At his weekly news conference Monday, Joker Phillips lamented the lack of offensive play-making Kentucky has displayed this season.
"We've sort of gotten caught this year without (playmakers)," the UK football coach said, "especially guys making plays down the field."
Asked if that reflects poorly on UK's recent recruiting, Phillips answered by pointing instead to the decision of Randall Cobb to turn pro a year early.
"We lost a pretty good one that we expected to be here also," Phillips said. "Did you expect three years ago that a guy would leave here as a junior? No."
Never miss a local story.
If you are asking why through five games of 2011 UK has an attack ranked No. 118 out of 120 FBS schools in total offense, a close examination of the offensive skill players signed by Kentucky in its last four recruiting seasons suggests something surprising.
As UK has begun to sign more highly rated players, it has actually gotten less production on the field.
In 2007, Kentucky had one of the best offenses in school history, averaging 36.5 points and 443.4 yards. Among the key playmakers were wide receivers Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Dicky Lyons Jr., tight end Jacob Tamme, running backs Rafael Little, Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith and quarterback Andre Woodson.
Every one of those players except for Woodson (consensus four-star) and Little (three-star) were ranked as a two-star prospect by either Rivals.com or Scout.com
This season, averaging a paltry 15 points a game and 255.6 yards a game, UK actually has more players who were ranked as three-star recruits (and fewer who were ranked as two-stars) among its core offensive skill players than it had in '07.
What follows is a position-by-position look at how Kentucky's recruiting of offensive skill players has worked out over the last four classes (2008-11).
When a team signs two highly touted QBs in the same year, as UK did with Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski (both ranked as four-star prospects by either Rivals, Scout or both) in 2009, it does so knowing it is likely one will transfer once the other gains the upper hand.
After he committed to UK, Mossakowski underwent major shoulder surgery on his throwing arm and redshirted his first year. When 2009 Kentucky starting QB Mike Hartline was injured, it was Newton who got to make eight starts as a true freshman.
The next year, Hartline reclaimed the starting job and played well. He was suspended for UK's bowl matchup with Pittsburgh, however, and Newton was named the starter. Even though the Kentucky offense sputtered in the bowl, Mossakowski did not play in relief.
He then transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College. In an interview last month, Mossakowski acknowledged that part of the reason he left was not playing in the bowl.
Asked Monday whether he regrets not having Mossakowski this season, Phillips said, "I'm not going to talk about guys who left us."
Newton's passing numbers this season are mediocre: a 50 percent completion rate (65-for-130) with six interceptions and six touchdown passes. It's hard to fairly evaluate him, however, because the QB has been victimized by numerous dropped passes.
"Morgan's not been perfect by any means," said UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, "but he has played much better than his stats or the production (suggest)."
Kentucky went all in on wide receivers in its 2008 recruiting class, signing six. It's fascinating how that class turned out.
The highest-ranked player in that group was Henry Clay product Aaron Boyd, a four-star recruit wooed ardently by Oregon. As a fourth-year junior, Boyd now has six career receptions.
E.J. Fields was the second-highest ranked. The former Frankfort star lost two years to injuries, then was a special teams player in 2010. This season, he had a seven-catch game against Louisville — the first receptions of his career — but has caught only three balls since.
Cobb, meanwhile, was a two-star recruit by Scout yet emerged as one of the best players in Kentucky history. He is now contributing as a rookie for the Green Bay Packers.
Of the other three wideouts from the '08 class, Eric Adeyemi played as a true freshman but transferred after his sophomore year. Gene McCaskill has had some good moments, but has been derailed by injuries. Matt Roark has been a special teams stalwart but has struggled as a receiver.
Among the wide receivers signed since then, only La'Rod King has established himself as an SEC-caliber performer.
"We thought we would have guys who would make plays for us down the field," Phillips said. "The problem is, we're not making plays down the field."
From Little and Dixon through Derrick Locke, Kentucky has had success with smallish backs.
Current sophomore Raymond Sanders (5-foot-8, 205 pounds) is from the same mold. As tends to be a problem with smaller backs, Sanders has missed three games this season because of injury. He is expected back Saturday at South Carolina.
In the 2011 recruiting class UK signed Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey, generally considered the second- and third-best running back prospects (behind Isiah Crowell) in Georgia.
Caffey has yet to play this season, but Clemons has arguably been Kentucky's best offensive skill player.
Since Jacob Tamme graduated after 2007, it's been musical chairs at tight end for UK.
Sophomore Tyler Robinson and former walk-on Nick Melillo each have four catches so far this season.
On national signing day, 2011, UK lost highly regarded Jon Davis, a longtime Kentucky commitment, to Illinois.
Alex Smith, a four-star recruit by Rivals, was supposed to give UK a Tamme-level playmaker when he signed in 2010. Instead, Smith never played a down and transferred.
Which points out another unhappy fact of recent UK recruiting of offensive skill players.
Kentucky has signed four, four-star skill-position players out of high school since 2008. Among Boyd, Smith, Mossakowski and Newton, only the latter ever became a regular starter for UK.