UK Football

UK trying to jump-start its offense

Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks and assistant Joker Phillips have been bombarded by suggestions for how to crank up the UK offense, which Phillips said was "a jumbled mess" in a 41-7 loss to Florida last Saturday.

Callers on radio talk shows have chimed in, and Internet message boards and comment sections on newspaper Web sites have been buzzing after the Cats' flag-filled, uneven performance against the Gators.

Quarterback Mike Hartline said the players have offered their own solutions.

"The linemen, they always want to run the football, the receivers, they always want to get the ball, so everybody has their own opinions," Hartline said. "It's tough to please everybody. But the thing is, we trust our coaches and know that they have a good plan schemed up for us this week."

That game plan figures to be slightly different as the Wildcats prepare to face No. 3 Alabama. The Florida game continued a recent pattern of slow starts, and Brooks said the staff will change some things this week.

But first and foremost, the players have to get their heads on straight. Phillips said they looked intimidated and shellshocked against the Gators.

"I'm not sure if the stage was too big for us or what, but we've got to respond better," the head coach for offense said.

Brooks and Phillips agreed that the team needs to better adjust to the speed of the game, one reason why the first-team offense will spend more time facing the first-team defense in practices.

Coaches are often hesitant to pit the starters against one another in practices for fear of injury, but Brooks said the reward is worth the risk at this point.

"The way we've been starting games, we have to dial it up and take our chances," Brooks said.

The UK defense did manage to hold Florida to a field goal on its first possession, but defensive coordinator Steve Brown said practicing starters against starters benefits the offense and defense.

"The most important thing is practicing against speed," Brown said. "Being able to block speed, being able to defend speed, it's good for us. We just need to see more reps to practice that tempo because you don't necessarily get those looks practicing against (the scout team)."

The offense will also cut back slightly on the number of audibles called at the line of scrimmage. Too often against Florida, Hartline was scrambling to change a play and get people lined up right as the play clock wound down. Brooks stressed that the offense will still check at the line, but there will be some instances when Hartline will have to stick with the original play and run it. While that may cut back on some of the confusion, it also places emphasis on winning one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage and in the open field.

"I think (Brooks) wants us being physical and not beating ourselves mentally," Hartline said. "There's no thinking to it, just line up, hit 'em in the mouth, and get as many yards as we can."

Phillips said the problems with getting plays off in time often falls on the other players and not Hartline.

"We're so slow and methodical in getting lined up," Phillips said. "Guys were just walking around and not giving him enough time. Most of the time, we get the play in with enough time for those guys to get lined up and get going. We had guys thinking we had time, and they were going nice and easy and nonchalant in getting lined up."

Phillips said the running game must succeed early to keep the offense out of third-and-long situations. On different drives, Kentucky faced third-and-25, third-and-24, third-and-18 and third-and-17.

The one possession in which Kentucky looked organized and wasn't bottled up by penalties or third-and long situations, they scored, marching on a 14-play, 58-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. On that drive, the offense converted a third-and-4 and a third-and-1 and, after coming up short on a third-and-5 play, scored on a 2-yard play-action pass to Ross Bogue on fourth-and-goal.

"We need to keep ourselves in third-and-shorts," Phillips said. "We were 0-for-11 in third-and-seven plus. Those are hard to manage."

Running the ball on the Crimson Tide won't be easy. Virginia Tech rushed 31 times for 64 yards, and Arkansas picked up just 63 yards on 26 carries.

Alabama stoned the UK running game in last year's 17-14 win, holding the Cats to 35 rushing yards on 20 carries.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said the Kentucky running game will be his team's biggest priority.

"This is probably the best team we have played so far in terms of just running the ball, two-back runs, regular runs, fullback lead plays, power plays," he said. "We expected some from Virginia Tech, and we didn't get a lot of it, but I am sure we'll get it in this game, and that'll be a challenge for our players as well."

Brooks also said that the pre-game routine will be shorter and more intense. Sophomore receiver Randall Cobb was animated in trying to fire up his teammates on the sidelines, but the Cats still lacked pizzazz.

"We've just got to come in with more enthusiasm," Cobb said. "I think that's the biggest thing. When you come into a game with enthusiasm, you're aggressive. You play harder. That's what it takes. I could tell in warm-ups. I didn't get the vibe that people were ready to play and ready to fight or have that enthusiasm."

Micah Johnson leaves practice with foot injury

Senior linebacker Micah Johnson left Tuesday's practice with turf toe. Offensive linemen Christian Johnson (ribs) and Justin Jeffries (Achilles'), cornerback Paul Warford (quadriceps) and running back Moncell Allen (MCL sprain) weren't able to practice.