Kentucky's no-huddle offense plays to strengths of QB Smith

Success a lesson in perseverance

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 7, 2012 

  • Saturday

    Kent State at Kentucky

    When: 7:30 p.m.

    TV: Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast

    Online: ESPN3.com

When Kentucky started instituting its no-huddle offense in the spring, La'Rod King realized he had some serious work to do.

"I told myself I've got to get in shape," the senior wide receiver said with a laugh this week. "It's a lot of running. You really don't have any breaks. You're used to the huddle."

As Kentucky's offensive personnel began to take shape last spring, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders started making calls.

Lots and lots of calls.

"I talked to everybody I knew who had experience with it," Sanders said of the no-huddle style. "We did a lot of research on it and study on it. It wasn't just a fly-by-night decision."

Specifically, the style seemed well suited to UK quarterback Maxwell Smith.

"He has the ability to get the ball out fast and he's phenomenally accurate," Sanders said of the sophomore. "It's amazing how quickly he's able to catch the snap, get a hold of the ball and throw it to a receiver across the field as accurately as he does. Some have that knack and some don't. He obviously has that knack."

It wasn't just a system that worked well for Smith (who completed 70 percent of his 50 throws on Sunday against Louisville), but also for Kentucky's group of receivers.

"We saw the type of receivers we were getting," Coach Joker Phillips said when asked about the transition. "We've got some small, nifty receivers."

The style is just fine for some of UK's older, taller receivers, too. Just ask King, the 6-foot-4, 222-pounder from North Hardin, who said: "I love it so far."

King said it's a style well suited for him and for someone like sophomore Demarco Robinson (5-foot-10, 188 pounds), who is listed behind King at that receiver spot.

"He's a speedy guy," King said of Robinson. "So if we've got this corner who's really fast as well, I'm going to put Demarco in and let him run and get him tired. Then they put me in when he's tired and I can take advantage of it. The whole tempo thing is to keep the defense on the field and just wear out those guys.

"That way it plays to our advantage. The more time we spend on the field, the more tired they would be. And we continue to rotate whereas they can't."

While no Louisville defender admitted to being tired by the no-huddle style of Kentucky during the Cardinals' 32-14 victory Sunday, one did say it frustrated them at times.

"We were a little rattled because of the no-huddle," junior safety Hakeem Smith said. "We practiced against the hurry-up, but we didn't really expect them to come out like that."

Cards Coach Charlie Strong said the style kept Smith unscathed and unhurried for most of the game.

"We came with the pressure, but we were just never able to get pressure," Strong said. "They were winning the one-on-one battles when we did rush the passer."

It was an effective offense run by an effective quarterback, who threw for 280 yards, an average of 8 yards per completion.

UK's passing yardage was just 3 yards shy of its season high last year against Mississippi.

"We never felt like we had control," Strong said. "They were able to take the ball up and down the field. We weren't able to get pressure. Kentucky was smart, they were able to come with the three-step game and get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly."

Just because the pace was effective doesn't mean the offense has turned the corner, UK's coaches said.

They'd like to see the running backs get the ball more often. There were just 13 carries between CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders on Sunday.

Randy Sanders would like to see the offense take a couple more shots down the field, too.

"You're never going to execute every one perfectly, but we had opportunities for about three big plays in there that we didn't take advantage of," he said.

But the coaches are confident they're on the right track.

"We've practiced so much at the line no-huddle that our guys haven't forgotten how to get in the huddle, but it's strange to them," Sanders said. "We're never going to lose the ability to get in the huddle or get under the center and take a snap, but we're trying to do whatever we can to score points and move the ball."

Williams out for Saturday

Starting running back CoShik Williams will not play on Saturday against Kent State as he battles back spasms. Missing a game is rare for Williams, who saw lots of action on special teams last week as well.

In his place, Raymond Sanders will start and be backed up by fellow junior Jonathan George. Expect to see lots of true freshman Dyshawn Mobley, as well.

■ The Cats also are pretty banged up at the hybrid linebacker/safety spot with Miles Simpson (bruised quad) seeing limited action and Josh Forrest (hip flexor) out completely. Expect to see junior-college transfer Kory Brown get a lot of reps.

Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report. Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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