Kentucky-Louisville notes: Cats' secondary starting to come together

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Going into fall camp, Kentucky had far more question marks than available players in its secondary.

It was a much-maligned group that had sophomore Fred Tiller saying he heard constant talk that they were "like the worst thing on the team, the secondary was the worst position on the team."

Tiller said his goal was to help make that position among the best for UK.

While it's still a long way from that, Coach Mark Stoops has been pleased with the position group two games into the season.

"I do feel like we're getting better in the secondary," he said. "The guys are working much harder."

And they're starting to get healthy and up to speed for the first time all season, with the return of sophomore Cody Quinn, who was called the Cats' best cornerback midway through fall camp.

Then he was sidelined by a high ankle sprain when he rolled his ankle going up for a pass.

"It was real frustrating because like right before then I was just like getting in a groove and I was just like starting to be in a rhythm and just like really feeling it," he said this week. "Then all of a sudden, dang, that happened. ... But now I'm good to go and ready to get back to it."

Quinn will be a difference-maker and add some depth at a thin spot against an opponent in Louisville that likes to pick apart secondaries.

"He's not where he was in camp, obviously, but we're working with him to get back where he was," UK cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said of Quinn. "He's got things you can't coach, he's very instinctive, very quick, he's in and out of his breaks very smooth."

Quinn's return and the continuing development of players such as junior-college transfer Nate Willis, who arrived late to fall camp as he got his academics in order, are just in time to go up against one of the nation's best passers in Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater and his multiple receiving targets.

In his career, Bridgewater has had eight 300-yard passing games and two games of 400 or more yards.

"They'll have a challenge," UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of his secondary. "Good wide-outs and, like we talked about, a good quarterback. So we're going to have to play well."

Willis called it a "big test" for the Cats' corners.

"He's a great quarterback," said Willis, who has five tackles this season. Tiller leads the UK secondary with 10 tackles. "They have great receivers, great running backs. They've got a good line, good coaches. So this is a big test for me."

Quinn and Willis aren't as well-conditioned as coaches would like them to be, but they will be a factor.

They're getting up to speed just in time, Ansley said.

"Anytime you can get your better guys out there healthy and get everyone full strength, it's good."

Getting centered

The Cats' starting lineup surprise last week against Miami (Ohio) was new center Jon Toth, whose name was mentioned among the contenders at that spot in the spring, but who seemingly fell off the radar by fall.

Getting put back at that position was a bit of a surprise for the redshirt freshman from Indianapolis.

"They kind of just threw me in there," he said this week. "It's just kind of how the offensive line works, try to be able to play multiple positions, be adaptable. It wasn't surprising that they'd try me out there, but getting the starting spot was obviously exciting for me."

The player previously and still listed as the backup at left tackle behind Darrian Miller said he never stopped believing he could play center. He'd take snaps before and after practice. "I just kind of worked at it everyday."

Coaches seem to like him at that spot, especially when UK's offense is going at full speed.

"He's more athletic. He's longer. He played well on Saturday," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "For a kid going out and making his first start, I thought he did some good things. Obviously, the competition cranks up this week."

His head coach seemed pleased with the 6-foot-5, 283-pounder.

"We know we're going to go through some growing pains with him, but we wanted to give the young guy a chance, let him get out there and see what he could do," Stoops said.

Rivalry point revisited

There has been much made about when the Kentucky-Louisville series should and will be played.

The Cardinals always wanted the game to be first on the schedule. Former UK coach Rich Brooks was a proponent of having it be the third game of the season.

(Apparently both teams' conferences prefer it be the last game of the season.)

But as Louisville Coach Charlie Strong noted this week, playing UK with its new coaches and schemes in the third game this season makes him feel a bit better.

"Well, to me, I don't care when we play it," Strong said. "If we had to play them the first game, we would not have known what we were going to get, but now we can get some tape on them and watch them and see what they have and what they're doing."

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

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