards

    Bookie Cobbins QB 3/3 Is getting looks at wide receiver; has not yet played

    Daryl Collins WR 3/3 Was contending for starting spot before being sidelined all season by injury

    Rashad Cunningham WR 3/3 Has not yet played

    Nile Daniel WR 3/3 Was not certified academically eligible by the NCAA

    Alvin Dupree TE 3/3 Switched to DE/OLB; has three tackles

    Josh Forrest TE/WR 3/2 Switched to DE/OLB; has not yet played

    Demarco Robinson WR 3/3 Five catches for 17 yards as true freshman

    Maxwell Smith QB 3/2 7-of-16 passing for 50 yards this season

    Bubba Tandy WR 3/3 Was not certified academically eligible by the NCAA

    D.J. Warren FB 2/2 Running first string as a true freshman

    Compiled by Mark Story

At his weekly news conference Monday, Joker Phillips lamented the lack of offensive play-making Kentucky has displayed this season.

"We've sort of gotten caught this year without (playmakers)," the UK football coach said, "especially guys making plays down the field."

Asked if that reflects poorly on UK's recent recruiting, Phillips answered by pointing instead to the decision of Randall Cobb to turn pro a year early.

"We lost a pretty good one that we expected to be here also," Phillips said. "Did you expect three years ago that a guy would leave here as a junior? No."

If you are asking why through five games of 2011 UK has an attack ranked No. 118 out of 120 FBS schools in total offense, a close examination of the offensive skill players signed by Kentucky in its last four recruiting seasons suggests something surprising.

As UK has begun to sign more highly rated players, it has actually gotten less production on the field.

In 2007, Kentucky had one of the best offenses in school history, averaging 36.5 points and 443.4 yards. Among the key playmakers were wide receivers Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Dicky Lyons Jr., tight end Jacob Tamme, running backs Rafael Little, Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith and quarterback Andre Woodson.

Every one of those players except for Woodson (consensus four-star) and Little (three-star) were ranked as a two-star prospect by either Rivals.com or Scout.com

This season, averaging a paltry 15 points a game and 255.6 yards a game, UK actually has more players who were ranked as three-star recruits (and fewer who were ranked as two-stars) among its core offensive skill players than it had in '07.

What follows is a position-by-position look at how Kentucky's recruiting of offensive skill players has worked out over the last four classes (2008-11).

Quarterbacks

When a team signs two highly touted QBs in the same year, as UK did with Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski (both ranked as four-star prospects by either Rivals, Scout or both) in 2009, it does so knowing it is likely one will transfer once the other gains the upper hand.

After he committed to UK, Mossakowski underwent major shoulder surgery on his throwing arm and redshirted his first year. When 2009 Kentucky starting QB Mike Hartline was injured, it was Newton who got to make eight starts as a true freshman.

The next year, Hartline reclaimed the starting job and played well. He was suspended for UK's bowl matchup with Pittsburgh, however, and Newton was named the starter. Even though the Kentucky offense sputtered in the bowl, Mossakowski did not play in relief.

He then transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College. In an interview last month, Mossakowski acknowledged that part of the reason he left was not playing in the bowl.

Asked Monday whether he regrets not having Mossakowski this season, Phillips said, "I'm not going to talk about guys who left us."

Newton's passing numbers this season are mediocre: a 50 percent completion rate (65-for-130) with six interceptions and six touchdown passes. It's hard to fairly evaluate him, however, because the QB has been victimized by numerous dropped passes.

"Morgan's not been perfect by any means," said UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, "but he has played much better than his stats or the production (suggest)."

Wide receivers

Kentucky went all in on wide receivers in its 2008 recruiting class, signing six. It's fascinating how that class turned out.

The highest-ranked player in that group was Henry Clay product Aaron Boyd, a four-star recruit wooed ardently by Oregon. As a fourth-year junior, Boyd now has six career receptions.

E.J. Fields was the second-highest ranked. The former Frankfort star lost two years to injuries, then was a special teams player in 2010. This season, he had a seven-catch game against Louisville — the first receptions of his career — but has caught only three balls since.

Cobb, meanwhile, was a two-star recruit by Scout yet emerged as one of the best players in Kentucky history. He is now contributing as a rookie for the Green Bay Packers.

Of the other three wideouts from the '08 class, Eric Adeyemi played as a true freshman but transferred after his sophomore year. Gene McCaskill has had some good moments, but has been derailed by injuries. Matt Roark has been a special teams stalwart but has struggled as a receiver.

Among the wide receivers signed since then, only La'Rod King has established himself as an SEC-caliber performer.

"We thought we would have guys who would make plays for us down the field," Phillips said. "The problem is, we're not making plays down the field."

Running backs

From Little and Dixon through Derrick Locke, Kentucky has had success with smallish backs.

Current sophomore Raymond Sanders (5-foot-8, 205 pounds) is from the same mold. As tends to be a problem with smaller backs, Sanders has missed three games this season because of injury. He is expected back Saturday at South Carolina.

In the 2011 recruiting class UK signed Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey, generally considered the second- and third-best running back prospects (behind Isiah Crowell) in Georgia.

Caffey has yet to play this season, but Clemons has arguably been Kentucky's best offensive skill player.

Tight ends

Since Jacob Tamme graduated after 2007, it's been musical chairs at tight end for UK.

Sophomore Tyler Robinson and former walk-on Nick Melillo each have four catches so far this season.

On national signing day, 2011, UK lost highly regarded Jon Davis, a longtime Kentucky commitment, to Illinois.

Alex Smith, a four-star recruit by Rivals, was supposed to give UK a Tamme-level playmaker when he signed in 2010. Instead, Smith never played a down and transferred.

Which points out another unhappy fact of recent UK recruiting of offensive skill players.

Kentucky has signed four, four-star skill-position players out of high school since 2008. Among Boyd, Smith, Mossakowski and Newton, only the latter ever became a regular starter for UK.

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