John Clay: Cats' losses include key personnel

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 30, 2012 

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith watched most of the South Carolina game from the sideline after injuring his ankle early in the first quarter. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • Tennessee at Kentucky

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

    TV: ESPNU

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

With a young team in a brutal league, Joker Phillips knew he had to get some good breaks this season.

Instead, it's been more a case of breaking bad.

The Cats are off to their first 1-4 start since 2005 after sixth-ranked South Carolina rallied from a 17-7 halftime deficit to beat host UK 38-17 on Saturday night.

So five games into this Kentucky football campaign, here are five breaks that have not gone UK's way.

1. Losing Marcus Caffey. The former running back was moved to cornerback in the spring and adapted so quickly to his new position that by the end of drills, the staff was counting on the Alabama native to be a starter in the fall.

Just before the start of training camp, however, came news Caffey was academically ineligible.

The emergence of true freshmen in the secondary has softened the blow, but the loss of Caffey set the tone.

2. Losing Josh Clemons. The sophomore running back out of Fayetteville, Georgia has been something of a forgotten man. After all, we haven't seen Clemons since the sixth game of in 2010 when the then-true freshman hurt his knee.

Up to that point, he was UK's leading rusher with 279 yards and owned an 87-yard touchdown run against Central Michigan. Expected back this year, alas he experienced swelling during fall camp, underwent more surgery and is being redshirted.

3. Losing Mister Cobble. The junior defensive tackle was expected to team with fellow tackle Donte Rumph to anchor the middle of the defensive front.

Cobble got off to a relatively slow start then was hospitalized with an infection before the Sept. 22 game at Florida. He returned to practice this past week but was not able to play Saturday night against South Carolina.

By the way, Florida and South Carolina each rushed for 200 yards in conference wins over the Cats.

4. Losing Max Smith. This was the worst break of all. The Kentucky staff built its short-passing, no-huddle offense around the sophomore quarterback's accuracy and quick release.

But Smith was held out of the Florida game after the week before against Western Kentucky he re-aggravated a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. Morgan Newton started what turned out to be a 38-0 loss in The Swamp.

Smith returned Saturday night against South Carolina— for all of two plays. He suffered an ankle injury on the second and did not return. The X-rays were negative but the quarterback was wearing a boot the second half.

Without Smith, UK may have to hit the reset button and come up with an offensive scheme that fits the talents of true freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow.

5. Opponents aren't losing. The record of Kentucky's first five opponents is a combined 22-2.

Louisville and South Carolina are each 5-0. Florida is 4-0. Western Kentucky is 5-1. Kent State is 3-1.

Take the UK game off each individual schedule, and the schools are 18-1. The one loss? Western Kentucky's nothing-to-be-ashamed-of 35-0 loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Ah, but the six remaining opponents on the Kentucky schedule are 21-12. Take out FCS opponent, Samford — which dropped to 4-1 by losing to Georgia Southern on Saturday — and the record drops to 17-11.

Arkansas is 1-4. Vanderbilt is 1-3. Missouri and Tennessee are each 0-2 in the SEC.

Add that to the signs of life Kentucky exhibited in Saturday's first half, and maybe a thing or two will start to break UK's way.

They're overdue.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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