UK Football

Cats lean on Locke, Cobb to win season opener

UK quarterback Mike Hartline has developed a stronger rapport with his receivers, making him more comfortable to throw downfield more frequently.
UK quarterback Mike Hartline has developed a stronger rapport with his receivers, making him more comfortable to throw downfield more frequently.

LOUISVILLE — Derrick Locke is known for a lot of things: his speed, his versatility and his willingness to speak his mind.

After Saturday's 23-16 win over Louisville, there's another item that needs to be added to that list.

Workhorse.

Locke, 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior tailback, fought off tightness in his calf and cramps to carry 23 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats held off the Cards in front of 55,273 at newly renovated Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the calf was bothering Locke to the point he didn't know whether he'd be able to finish.

"It was bothering me a lot," Locke said. "It started tightening up, and then the Louisville players kept stepping on it, and it just knotted up. I was on the sidelines trying to get it worked out the whole time. I just couldn't get it right."

But Locke persevered and teamed with Randall Cobb, who was also battling cramps, to help close out the game after the Cards closed to 23-16 on a Chris Philpott 27-yard field goal with 3:16 left. Operating out of the Wildcat, Cobb play-faked and hit Jordan Aumiller for a 19-yard gain, and Locke's 5-yard gain with less than a minute left gave the Cats the first down they needed to run out the clock.

"The (coaches) kept asking, 'Can you do it, can you do it?' " Locke said. "I said, 'All right, I'm going to take a couple of snaps off and get back in.' That's the one thing about me and Randall, when the game's on the line, we're going to show up and do our thing. If they call our number, we produce."

Sophomore Donald Russell did a nice job in Locke's absence, carrying six times for 36 yards and catching a pair of short passes. But he doesn't have the experience or explosiveness of Locke.

"You just look at what our offense does when he's in there and what it does when he's not," UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "Nothing against Donald Russell, but Derrick brings a whole new dimension with his speed, and he's very multi-dimensional. He can pick up the blitz or whatever it may be. It's not just when he has the ball in his hands. You know what to expect from him. He's a good football player, and part of that is being tough, not just with physical toughness but mental toughness."

Locke's 23 carries were two short of his career high against Vanderbilt last year, and he would have eclipsed that total if not for the calf problem.

"I'm glad (Phillips) felt confident enough in me to let me carry it 23 times," Locke said. "That shows me that he trusts me."

Phillips said Locke is a much smarter runner this year and takes better advantage of his blocks and running lanes.

"I'm really proud of Derrick," Phillips said. "We felt like he left a lot of yardage on the field last year by not pressing on the line of scrimmage and picking up his blocks. But he got everything out of every run today."

Kentucky came out of the gates blazing. After winning the coin toss, Phillips — unlike his predecessor, Rich Brooks — opted to receive. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Mike Hartline hit La'Rod King downfield for a 38-yard gain, and then Locke bolted off the right side and ran untouched for a 32-yard TD that gave the Cats a 6-0 lead 35 seconds into the game.

The Wildcat defense was a stone wall early, holding the Cards to 30 first-quarter yards. Locke's 1-yard run late in the period pushed the Cats lead to 13-0.

"I felt like we were gonna run away with it," Locke said.

But the Cats, slowed by mistakes and penalties in the second half, didn't reach the end zone in the final two quarters, and Louisville was able to get back in the game. Locke was quick to credit the Cardinals.

"They played a good game, they battled us," Locke said. "I don't think we relaxed. It was just the mistakes and penalties."

Locke moved into seventh place on UK's all-time rushing list with 1,835 yards, and he also had two rushing touchdowns for the first time in his career. He needs 271 yards to pass Artose Pinner for sixth place.

Cobb has more of a national profile than Locke, but he said it's time for Locke to get a little more love. When asked if Locke was one of the best backs in the country, Cobb said, "Hands down."

"We always wanted to be one of the best 1-2 punches in the country, and I think we've been doing a good job of that," Cobb said. "I don't understand why I'm getting all the respect and he's not getting any."

Locke doesn't play the no-respect card much, but he admitted to keeping up with some of the country's top running backs. And he still sees room for improvement.

"I didn't think I played as clean as some of the other good backs in the country today," Locke said. "But am I just as good as those backs? Yeah. I've just got to continue to show it. (There are) a lot of backs that are out there I respect. I just want them to have the same respect when they watch my game. If I can get that, I'll be good."

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