UK Football

Kentucky offensive line hoping to bounce back against Missouri

Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles was sacked by Florida's Alex McCalister. Towles was sacked six times in all on Saturday.
Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles was sacked by Florida's Alex McCalister. Towles was sacked six times in all on Saturday. Herald-Leader

Kentucky's offensive linemen have been a brooding bunch this week.

Against an aggressive, athletic, speedy Florida defensive line, the Cats struggled, allowing their quarterback to get sacked six times and giving up 10 tackles for loss.

"It was definitely disheartening," senior left tackle Jordan Swindle said on Tuesday. "We came out today all fired up and wanting to get better. It was definitely a hurtful loss, and we're angry about it."

The offensive line coach saw a group that was eager to get back to work, fix some mistakes and figure out its problems.

"Their attitude's been great," UK offensive line coach John Schlarman said of his group, which returned four of its five starters from a season ago. "I feel like they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder."

Those players may need a boulder on their shoulder as they prepare for a front four that is better, at least statistically, than the Florida defensive line the Cats faced a week ago.

No. 25 Missouri is second in the nation in tackles for loss with 34 (11.3 a game), and 22.5 of those have come from defensive linemen.

They have had at least nine tackles for loss in every game this season, including 15 versus Arkansas State, the most by a Missouri team since 2002.

There's talent all around, but the Tigers are paced by sophomore Charles Harris, who leads the league and is second nationally in tackles for loss. Eight of his 13 tackles this season have been in the backfield.

"It will be a real challenge," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops of facing the Tigers' front. "They play very hard and are very good players with a good scheme. So it will be similar in certain ways. I think we have to learn from the Florida game."

What did the offensive line learn from the Florida game?

They've learned that as a group they're not going to be perfect, that they're going to get beat, but they have to minimize those miscues.

"If you get beat, it can't be a sack," Schlarman said. "If you get beat, it can't be a hold, can't be a penalty. Those things set the offense back, and we've got to minimize those things."

There was more than one type of problem on Saturday for the line of Kentucky (2-1, 1-1 SEC). Sometimes it was technique. Sometimes it was players being out of position.

Sometimes it was coaching, said Stoops, whose UK offensive line has already surrendered 20 tackles for loss this season and given up 10 sacks. Only six other schools nationally have allowed more.

"There's protection that we could do, and we could call things better," UK's head coach said. "All of us can do a better job, and will. Give (Florida) credit. They're very disruptive and created some havoc for us up front, but there's things that we can do better and will do better."

Kentucky's coaches weren't all gloom and doom about the Cats' front five this week. Schlarman noted that against Florida last season UK struggled more. He saw improvement.

"The line of scrimmage moved forward" this year, he said. "Last year against Florida, that didn't happen very much in the run game. On the drives where we did get down the field, I felt like we were running the ball fairly consistently."

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said even though UK's line is made up of some veterans, it still has a lot of younger players seeing time. Starting right tackle George Asafo-Adjei is a true freshman, and sophomores Nick Haynes, Ramsey Meyers, Kyle Meadows and Cole Mosier are in the regular rotation.

"It's just growing pains," Dawson said.

Against Missouri last season, this same nucleus protected fairly well, giving up just three sacks (compared with seven versus the Tigers in 2013) and nine tackles for loss. UK is hoping the positive trend will continue against Missouri (3-0, 0-0) again this season.

Defenses are set up now to rush the passer, and Missouri — like Florida — is no exception, Dawson said.

No doubt, there will be lots to learn all season.

"It's going to be the same every week; that's not going to change," Dawson said of playing aggressive defensive lines. "You just have to be aware who their best players are and protect as much as you can."

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