UK Football

UK offense running out of time

The clock ticks.

Rarely does a 3-0 team face urgency to dramatically upgrade its level of play.

Yet when Western Kentucky (2-2) visits Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night for its first-ever football matchup with Kentucky, the sporadic UK offense finds itself under the gun.

"We need to continue to get our offense untracked," Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said, "because we know what waits ahead."

After Western, three of Kentucky's next four foes — Alabama (No. 3); South Carolina (No. 2); and Florida (No. 1) — are the top three in total defense in the Southeastern Conference.

So far, a UK offense that is ninth in SEC total offense has looked nothing like a team ready to handle that caliber of "D." Moving the ball well against Western could be a block to build on.

"We've got to handle ourselves well and look good coming out of this because of the confidence of our young guys," Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said.

After losing record-setting quarterback Andre Woodson and three receivers currently on NFL rosters to graduation, UK expected to rely on its running game.

But in its two games against major college foes, Kentucky has managed only 63 rushing yards against Louisville and 102 vs. Middle Tennessee.

"I expected the running game to carry us," Phillips said. "I have been disappointed."

Some of the problem, Phillips said, can be laid at the feet of an offensive line that has played most of the season without expected starters Christian Johnson and Garry Williams (the latter will return from injury against WKU).

"But our backs, sometimes you have to make a guy miss," Phillips said. "I don't think we've made guys miss."

Many have asked whether part of the problem is that UK is featuring the wrong back.

Senior Tony Dixon has made three starts at tailback and has a team-high 29 carries. Yet Dixon is averaging a meager 2.4 yards a carry.

All of his main backups — Derrick Locke (6.2), Alfonso Smith (4.7) and Moncel Allen (6.8) — have better numbers.

Phillips said Dixon's knowledge of UK's pass-protection schemes helps explain his first-team status.

"Tony is a veteran guy," Phillips said. "He understands how to pick up (pass rush) pressures. It's a security blanket you get when Tony is in there."

Though sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline has been the frequent subject of fan critiques, the Kentucky coaches say that inconsistent route running by an inexperienced receiver corps has been the more pressing problem in the UK passing game.

After rotating eight receivers in the first three games, Phillips said he will cut that to six primary wideouts against WKU.

Based on past performance, the Western defense should give UK a chance to build some offensive confidence.

In its two games against major-college foes, WKU has given up averages of 36 points and 473 yards a game.

Still, WKU will be highly motivated for its first meeting with Kentucky.

"This is a great opportunity to show the state what Western football is all about," said Tyrell Hayden, the WKU running back and former Lexington Christian star.

With the big boys looming, it's the last non-conference opportunity for UK to show hope for a better offense to come.

The clock ticks.

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