Kentucky's special teams play wasn't what assistant coach Greg Nord and the rest of the staff had hoped it would be in a 23-16 win over Louisville last week.
The day wasn't a total bust. Freshman Joe Mansour was named National Kickoff Specialist of the Week after three of his five kickoffs went for touchbacks. Ryan Tydlacka averaged 50 yards on his punts. And Randall Cobb had a couple of nice kickoff returns.
But several gaffes kept the final score closer than it would have been. Tydlacka, also the team's place-kicker, missed an extra point and a 25-yard field goal.
The Wildcats also gave up a 67-yard kickoff return to Victor Anderson that set up a U of L field goal. And they avoided an early disaster when Anthony Mosley recovered a Cobb fumble on a punt return after the UK defense had stopped Louisville on its first series.
It was the missed kicks, though, that generated the most discussion.
"The first thing we've got to do is kick the ball better," Coach Joker Phillips said.
The Wildcats thought they had at long last solved their place-kicking issues when they signed four-star prospect Mansour. His leg strength was evident on his booming kickoffs, but the freshman still has a way to go from a mechanical standpoint as a place-kicker.
"He just needs to calm down and get consistent," said Nord, the special teams coach. "A lot of times he's just all over the place. One time he'll have perfect steps but he'll be too fast with his mechanics in his upper body. We've just got to get him in a consistent stroke so when something happens we'll know what to fix, instead of constantly trying to figure out do we need to change this or change that. Keep doing the same thing every time. He's getting closer to it. We all saw the strength of his leg on the kickoffs. But it's like a guy who gets out on the golf course, he can line up and whack it, but it's the show putts and chips that help you score, and that's kind of where he's at."
Phillips and Nord said the place-kicking competition will remain open.
"All I can go off is what I see every day in practice," Nord said. "Everybody else in the world got to see what I saw Saturday, and that's what they base it on. Certainly I'll put the guy that can best win on the field. The competition will continue, and when we get a guy that can make them every day, that competition will end. I expect PAT and 25-yard field goals to be made, just like any high school in America, much less at Division I. We've got to continue working."
Tydlacka, who knocked a 40-yard field goal right down the middle in the third quarter, said the misses were a mental thing.
"I was thinking too much, and if you do that you can leave your hips open and pushed the ball right," he said. "It wasn't really a technique problem. It was just my mind trying to tell me what to do. It was all my fault."
Tydlacka was just fine on punts. He skyrocketed three bombs and surpassed last season's 40-yard average.
"During the off-season I changed my drop and raised it a half an inch," Tydlacka said. "It helped my consistency. I've been punting it well all camp, and hopefully I can do it all season."
Tydlacka said he doesn't mind pulling double duty, but the ideal situation would be for Mansour to take over the place-kicking duties and allow Tydlacka to focus on punting.
If Tydlacka remains the place-kicker, Nord said he'll have confidence in him.
"The thing I like more than anything is he kept competing," Nord said. "I've seen guys make mistakes and then turn down the challenge. If it was going to come down to a game-winning field goal, he was going to be the guy. It's easier for a guy to concentrate on one basic skill, but you've got to use the guy who's the best at this point."
As for the long kickoff return, Phillips said Mansour incorrectly kicked the ball down the middle of the field.
"When we say put the ball outside the right hash, we need to kick outside the right hash," Phillips said. "We do not want the ball kicked right down the middle. The way we cover, that's trouble every time."
Despite the placement of the kick, Nord said he still thought that Anderson should have been stuffed at the 15.
"The coverage was there," he said. "We missed a couple of tackles, and the guy didn't get a proper angle. It should have been down at the 25 at the worst. We were sloppy with some of our techniques, there was some indecision in some of the coverage lanes, we missed a couple of tackles."
UK's special-teams units used several first-year players, so the coaching staff expects things to get smoother in the coming weeks. Ideally the kinks can be worked out during a pair of non-conference home games against Western Kentucky and Akron.
"Sometimes you get a younger guy not used to the speed of the game," Nord said. "All of a sudden those drills you've been putting him through trying to get his technique down, he realizes at that point he should have listened better."
The first Cat Walk of the season will take place at 5:15 p.m. Saturday outside Gate 1 of Commonwealth Stadium.