Kentucky's youth movement in full force

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 7, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Words like "Gerber," "spoon feed" and "babies" have come up in conversation many times this pre-season.

To hear Kentucky's coaches tell the story, they're a living, breathing Babies"R"Us advertisement.

At times, they're not that far off.

While UK has several key veteran leaders, especially on offense, there are many fresh faces.

Against Louisville last week, Kentucky started 10 players who were sophomores or younger. Thirteen freshmen played in the loss.

The Cats probably will go even younger than that against Kent State in their home opener on Saturday night.

Previously, coaches had been nervous about playing true freshmen, but not now, Coach Joker Phillips said this week.

"Heck with that, let them play," he said. "We've got to get them experience now."

After watching his defense get gashed for 466 yards by the Cardinals on Sunday, Phillips said the Cats have no other choice.

"We give up 460-something yards when you're a junior. Why not put a freshman in there, and see if we can give up just 400 yards?" he said. "They deserve to play and we'll give them an opportunity."

It will be a simpler, more dumbed-down defense that the Golden Flashes (1-0) see Saturday, but it might be a faster, more aggressive one.

"These guys have equal or more talent as the guys in front of them, therefore we need to play them," Phillips continued.

Coaches specifically talked about issues with linebackers and in the secondary.

Look for names like Pancho Thomas, Khalid Henderson, Daron Blaylock, Fred Tiller and J.D. Harmon. And those were just the ones coaches discussed in the short week.

Just because a guy started last week doesn't mean he's going to get the nod this week.

"There's really nobody guaranteed a position, especially after you come off a loss like that," linebackers coach Chuck Smith said. "We're still experimenting, still looking around. We haven't made any final decisions yet. We've got to keep shuffling, moving until we find it."

Phillips doesn't want to see a repeat performance of the loss at Louisville.

"I want to see us get lined up and attack the guys in front of us," he said. "I want to see us play physical, get off blocks and go make plays."

The defense probably won't look as poor against the Golden Flashes, who are coming off a 41-21 win over Towson State.

Like Kentucky, Kent State struggled mightily on offense last season. It was ranked 119th out of 120 teams nationwide in total offense and 114th in scoring offense, averaging just 17 points a game.

But the Flashes do have some weapons in players like running back Dri Archer, who had three touchdowns in the Flashes' opener (including a 98-yard kickoff return). They had 267 yards in that win.

Kent State, which has won five of its last six games dating back to last season, returns 18 starters.

The Kentucky youth movement won't be reserved just for the defense.

With starting running back CoShik Williams out (back spasms), expect to see Dyshawn Mobley play. The freshman, who set Tennessee high school single-season rushing records with 3,068 yards and 44 touchdowns, got in late in the game on Sunday.

UK coaches are looking for ways to get freshmen receivers A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat more involved as well.

Sweat would welcome the chance to score, he said. It's what he and Legree have prepared all summer to do.

"Me and him tried to stay on getting the signals, and getting with the quarterbacks and getting in that playbook, to show that we actually wanted to make a difference," said Sweat, who saw a couple touches last week. "Then, on the field, that's just talent. That'll come easy."

It's that kind of swagger, even from the so-called babies, that has Phillips feeling good about UK going young.

"We've got to get the young freshmen involved," he said. "Those guys are talented. Down the road even more talented than the guy last year who made plays, but they're not there yet."

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service