Randall Cobb and the Wildcat formation haven't been let out of the bag much lately.
Cobb got only three touches, all in the first half, out of the formation at Florida: two runs for 3 yards and an incomplete pass to Chris Matthews that was ruled just out of bounds. The Mississippi game followed a similar pattern: Cobb underthrew Matthews on an end-around pass, two first-half carries for 10 yards (including a costly first-quarter fumble) and then the Wildcat was ditched.
Cobb's receiving numbers are up: He's averaging two more catches per game than last season and has caught three touchdown passes this season after catching four all of last year. But his rushing attempts are way down. After carrying the ball an average of almost eight times per game in 2009 (94 rushes for 573 yards in 12 contests), Cobb is below three carries per game this fall (13 carries, 121 yards).
Coach Joker Phillips said teams have been prepared for the Wildcat, forcing UK to rely more on its base offense with Mike Hartline at quarterback.
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"Last year it was a huge part of our offense, but late in the season, teams kind of took it away from us," Phillips said. "It's been the same this year."
And Phillips noted that UK's base package has been effective: The Wildcats are fourth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense and scoring offense; Hartline is second in the league in passing yards; Derrick Locke is second in rushing yards, with Cobb and Matthews both in the top 10 in receptions per game and receiving yards.
Still, Phillips would like to get back to more of the Wildcat. The best way to do that is by throwing out of the formation, and Phillips said Hartline might even have to be used as a receiver. Morgan Newton caught a 41-yard pass out of the Wildcat at Vanderbilt last year.
"We have to throw it to our QBs," Phillips said. "We've proven that we can do that, and we've got to do it again."
Phillips closed by saying, "I hope everybody hears that and starts playing us honest so we can run the Wildcat."
To blitz or not to blitz
UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said this week that he's heard the suggestions that he should blitz more with his unit. Brown said he'll continue to pick his spots, but don't look for the Wildcats' defense to go into all-out attack mode on a full-time basis.
The Kentucky cornerbacks have been exposed at times in one-on-one coverage, but Brown said the biggest factor is that he has several inexperienced players in key roles.
"You're not sure if they're going to run the pressure right even though you've rehearsed it a thousand times," Brown said. "And all it takes is one blown assignment and you've really got problems."
UK brought some periodic pressure at Mississippi last week and was able to come with a sack and disrupt a couple of Jeremiah Masoli passes. But Brown said Auburn's spread option with Cameron Newton doesn't look like the best situation to blitz on a regular basis.
"When you play an option team, pressure is not always good because you've got to make sure everybody's in their gap," he said. "The quarterbacks and running backs we're playing, they see that all the time, and if you hit a crease, all of a sudden that thing is out of the gate. When you're playing option teams, the best bet is to have everybody play sound. When we played Louisville, in the first half they brought pressure almost every play and we just gashed them. In the second half they stopped pressuring and it was a more solid football game."
Sanders moves to No. 2
Phillips moved true freshman Raymond Sanders ahead of sophomore Donald Russell for the backup tailback spot behind Derrick Locke.
Phillips said the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Sanders' skill set fits what the team is trying to do offensively. Sanders is similar to Locke: a shifty runner with big-play capability who's also valuable as a receiver. Russell is more of a between-the-tackles pounder.
Sanders said no one has to worry about him getting the big head.
"I'm feeling good, I'm still working hard, I can't be satisfied right now because I'm not No. 1," he said. "It's going to be hard work to get to Locke, but that's what he wants me to do is push him. And Russell and the other guys are going to keep pushing me so we can make each other better."