Kentucky football's offense well outpacing last year's gains

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 9, 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)

The text message was simple: "Let's get 50."

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith sent it out to several of his offensive teammates before the Cats' home opener on Saturday.

A year ago, a text like that might have produced eye rolls and chuckles. UK's anemic offense never scored more than 38 points in a game and that was against Jacksonville State.

But Smith was serious about that text and the message behind it.

The offense, buoyed by the accurate young quarterback was just one missed field goal shy of putting up 50 points on Kent State Saturday.

"We went out and got pretty close," Smith said. "I felt like we did a pretty good job."

Smith is a big reason for Kentucky's early season success offensively.

Kentucky's passing offense, which averaged just 135.6 yards a game last season, is now averaging 317 yards in two games, including putting up 539 yards on the Golden Flashes.

It took UK's offense four games to get 631 passing yards last season and it now has 634 after two games.

After needing three games to rack up 824 yards of offense last season, UK has 912 yards after two games.

Kentucky has six passing TDs in its first two games, half of the 12 it managed all of last season.

"He played really well tonight," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said of Smith, who had a career-high 354 passing yards. "He's seeing things well. Usually when a quarterback is seeing things well, he can play fast and you know he's prepared. He's obviously working hard in practice. He's taking what I'm teaching and he's taking it to heart. It's nice to see a guy play like he's playing right now."

Smith's 354 yards was one higher than the career high of former quarterback Mike Hartline. It also was larger than the career numbers for UK greats like Babe Parilli (338 yards) and Bill Ransdell (322 yards).

In the Louisville loss, Smith connected with 11 different receivers, including nine on multiple passes. In the win over Kent State, he hit 10 different receivers, including seven multiple times.

"There's really nobody I don't trust," he said.

Coach Joker Phillips was happy to see UK's much maligned offense do some good things so far this season.

"As hard as they work, you need to see some successful things happen, and they did tonight," Phillips said. "And what happens is everybody wants to be a part of it."

In Saturday's 47-14 win, Smith found senior Aaron Boyd 11 times for 100 yards and the wide receiver's first career touchdown. Boyd now leads the Cats receivers in receptions and yardage for the season, with one more catch and six more receiving yards than star La'Rod King.

One of the few mistakes Smith made was an overthrow of King on one of the Cats' few long attempts.

Sanders said he'd like to see the sophomore hit one or two of those a game, but couldn't fault him completely for the lack of a deep ball since UK doesn't get to practice that pass often.

"The way we practice, trying to practice fast, we run our receivers to death anyway, so sometimes it's hard to throw a lot of deep balls in practice because you're truly killing them," Sanders said. "We need to get more reps at that, but when you get one open like that, you've got to hit those."

Bullet points

■ So much for worries about using a freshman punter. Behind the booming leg of Landon Foster, UK is third in nation in net punting with a net average of 48.8 yards.

Against Kent State, Foster had three punts for 152 yards (50.7 average per punt).

■ Six Cats saw their first game action against Kent State. They included defensive back Daron Blaylock, quarterback Jalen Whitlow, linebacker Khalid Henderson, offensive lineman Jordan Swindle, offensive lineman Jack Gruenschlaeger and linebacker TraVaughn Paschal.

■ In the game notes that ran in Sunday's paper, it should have said that the 48,346 fans at Commonwealth Stadium was the fewest at a home opener since 1988 when only 41,736 showed for the Cats' win over Central Michigan. The second fewest was when the stadium opened in 1973 with 44,865 there.

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

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