There are masterful plays inside beautiful drives that almost make Kentucky's offensive coordinator forget that he has a less than veteran offense.
Quarterback Patrick Towles making an adjustment at the line of scrimmage to find sophomore Dorian Baker (over an outstretched defender) on fourth-and-3.
Or the one where Towles found C.J. Conrad streaking down the middle of the field and threw a 24-yard dart to the end zone that the tight end played perfectly.
The season itself started with one of those offensive beauties: A perfectly executed play with perfect blocking on a 75-yard touchdown run for Boom Williams on the Cats' first play.
A self-professed glass half-full guy, Shannon Dawson probably needs his glass full of something strong when he sees so many examples of Kentucky's inconsistent youth just five games into the season.
"It's frustrating as a coach," the offensive coordinator said. "It's frustrating probably as a player that we can play really good at times and we can play — there's really no middle. Either we're playing good or we're playing really bad."
He's looking for a middle ground, a level of consistency as Kentucky takes a short breath before meeting up with Auburn in the first-ever Thursday night game at Commonwealth Stadium.
"I think that part of it is we're young. You know? A lot of these kids are in these positions for the first time," Dawson continued. "Overall our whole offense is fairly young — freshmen and sophomores. We have a couple kids that are juniors and seniors. But, that's why you see so many ups and downs."
Kentucky has just two regular seniors in its rotation offensively in linemen Zach West and Jordan Swindle, but both of them missed the EKU game with injuries. So for the first time since 1993, UK didn't have a single senior start on offense.
The Cats have one of the youngest offenses in the nation this season, with just Kentucky and Central Florida having zero seniors at skill positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end).
UK ranks with Florida State, Nevada, Pitt and Wake Forest as having the fewest senior regulars on offense with just West and Swindle. Kentucky's one other senior, wideout Joey Herrick, hasn't caught a pass this season.
The aforementioned "ups" are all over the place. They're in UK being 4-1 and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play. They're in the fact that the Cats have made strides in things like third-down conversions, converting 40.8 percent now versus 33.9 percent last season. Or that UK hasn't missed a chance to score in the red zone yet this season.
And while some of the names such as Baker and Williams have been in the program for a year, they're proving that it takes time to mature and come into their own.
"He's a year older; he's more experienced," Towles said of Baker, who has 24 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns, two more than he had in 10 games last season. "He runs better routes. He's bigger and stronger. I know it's hard for him to get bigger and stronger, but he has. His mindset's been a lot better."
But Baker has had his share of tribulations, too, like two huge drops — including one in the end zone versus Florida — on opening drives. Sophomore Jeff Badet had a fumble on UK's first drive against Eastern a week ago.
Sometimes it's just one player not doing his job that makes UK look discombobulated.
"One time it might have been an o-lineman, one time it might have been a running back, one time it might have been Patrick, one time it might have been a receiver," Dawson said of bad drives in the EKU game.
"We've always got one guy that's a key guy that's not doing his job. So, it takes time and coaching, and we've got to keep pounding out those issues of when we do stumble why we stumble and then ultimately get better."
And when all five of Kentucky's first five games have been decided by eight points or fewer, the margin for error is slim. Youth can't be an excuse.
Coach Mark Stoops saw that youth come out against Florida, UK's only loss this season. He says it's one of many lessons he hopes the young guys take to heart as the season continues.
"We have some experience under our belt and we've been in that situation," Stoops said, noting that UK came back and knocked off No. 25 Missouri in a sort of makeup exam.
"Hopefully we'll learn from that game and all the close games we've had and be able to handle the emotions of the game."
Going for 25 tackles next?
Kentucky's C.J. Johnson had barely left Commonwealth Stadium when he got a call from a quite serious-sounding Jimmy Brumbaugh.
"He hit me with the, 'You know you beat my record, boy,'" the defensive tackle said, doing his best defensive line coach voice. "And I was like, 'Coach, I don't know nothing about that. It ain't got nothing to do with me.'"
Johnson got grief from Brumbaugh because the coach never managed 19 tackles in a game the way his senior just had against Eastern Kentucky.
"My freshman year, I had 18 tackles and three sacks against Arkansas," the former Auburn defensive lineman sighed this week.
Brumbaugh said he had been watching all facets of the line during the game and hadn't noticed that the numbers were piling up for Johnson, who became a starter two weeks ago when Regie Meant went out with a shoulder injury.
When Brumbaugh saw the tackles total for Johnson on Saturday night, he was shocked. "I got in there and sat down, I said, 'Goodness gracious, I've never had a guy make that many plays in a game.'"
Johnson said he didn't realize what he'd done until the game was over. He's just trying to make plays.
"Running to the ball and diving on piles like I always do," the junior college transfer said. "Get assists, tackles. If there's a tackle going on near me, I'm jumping on it trying to get a stat."
At one point in the second half, middle linebacker Josh Forrest looked up at the scoreboard and noticed that Johnson had 15. It used to be the defensive line would hold up a guy and Forrest would swoop in and help bring him down.
Not so much now.
"With C.J. when I get ready to go to the tackle, he's already on it," Forrest said. "He's just getting there fast and it's really helping."
But he's not just an overnight sensation, Johnson's coaches said. He's been steadily improving.
"He's playing with some technique and fundamentals and it's allowing his ability (to show) because he's a cat-quick guy," Brumbaugh said. "Once he puts his hands on those blockers, he's able to release off and burst to the ball."
Before he started to figure some things out from both a schematic and technique standpoint, Johnson would waste movement when he got his playing time. Not anymore.
"He was like a wild dog in a meat house, just running around looking for things. Now he's in the scheme of things," Brumbaugh said of Johnson, who had just 10 tackles all of last season.
Now, "he doesn't hurt you. ... It puts him in better position to make more plays. Efficiency is what he's got now."
On an SEC Network film breakdown show on Thursday, Stoops said the defensive coaches are doing a few things differently with Johnson this season, too.
"We're moving him quite a bit and that kind of suits his game," Stoops said. "When we're just sitting in there playing technique all the time, it may not suit him quite as well. Moving him and stunting him, he's making a lot of plays."
'Taco Meat' living dream
On many of the Cats' explosive plays this season, fullback Will Collins has been right there in the middle of the action, throwing a key block at a key time.
Did coaches expect a 5-foot-11, 238-pound walk-on from Breathitt County to be such a key contributor? Yes, the Cats' offense coordinator said.
"Trust the kid, man," Dawson said. "Kid has been doing a great job. Did a great job through camp and probably could play him more. ... Kid's playing well."
Stoops said Collins has been quite helpful for the Cats.
"He's done a very good job," the head coach said of the transfer from Pikeville. "He's been a good technician, he plays with a lot of heart, a lot of passion. He's made some critical blocks for us."
When your entire job calls for lining up 10 yards away from your opponent and then running at him full speed, you have to love it, Collins said. He definitely does.
"I want to be as physical as I can be," he said. "I want to hit people as hard as I can hit them and I want to embarrass whoever I'm blocking."
He grew up in a household with three younger brothers, which meant rough-housing was a regular pastime. "We broke a couch; somebody fell through a window," he recalled. It was good prep for football.
The well-documented nickname "Taco Meat," which Collins acquired for eating more than a pound of taco meat his uncle had prepared for a family dinner as a snack, was a little weird at first, but it's grown on Collins.
And the fans have grown to love his effort.
"It's awesome. It really is," he said of the support. "You grew up loving all the players you watched playing for Kentucky, so to think that somebody thinks you're cool enough to remember your name or make a sign with your name on it, it's pretty cool."