UK Football

UK secondary trying to catch up to the hype

The buzz out of fall camp was that the Kentucky secondary could turn out to be one of the best in school history, and there was plenty of reason to think that way.

There's an All-America lock-down corner on board in Trevard Lindley, a developing young standout at safety in Winston Guy and several other experienced complementary pieces, such as corners Paul Warford and Randall Burden and safeties Calvin Harrison, Matt Lentz and Ashton Cobb.

But Louisville exposed some leaks in Kentucky's supposedly air-tight secondary. Quarterback Justin Burke threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard bomb to Trent Guy. The Cats also had trouble getting off the field because Louisville went 9-for-17 on third-down-conversion attempts.

Louisville wasn't tabbed as a pre-season contender in the Big East, but the Cards do have a respected group of receivers, led by Guy and Scott Long.

After the game, UK Coach Rich Brooks attributed most of the problems to technique errors. Kentucky played a lot of man coverage, but Brooks said his defensive backs made it too easy on Louisville getting off the line of scrimmage.

"Overall, we knew they had good skill people," Brooks said. "We didn't do as good of a job in press coverage as I expected. We didn't get a jam on the ball. We kind of opened our hips and let them run on us. You can't do that against good receivers. If you're going to press, you better get your hands on them at the line."

Louisville was aggressive in attacking the UK secondary and didn't shy away from Lindley. Long beat him deep for a 32-yard reception in the third quarter. Guy got the best of Warford in a one-on-one matchup on a post play that gave Louisville its final lead of the game at 27-24 with 7:49 remaining.

That spurred a little post-game controversy. Kragthorpe credited Lindley for being a great player but also said, "We weren't scared of that guy. We were going after his a--."

That drew a pointed response from Brooks on Monday, and Kragthorpe has since apologized for making any offensive comments.

But the Wildcats need to clean things up this week with No. 1 Florida coming to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.

The Florida receivers are still trying to find their way after losing standouts Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy to the NFL Draft.

The Gators have also been hit hard by the injury bug. Sophomore Deonte Thompson, perhaps Florida's best big-play receiver, missed the Tennessee game with a hamstring injury but is expected back for UK. Moore is out indefinitely with a back injury, and Andre Debose, a promising true freshman, is out for the year with a torn hamstring tendon.

Consequently, the Florida passing game never could get untracked last week in a sloppy 23-13 win over Tennessee. Tim Tebow threw for just 115 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, and the Gators' receivers combined for eight catches for 74 yards, barely more than 9 yards per reception.

But while the cupboard of receivers for Florida is a little thin, it's far from bare.

Three seniors are expected to get the bulk of the work for this week: Riley Cooper has 10 TDs among his 43 career receptions and has a hefty 17.4-yard career average; David Nelson, is a 6-foot-5 target who caught touchdown passes in the Southeastern Conference Championship win over Alabama and the national championship win over Oklahoma; and speedy Brandon James is known more for his punt- and kick-return exploits but has to be accounted for as a receiver because of his dangerous ability in open space.

"They're still dangerous," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "They're Florida. They're always going to have size and speed, and they're going to come in and test us. Our guys have to be ready."

Brown said his secondary will be able to put the Louisville game behind them and rise to the challenge but called for a little realism: No matter how good a cornerback might be, he's going to get beat from time to time.

"It might have been an eye opener as far as guys working on technique and things like that," Brown said.

"Everything that happened could be a learning experience. Maybe they'll work a little harder in practice so it won't happen again. Will it? Probably. But that's the life of a DB. You're a goat or a hero. But we'll be all right."

Brown and Brooks said there were a couple of good things the UK secondary could take from the Louisville game. One, they were able to hang on to the lead without Lindley, who missed the fourth quarter with a bruised knee. And U of L tried to run the same post play with Guy isolated on Warford after UK had reclaimed the lead in the fourth quarter, but Warford was in position, and Burke's pass fell incomplete.

Lindley practiced Tuesday and is expected to be ready for Florida on Saturday.

"When you lose a guy like that going into the fourth quarter, you always get a little concerned," Brooks said. "Overall I was pleased that we were able to survive that crisis."

Now they'll have to try and survive another potential crisis with the top-ranked Gators coming to town.