An explosive offense and a vulnerable defense seems like the forecast for a lot of shootouts in the Kentucky football team's future. But Coach Joker Phillips said he's not concerned about the possibility of having to put up a ton of points each week to have a chance to win.
UK hung 63 points on Western Kentucky in its home opener as quarterback Mike Hartline accounted for four touchdowns and all-purpose man Randall Cobb three.
On the flip side, the Wildcats allowed a tailback to run wild and gave up a big play on special teams for the second week in a row.
Phillips said he thinks the defense is performing OK other than giving up big plays. Louisville's Bilal Powell scored on an 80-yard run en route to a 153-yard day, and Western's Bobby Rainey had a 59-yard TD on the game's third play and finished with 184 yards.
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"I'm not worried," he said. "What's discouraging is the big plays we're giving up. We're playing good D for most of the game other than a little small window."
Phillips said his team has lost focus the last two weeks after jumping out to big leads. The Cats led Louisville 20-3 but were outplayed after halftime, and they were up on Western Kentucky 35-7 before giving up two nine-play, 80-yard drives in the second half.
"A lot of it has to do with the score," Phillips said. "Guys are relaxing and not playing sound technique and within the schemes. Giving up big plays in the special teams area, I think a lot of those things come because we relax when we're up. I challenged them to show their maturity, and part of that is starting fast and putting people away early. We didn't do that in the second half."
Phillips said the defensive line needs stronger play from senior end DeQuin Evans, who had a hurry against Louisville but has not recorded a tackle through two games.
"He's not playing as well as we would like," Phillips said. "He's had some mental errors and assignment errors that are hurting his performance."
Special teams have also helped UK's two opponents put points on the board. U of L used a 67-yard kickoff return to set up a field goal, and Western's Willie McNeal took back a kick 90 yards for a score.
"We've got to kick the ball better in special teams, whether it be field goals, PATs, or directional punting or directional kickoffs," Phillips said. "When the kicks are not kicked where you want them, it messes with your coverage, but we've also got to get better at getting people to the ground when we rally to ball."
Ryan Tydlacka also missed his second field goal of the season on UK's opening drive of the second half.
"Those are downers," Phillips said. "We've left points on the field. When the offense gets the ball in the second half and they move it down field and we miss a 35-yard field goal, those are downers. It was the only time in their red zone where we didn't get any points."
The kickoff issues are two-fold: the place-kickers aren't kicking to the designed spot, and the tackling has been poor.
"Kickoffs have been horrendous," Phillips said. "We're having to cover the whole field. Guys are headed down lanes to cover a third of the field and have to expand from their lanes."
Injuries have forced the UK staff to use true and redshirt freshmen on the coverage units, leading to many of the breakdowns.
Things aren't all bad in the UK camp, however. The offense appears capable of lighting up the scoreboard on a regular basis, thanks to Cobb (357 all-purpose yards through two games), Hartline (13th nationally in pass efficiency), tailback Derrick Locke (back-to-back 100-yard games) and what has been a deep and productive group of receivers.
"We anticipated (having an explosive offense)," Phillips said. "We thought that this group of receivers were getting better every week, and it was a matter of the quarterback growing up and making some throws. You have to try and stop Derrick Locke from getting started because he can stick it from anywhere on the field. So when people stack the box, we can read the box, and when the numbers say throw it, we can throw it. Before we said let's just try and run the ball and try and let Locke handle the extra guy in the box."
If the Cats can get the defense and special teams to match the offense, they might really be on to something.