Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips considers his O-line O-for-one. In his estimation, the big men up front whiffed in UK's 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky.
"Did not play well at all, I can tell you that, now," Phillips said on a teleconference. "And they'll be the first to tell you that. We've got to get better up front."
Offensive line was supposed to be a strength of the 2011 Kentucky football team. Its experience individually and collectively would ease the transition for newcomers at the so-called skill positions.
Phillips noted the nagging injuries that occurred to every lineman except right tackle Billy Joe Murphy in pre-season camp. Then Murphy sprained an anterior cruciate ligament against WKU.
"We've got to get those guys playing together as a unit," Phillips said, "and we have to get them playing a lot better."
When asked to elaborate on how nagging injuries can adversely affect the unit's effectiveness, Phillips retreated slightly.
"I'd never thought it could have affected us," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say it did. I don't know. I just know we did not play well as a unit, and we have to get them better this week."
UK returns to action Sept. 10 against Central Michigan in the home opener.
After the WKU game, Phillips lamented the three sacks UK surrendered. "We can't take sacks," he said. "We took way too many sacks."
Newton better than stats
Making his first opening-game start, junior quarterback Morgan Newton completed seven of 18 passes for 97 yards. WKU intercepted three passes.
"He threw the ball better than his numbers read," Phillips said. "But he also has to get better. But I'm proud of the way he performed in the second half."
In part, that's because Newton sprained the thumb on his non-throwing (left) hand in the first half.
"We were not expecting to have him in the second half," Phillips said.
X-rays showed no break, the UK coach said. "But he couldn't move it. I'm proud of the way he sucked it up and came out in the second half and played for us."
Morgan clinched the victory with a 58-yard scramble down the middle of the field, setting up a 31-yard TD pass to La'Rod King.
Phillips dismissed any thought of concerns about Newton being unavailable for the Central Michigan game.
"Nah," the UK coach said. "Because he went into the game in the second half. We just need to get him treated."
Nashville in 2013
The attendance of 24,599 made for an uninspiring atmosphere at LP Field. But it apparently didn't dampen Phillips' enthusiasm for the return game there against WKU in 2013.
"The atmosphere wasn't like the last few times we've been to Nashville," the UK coach said.
Phillips noted the mid-week date of the game and late start (9:15 p.m. EDT) as factors in the low attendance.
"But we're definitely looking forward to going back there in a couple years," he said. "Again, because it's such a huge area for recruiting."
More than once, UK receivers dropped passes against WKU. When asked whether those drops might discourage Newton, Phillips said, "The quarterback has to understand you're going to have some drops. You hope you're not going to have as many as we had."
Some of the drops prevented momentum-changing plays from occurring, he said.
"We had the necessary separation (from defenders) ... It's not the young guys. It's old guys who've been around here a long time that we expect a lot out of. If we have to bring up freshmen, we have to bring up freshmen. But somebody has to go in and make plays."
Freshman back Josh Clemons ran 14 yards for a touchdown en route to a 39-yard night on the ground. That apparently earned him a more prominent role.
"He was a guy seeing cuts and seeing things really well," Phillips said. "We probably have to get him in there a little more because I thought he blocked well. He's a guy who understands our schemes. He's a guy who can catch the football. So he deserves to play a little bit more."
UK won its fifth straight opener, the longest such streak since eight in a row from 1987 to 1994 ... Linebacker Danny Trevathan was in on 13 tackles. That extended his streak of games with 10 or more tackles to 10.