The old adage in college football is that teams make the most improvement between the first and second games.
If that's the case, Kentucky has plenty of room for growth. While the Cats accomplished their primary mission in Sunday's 27-2 win over Louisville, UK Coach Rich Brooks knows his team will have to improve in the next few weeks to be competitive in the Southeastern Conference.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The good news is that the schedule is tailor-made for the Wildcats to tinker with a few things in order to get ready for their conference opener.
UK will have three home games and an open date between now and Oct. 4, when it plays at Alabama. Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) opponent Norfolk State will get that stretch started Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
The offense figures to get most of the focus over the next few weeks. UK gained just 210 yards on Sunday, its lowest output since gaining 227 yards in a 49-0 loss at LSU on Oct. 14, 2006. Four offensive players (quarterback Mike Hartline, center Jorge Gonzalez, wide receiver E.J. Adams, and right guard Jess Beets) were making their first starts. Brooks said one of the reasons teams tend to improve in the second game is that the first game serves as an excellent teaching tool for newcomers.
"When you've got a lot of players who haven't participated much in regular games, they can experience what it's like to go in and break down on film on what they did right and wrong," Brooks said. "Sometimes what you tell them doesn't click until they see themselves in that situation. I wouldn't expect it to go from night to day, but hopefully twilight will arrive."
And while the defense carried the torch against Louisville, Brooks said the 'D' was far from perfect.
"We need to continue to work," Brooks said. "It's going to be a process that you go through during the season. Any week you don't get better, somebody's gaining ground on you. We started out with a good defensive performance. The thing we can't do is get satisfied. We did some things wrong. We've got a lot to work to do with our whole football team."
UK cornerback David Jones said Brooks and defensive coordinator Steve Brown pointed out plenty of mistakes from the Louisville game.
"We've got a lot to work on, just like our offense does," Jones said. "There were a lot of times we messed up and (Louisville) didn't capitalize so it didn't hurt us. But in order for us to have success down the road, we've got to clean those up. I think we'll be able to do that in the next three weeks."
Norfolk State, which opened its season with a 47-7 win over Virginia State on Saturday, is looking forward to the opportunity to bask in the SEC spotlight against the Cats.
Norfolk State Coach Pete Adrian was impressed with what he saw of UK on tape against Louisville.
"You look at the history of Louisville, to be able to shut them out is a great accomplishment," Adrian said. "You take a team that scores 30, 35 a game and keep them out of the end zone, that's really impressive. It's hard to sleep at night when you see stuff like that."
Adrian doesn't expect his team to be in awe coming into Commonwealth Stadium. The Spartans got wiped out 59-0 at Rutgers last year, but 17 of their 22 starters are either juniors or seniors. The Spartans' home field, Dick Price Stadium, is one of the largest in the Championship Subdivision with a seating capacity of 30,000.
"We'll practice in our stadium with some crowd noise," Adrian said. "About the only thing we can't simulate is all those bodies they have flying around over there."
The Spartans also have a handful of Bowl Subdivision transfers on their roster. Defensive tackle Dennis Marsh transferred from Maryland, linebacker Mike Alphonse came in from Akron and quarterback Dennis Brown started two games as a freshman for Connecticut in 2005.
Brown was a little off against Virginia State (12-for-30 passing, 126 yards, one touchdown) but Adrian said he expects him to get more comfortable.
Defensively, Brooks noted that the Spartans' 3-4 scheme will be a new twist for UK's inexperienced offense.
"That'll give us a few problems," Brooks said. "We don't need any new ones. We have enough of our own we need to correct."
Boyd cleared for contact; Fields likely to redshirt
UK freshman receiver Aaron Boyd has been cleared to participate in contact drills, Coach Rich Brooks said Tuesday. Boyd missed most of fall camp and UK's season-opening win over Louisville with mononucleosis. Brooks said he'll evaluate Boyd for the next week or two before making a decision on whether to redshirt him.
Brooks also said freshman receiver E.J. Fields, who has been slowed by a pulled hamstring, would probably redshirt the 2008 season.