UK Football

UK anxious to light fuse on offense

Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks was frank when asked what he'd be looking for from his team in its home opener against Norfolk State on Saturday night.

"Some offense," he replied.

As good as Kentucky's 27-2 win over Louisville last week looked on paper, Brooks and his staff know that the Cats will have to pick things up offensively in order to compete with the big dogs on their Southeastern Conference schedule.

Between now and then, Kentucky has home games against Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky.

Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline did a good job managing the game against Louisville, throwing the ball out of bounds when nothing was there and playing turnover-free football.

But Hartline also missed a couple of throws against Louisville, including one to a wide-open T.C. Drake off play action.

The next level of Hartline's progress is to go from just managing the game to making game-winning plays.

"I'd like to see a little more accuracy on the passes I could have completed," Brooks said. "But most importantly, I want him to lead the team into the end zone. He's got to start making more plays, but he needs help in making those plays."

The biggest aid to Hartline would be the UK running game, which was surprisingly missing in action against the Cardinals. UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said he'd like to put Hartline in more no-huddle situations but needs the ground game to click in order to do so.

"We'll have to make some throws down the field to keep people off us in the running game," Phillips said. "But if we can get the running game started, that will give us more single coverage outside. It goes hand-in-hand."

Phillips compared Hartline's situation to the one Andre Woodson went through as a first-time starter as a sophomore in 2005. Woodson struggled early but ended up throwing for a respectable 1,644 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games. That preceded one of the better two-year quarterback runs in Kentucky football history.

That's why Phillips is intent on getting Hartline going during UK's three-game homestand.

"Throwing the football will give Mike more confidence, and as he has success, he'll be a better leader," he said "When you have success, you'll come in the huddle and say things that you might not feel comfortable saying if you're not having success."

Norfolk State comes in off its best season in more than two decades. The Spartans finished 8-3 last season, and 16 starters are back from that team, including five All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference players.

"We know this won't be an easy game," senior cornerback David Jones said. "We've got to improve, get better, and work on the things that we need to work on, but we also know we have to come out and play well to get a win."