Big plays the X-factor Kentucky is lacking

Phillips bemoans lack of big plays

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 17, 2011 

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips watched as Mississippi State scored in the second quarter as Kentucky played Mississippi State on Saturday October 29, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

The letter "X" marks the spot on treasure maps for fortune seekers.

In the world of Kentucky football, "X" means gold, too.

They are the types of big plays the Cats are seeking.

In UK football jargon, an "X" play is defined as a gain of 25-plus yards with a pass or 15-plus yards on the ground.

Kentucky's lack of those plays and its inability to stop opponents from making those plays have been the difference this season, Coach Joker Phillips said.

"If you look at last year, the last few years, we've had a lot of big plays," Phillips said. "We have not had as many big plays this year, many 'X' plays. I can only think of a couple last week (against Vanderbilt).

"Meanwhile, we gave up more than a couple. You can't do that and win, especially when you're trying to play field position and those type of things."

For the most part this season, that's been true for the Cats, who travel to No. 13 Georgia on Saturday still needing to win two games to become bowl eligible with just two games remaining.

Kentucky's most recent two games have been anomalies in Phillips' theory.

In a win versus Mississippi, UK had as many of those plays (five) as it allowed. In the loss to Vanderbilt, there also were an equal number of those plays (four) for both teams.

But there have been plenty of instances this season where UK has been lacking the big "X" play and the big playmakers that were Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Mike Hartline and Chris Matthews from last season.

Just look at last year's Louisville win. The Cats had as many so-called big plays (six) as they had in their first three losses combined this season.

The highest number of those types of plays they've had in a game this season was five against Central Michigan, Jacksonville State and Mississippi.

Against Mississippi State, they had no "X" plays. And twice this season (against Louisiana State and South Carolina) the Cats managed just one.

As much as Phillips didn't seem to want to say it, for whatever reason, the offensive talent is down this season at Kentucky.

"Well, we definitely don't have the speed that we had the last couple years to stretch the field," he lamented.

But mostly UK seems to be missing the ability to make big gains out of its short game.

"The thing that we are lacking is a guy to throw a screen to, a 5– yard play to, and he turns it into a 50– yard play," Phillips said. "That's what we're lacking."

The coach noted how key Kentucky's screen game has been over the past few seasons and how essential it is for a team to get easy yardage on a relatively simple play, especially when it's relying on a young quarterback as UK has been recently with true freshman Maxwell Smith.

"It's a play that gives the team confidence when you can throw a screen, which is behind the line of scrimmage, for a player and he can turn it into a 40– , 50– yard play and we just don't have that ability right now," Phillips said.

There are players with that type of big-play potential on the Kentucky roster but injuries have been a factor (for instance running back Josh Clemons was responsible for four "X" plays before going down with a knee injury for the year against South Carolina).

Phillips pointed to future potential stars like Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins (knee injury) as well.

"We think we have some of those type of guys in our program," Phillips said, before adding, "they don't always grow up as fast as we would like. They're on their own pace. That's just the way this business works."

Scuffles at practice

Several small "scuffles" broke out during practice Wednesday morning in the Nutter Fieldhouse. Phillips joked that it was his team's way of entertaining the media before the daily press junket.

"We staged some entertainment for you guys," he said. It was an "energetic practice, some guys were flying around, playing with emotions and those things happen."

The coach also said the tiffs were a good sign, showing the team still has plenty of fight left in it.

But he added that the scuffles end when practice does.

"You'll see those guys hugging and kissing when they leave here. I probably shouldn't have said that. ... It's like brothers. They get into scuffles. It's over when the scuffle's over."

Neloms, Wilson doubtful

Defensive starters Martavius Neloms (ankle) and Ridge Wilson (shoulder) are both listed as doubtful for the Georgia game.

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