Through the first three games of the 2009 season, the University of Kentucky offense hasn't really let the "Wildcat" out of the bag.
There had been much pre-season anticipation about the Wildcat formation, which features sophomore Randall Cobb at quarterback. But the Cats have used it just six times — two times each against Miami (Ohio), Louisville and Florida.
Cobb is Kentucky's leading receiver with 18 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns, but penalties and turnovers have bogged down the UK offense the past two weeks and limited not only Cobb's touches, but also opportunities to go to the Wildcat formation.
"We substituted in the fourth quarter against Miami," UK head coach for offense Joker Phillips said. "We only ran four plays in the third quarter against Louisville, and we just couldn't get in a rhythm against Florida. So there were a lot of things that we wanted to do that we didn't get to."
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Cobb is one of the most dangerous playmakers Kentucky has. He has rushed just three times for 20 yards and attempted one pass, but don't look for Cobb to pull a Terrell Owens or Keyshawn Johnson and openly campaign to get the ball.
"I hate to be that type of person," Cobb said. "I would never do that. I feel like they know my ability and know what I'm capable of doing, and if they believe they need to get me the ball more, they'll get me the ball more. I'm not going to worry about it."
Phillips said getting the ball in Cobb's hands has been and will continue to be a top priority.
"He's one of our dynamic players on offense," Phillips said. "He's one of the guys who can make plays for us. We definitely have to get it to him."
Head coach Rich Brooks said the Wildcat formation will continue to be a part of the offensive package and could be used more extensively in the coming weeks, but he said the timing has to be right.
No. 1, the Wildcat isn't the novelty it once was because most programs run some variation of it. That lessens the element of surprise.
"There are a lot of people doing it and, the more you see it, the better off you can stop it," Brooks said.
He said the Wildcat is best used as a change of pace or contrast to UK's normal system, which features Mike Hart line at quarterback in more conventional formations. Even Cobb acknowledged that UK has to pick its spots to run the Wildcat.
"We just have to figure out exactly what schemes to use against it," Cobb said. "Sometimes defenses key on certain things. I think it can be used effectively, but the offense isn't made to be used in a whole series. It's something you just bring in to catch defenses off-guard, maybe a play or two here or there."
Brooks also noted that the coaches have to be careful not to overwork Cobb, who had to have knee surgery after last year's regular-season finale at Tennessee. Last season, he often was asked to be the No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 receiver and primary punt returner. Cobb, listed at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, also missed a part of fall camp this year with back spasms.
"You have to remember, Cobb is not a big, physical guy," Brooks said. "If you run him a lot, you take a chance of him getting beat up pretty good."
While fans are clamoring for more of the Wildcat formation, a bigger key to getting Cobb more big plays would be stability at the No. 2 receiver position. Junior-college transfer Chris Matthews struggled against Florida and probably will be benched in favor of sophomore Gene McCaskill for Saturday's game against No. 3 Alabama. Florida threw a lot of double-teams at Cobb and held him to five catches for 24 yards.
"(Cobb) is probably going to see a lot of that until we make some people pay with some other options in our offense," Brooks said.
Matthews' numbers aren't bad. He ranks second behind Cobb with 13 catches for 119 yards and a score. But Matthews didn't get lined up properly on several occasions against the Gators and, on UK's lone scoring drive, he ran a slant in the end zone when the play called for a fade.
"He was kind of lost," Brooks said. "Those are things he just has to get better at."
Matthews tore it up during fall camp but now seems to be going through the typical adjustment period as a junior-college receiver.
"I'm getting in the film room every day trying to better understand what's going on," Matthews said. "It's a lot, but this is D-I football. You have to do what you have to do. There's just some minor mishaps right now. I think I'm getting close to getting it straightened out."
Phillips said Matthews will continue to be a big part of the game plan even if he's not in the starting lineup.
"Chris has made some plays," Phillips said. "The thing he's got to do is play with poise, and he didn't play with poise last week. He got rattled. But he'll be in there. The guy's got ability. We're not going to lose him or put him on the shelf. We've got to play Chris Matthews. We feel like he's one of the guys who can take pressure off Randall. He's just got to play with a little more poise."
Junior cornerback Paul Warford will miss the Alabama game with a quadriceps injury. Sophomore Randall Burden will start in Warford's place. Brooks said he expects everybody else to be available.