Joker plots faster starts with a few changes in routine

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 20, 2012 

  • Saturday

    Kentucky at Florida

    When: 12:21 p.m.

    TV: WKYT-27

Maybe Kentucky needs to start eating something new for breakfast?

Maybe pre-game fireworks cause frayed nerves?

Maybe Joker Phillips needs to go back to pre-game pep talk school?

The coach has wracked his brain trying to figure out why his UK football team can't seem to get going offensively to open games.

"It's a mystery to me," the coach said when asked about Kentucky's sluggish starts this season, in which the Cats have been outscored 18-0 in the opening quarter.

The slow start has been a lingering problem for Kentucky.

In the 2010 season finale against Tennessee, Derrick Locke took a ball 17 yards into the end zone.

That run, on Nov. 27, 2010, was the last time UK scored an offensive touchdown in a first quarter.

Since that date, Kentucky has been outscored 106-28 in first quarters. The only Cats touchdown among those 28 points was a defensive touchdown for Martavius Neloms against Jacksonville State.

So Phillips' plan is to change Kentucky's pre-game routine this week in Gainesville, Fla. This time the Cats will stretch, do 10 minutes of individual drills, then go straight into 11-on-11 play.

"Explain to our kids, here is the reason why: We've got to start faster," Phillips said. "We can't wait and see what the tone of the game is. We've got to start fast right away."

The slow starts have been compounded against Florida, whom Kentucky will play on Saturday. In the past four seasons, the Gators have outscored UK 94-3 in the first quarter, including 21-3 last season in Lexington.

"You had to remind me," Phillips responded this week when a reporter asked him about Kentucky's slow starts against Florida. "Wow. That's the answer to your question."

The good news, if there is any, is the No. 14 Gators (3-0) haven't been strong this season early in games. They have been outscored 17-14 in first quarters this season.

When asked about the slow starts, Florida Coach Will Muschamp seemed unfazed.

"I just want to win," he said. "Winning is well enough."

As poor as Florida has looked in the opening quarter, once the Gators have warmed up, they've been nearly unstoppable. Florida has outscored its opponents 27-0 in fourth quarters.

Against Southeastern Conference opponents Texas A&M and Tennessee, Florida outscored them 37-6 combined in the second half.

Kentucky has had similar good fortune in the fourth quarter this season, outscoring opponents 21-0, but the Cats have fallen behind so frequently, that they've had to play catch-up.

"It's hard to put your finger on why," Phillips said, "but the thing we have to do is continue to talk about let's play fast, play fast, play fast."

News and notes

On Thursday, Phillips confirmed what most have long suspected, that this probably will be a redshirt season for running back Josh Clemons as he continues to heal his surgically repaired knee.

As a freshman, Clemons ran for 279 yards and two touchdowns on 65 carries in the six games before he tore his meniscus against South Carolina.

■ Starting running back CoShik Williams (hip strain) did not practice this week and probably will not play at Florida, but he will make the trip. Junior Jonathan George will start in his place, backed up by Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley.

Phillips likes the production UK is getting from its collection of running backs, but there needs to be more chances for them to make plays.

"I also would like to throw it about 40-45 times a game," he said. "With 80 snaps, you're talking about 35 runs. With 41/2 yards a carry, now we've got some serious offense going here. The problem is, we haven't had the opportunity to run it as much as we would like."

■ Offensive linemen Matt Smith (ankle, toe) and Darrian Miller (ankle) have been banged up this week, but probably will be able to play against Florida. Phillips said Miller is at "85 percent and we've got 48 hours to see how he does. He got probably 30 reps today and was doing good at times."

On the UK depth chart, Miller's backup at left tackle is true freshman Jordan Swindle, who has played sparingly. Smith's backup is listed as sophomore Max Godby, but right guard Larry Warford saw significant playing time at center this spring and could be an option.

■ Quarterback Maxwell Smith injured his throwing shoulder against Western Kentucky last weekend and said as recently as Wednesday that he still was not 100 percent, but Phillips said the sophomore is fine.

"He looked good today throwing. I'm not concerned about Max."

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

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