UK football notebook: Offensive line geeked after Cats stage 98-yard drive

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 18, 2012 

Larry Warford

Sustained drives were hard to come by last season for Kentucky.

The Cats' longest one last season was 90 yards in the win over Central Michigan, but it was done in two plays.

They had three drives of 85 yards that led to touchdowns.

Perhaps the most impressive, long-lasting offensive excursion was a 77-yard drive that led to a score against Louisville. UK used 15 plays in that spree.

So when coaches and players reported a 98-yard touchdown drive (14 plays) in Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium, it was easy to understand why they'd be excited.

"It feels great," senior offensive lineman Larry Warford said after the scrimmage, which was not open to the media. "It shows your team is coming together as an offense, your team is clicking. It really shows you how far we've come since the beginning of camp."

It was especially satisfying to Warford and his coaches that the drive was mostly on the ground.

"Just to know we accomplished that with basically all of them being run plays just shows you the toughness of our line and how much confidence the coaches have in all of us just to call all of those run plays," Warford said. "It shows how much trust they have in our O-line now."

The offensive line was a big question mark coming into fall camp, with three longtime starters gone and the potential that two or more true freshmen could help fill in and create depth.

The sustained drive Saturday pleased UK head coach Joker Phillips.

"There weren't any huge plays in it, but we had some consistency," he said. "There were no penalties, and there were no turnovers, no sacks and no negative-yard plays."

With no statistics kept, it's difficult to glean who starred, but quarterback Maxwell Smith did pilot that drive.

On the day, senior wide receiver La'Rod King caught at least two touchdown catches. There also were scores from Demarco Robinson and E.J. Fields.

Phillips also said there were some big plays from the four freshmen skill guys.

One person that wasn't jumping for joy over that sustained drive was defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who was disappointed that his veteran defensive line didn't rise to the challenge.

"We're the only one mad today," Minter said. "Give the offense credit. They've been getting better every week. Mike Summers is a great O-line guy and he's got those guys playing well up front, same with the rest of the coaches. Our strength up front is our defensive line, so I was disappointed to see that we didn't match up."

But Minter said the linemen weren't the only ones at fault.

"It's our second-level players and our third-level players and if (the offense) rushed like they did today, then everybody took part," Minter said. "Missed tackles, all those sorts of things chip in."

The defensive coordinator also noted that there were several times that penalties proved costly for the defense.

Seeing that long drive definitely gives the much-maligned offense hope that it will be better this season than last.

"I'm absolutely convinced," Warford said. "We have great chemistry and everybody's working hard. Nobody's content with where they're at. I'm really excited about this offense right now."

Quarterback query

The drama surrounding the quarterback position seems to be hitting its crescendo, with Phillips announcing that a starter likely will be determined by Sunday.

We all may be waiting to get that news since the team is off and there is no media availability that day. The next media session is Monday evening.

"I think the sooner we can do it the better off we'll be, just because the team will kind of know," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We need to sit down and talk. Whenever Joker's ready, I'm ready. He's my boss. So we'll do it when he says, 'Let's do it.'"

Kickoff conundrum?

Special teams coach Greg Nord has spent a good deal of time this off-season on the phone with NFL coaches, discussing the kickoff rules changes in college football this season.

The rules, aimed to improve player safety, move the kickoff line from the 30 to the 35-yard line. Also, on a touchback, the ball is placed five yards farther to the 25-yard line.

A study done last season by the NFL (which put the rule in first) showed that the kickoffs went into the end zone nearly 40 percent more than in 2010. Touchbacks occurred 45.6 percent of the time as opposed to 18.3 percent in 2010.

Nord is interested to see how it will be play out, although he isn't convinced it will make things dramatically different this season.

"I don't know that it's going to impact the game as much as some people have made out," he said. "Maybe you're not going to have as many returns, as college kickers get stronger and more capable of kicking it deep. Twenty-five (yard line) is a difference, but is it worth kicking it to some of the returners in our league or going on and give them five yards? We're going to kick it deep if we can."

But, Nord added, don't be surprised to see some more specialty kicks become bigger in the college game.

"There may be some attempts at some squib kicks and onsides and surprises and those types of different kicks," he added. "I'll be shocked if it plays out as a big difference this year in college football overall. There may be one or two teams where there's a big difference you may see, but I don't anticipate a big difference."

Several coaches at Southeastern Conference Media Day indicated they were looking at their options, talking about using sky kicks in an attempt to pin opponents back closer to the goal line.

"Coaches know how valuable every inch is, how valuable that real estate is," Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin said. "If you can pin them inside the 10 or 15 with some kind of kick or coverage, you want to do that, no doubt about it.

"It's going to be interesting to see how each coach uses these rule changes to their advantage, what coaches maybe aren't prepared for the significance of some of these rule changes as well."

The officials are eager to see what happens as well, said Steve Shaw, coordinator of officials for the SEC.

Shaw said the rules are intended to create more touchbacks and fewer collisions and injuries. "Kind of an added incentive in there for you to take a touchback. ...

"I can tell you, the rules committee isn't sure how it will play out. They're very interested to watch."

Poll position

If Kentucky is going to win six or more games and get back to a bowl after sitting a year out, the Cats are going to have a difficult road, at least according to The Associated Press poll.

The AP's pre-season top 25, which was released Saturday morning, has five future Cat opponents in it: No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 10 Arkansas, No. 23 Florida and No. 25 Louisville.

For the Cardinals, it is their first time in the poll since the 2007 season. UK opens the season at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 2.

In all, the SEC, winner of the last six national championships, made up half of the top 10. Southern Cal did manage to take the top spot in front of defending champ Alabama and Louisiana State.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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