Kentucky searching for way to get the ball moving as No. 12 Georgia visits

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 19, 2012 

Kentucky junior running back Raymond Sanders ran for a 17-yard gain in the second quarter of the Wildcats' home game against South Carolina. Kentucky led early but lost to No. 6 South Carolina, 38-17. Photo by Amy Wallot

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The players and coaches try hard not to think about what could have been, what should have been.

Would Kentucky be in the middle of a five-game slide if its starting quarterback and running back hadn't gone down with injuries?

Would the Cats still be putting up 300-plus yards a game — something they haven't done since the Sept. 15 loss to Western Kentucky — even against staunch Southeastern Conference defenses?

Every single day, senior center Matt Smith has to will himself not to think about what could have been.

"But it's something that's always in the back of your head, what could have happened if the injuries hadn't piled up on us," he said. "It's tough to realize what you could have had, but you can't look back on that or you'll just keep on losing."

The time is getting short for the big turnaround. UK (1-6, 0-4 SEC) would have to win out to be bowl eligible, starting Saturday.

And to do that against No. 12 Georgia (5-1, 3-1), against what Coach Joker Phillips called one of the nation's most complete defenses, seems less than likely for the Cats.

Running back Raymond Sanders tries not to think about that text message from the now-injured quarterback Maxwell Smith before the Kent State rout, UK's only win. "Let's get 50," it said simply.

Kentucky hasn't scored 40 points combined in its last four games as Smith has been out with first a shoulder and then an ankle injury.

"You think about it because Max was having a great season, almost 1,000 yards in three games, so you always are going to think about that," Sanders admitted. "But you can't dwell on it. You've got to go with the next man. You've got to believe in the next man. ... You've just got to keep pushing and keep grinding and go with the next man."

But since Smith went out (and since UK started SEC play in general) the numbers have been bad. Sanders and fellow running back Jonathan George went from averaging 7.3 yards a carry with Smith leading the charge to 3.8 yards a carry since then.

Smith had 30 or more completions in the first three games of the season, with a season-high 37 in the loss to Western Kentucky. In the four games since then, the Cats' three other quarterbacks have combined for 39 total completions for 422 yards.

"Things are certainly different," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said more quietly than normal. "They're much different. We went through spring practice; we went through fall camp early on. Honestly, we didn't have a really, really big package. We tried to get really good at what we were doing. I feel like we had gotten good at what we were doing. At quarterback, the offensive line, receiver. Suddenly, we've had the injuries we've had and we've had to get away from what we were really good at and we've had to try to reinvent ourselves a little bit to what our quarterback can do and what the other guys can do."

It's easy to say Kentucky wants to be better offensively, but it's hard to figure out how when the Cats are working with true freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow, who has had trouble with his accuracy.

This week Whitlow was asked about the offense's progression, or regression, as it seems lately.

"I don't want to say we took two steps back because you can always take two steps forward," he said. "We need to take two steps forward when it comes to Saturday's game and just be ready, focus and do our job."

Without a passing game, the running game struggles, and without a running game, the passing game is obsolete.

"It's a lot of things," Raymond Sanders said. "Everyone's got to do their job. We've got to be able to pass it more. As running backs, we've got to do our jobs. We've got to run harder and read it better. Everyone has to pick it up and do everything better and get on the same page with each other."

Kentucky doesn't just want to get on the same page, it wants to turn the page on this low point offensively.

"Unfortunately, we've been playing some pretty good teams that haven't made it easy," the UK offensive coordinator said. "We also haven't performed real well and maybe as coaches we haven't really put our finger on what that is we can do well yet. We're still looking, still searching and hopefully we'll find it soon."

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

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