UK Football

Tailback deuce could turn Cats loose

In his continuing effort to find ways to get his offense moving, Joker Phillips went to a different look in the second half of the South Carolina game.

Typically, Kentucky uses either a traditional backfield with a tailback and a fullback or a one-back set, but there were a few plays in the second half when Phillips, the offensive coordinator, put tailbacks Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith on the field together.

Expect to see more of the two-tailback formations when Kentucky hosts Arkansas on Saturday.

"That's another way to spread the field," Phillips said. "You get three receivers on the field, and you got Locke, who's becoming a good receiver, with Alfonso in the backfield."

Phillips said he's made a priority of throwing the ball to the backs when they have room to run, but those efforts have often been stifled by a lack of execution.

"We've tried to get our backs one-on-one against linebackers but, a lot of times, we'll catch it and fall down, or the ball's (thrown) low. It's been a combination of things. But we've got to continue to try and create some mismatches."

Locke has stepped into a feature role in the offense as a runner and receiver. He got his first start of the season against South Carolina, and he was the team's leading rusher (15 carries, 51 yards) and receiver (eight catches, 57 yards).

"He's certainly going to get opportunities," UK Coach Rich Brooks said of Locke. "Whether he's going to get 15 carries and eight catches every game, who knows? I would say that is pushing the envelope a little bit. What we're looking for is production. He gave us some, but we're going to need more. There'll be rotating in and out to keep people fresh, and if somebody gets hot, they'll get more action."

Smith is excited about the two-back sets because it gets him on the field more. He has carried 33 times this season for 173 yards (5.2 a carry) and a touchdown. He had two carries for 4 yards against South Carolina.

"I feel pretty good about it," Smith said. "We've worked on that in practice a lot. We didn't really do as much as we could have done out of those sets (against South Carolina) because I really didn't play as much. But I think you'll see a lot more of it from here on out."

Phillips said Locke is a better receiver than Smith so, when the two are in the same backfield, expect Locke to split out wide with Smith being the primary ball carrier.

But Smith said he's worked hard on his receiving, and he often spends time catching balls from the throwing machine after practice.

"I've made big improvements," Smith said. "I catch all the balls in practice. I stay after practice catching balls like always. I guess, in tight situations, they go with (Locke) now, but I think the coaches don't really have a choice now but to try and throw the ball to me and some other guys to see what can work."

Smith has had just one ball thrown his way this season, and he caught it for a 6-yard gain against Western Kentucky.

"I caught the ball for the first down," Smith said. "It was a good catch, and I got hit and tucked it in. I guess the coaches need to have a little more confidence in me because obviously I have confidence in myself."

Locke has said repeatedly that he doesn't mind splitting out on occasion.

"I have no problem with that at all," Locke said. "If they want to do more of that, I'm totally fine with it. It's just another way to get your hands on the ball and make a play."

With Locke and Smith in the game at the same time, it might create more space for the running game. The UK offensive line has struggled creating holes for much of the season, and the times Locke was able to wiggle free against the South Carolina defense, the Gamecocks closed the holes quickly.

Locke labeled his performance against South Carolina as "all right," but he gave a lot of credit to the Gamecocks defense.

"I felt like, on every run, I did what I could do," Locke said. "It was just one of those days. Their defense was good. I can't say that their defense was necessarily better than Alabama, but they came ready to play. They were flying around just like any other SEC team would, and they were where they were supposed to be."

Regardless of what sets they're in, Phillips said, the offensive players need to do a better job of converting on third down. UK was 1-for-16 last Saturday, and not all of them were third-and-long. Phillips said UK had a third-and-5 or less eight times.

"The thing we've got to do is sustain drives," Phillips said. "We haven't shown that we can score in three or four plays. We've tried to create ways to move the ball, but we've got to be smart and cut back on penalties. The one thing I've tried to do is keep us in third-and-short (situations). Those are manageable. We've got to convert those."