UK Football

Kentucky football: High IQ on the 'O' line just what UK recruiting for

Larry Warford, left, who was rated among the Southeastern Conference's top linemen in pre-season polls, and two-year starter Matt Smith, are Kentucky's leaders on the offensive line.
Larry Warford, left, who was rated among the Southeastern Conference's top linemen in pre-season polls, and two-year starter Matt Smith, are Kentucky's leaders on the offensive line. Herald-Leader

The majors of most of Kentucky's offensive linemen leap off the pages of the media guide: computer science, biology, engineering, political science, education.

"We know we're not the strongest offensive line; we're not the fastest, but we're going to be the smartest," right guard Larry Warford affirmed.

That might be their biggest advantage this season as UK transitions to a hurry-up style offense behind quarterback Maxwell Smith.

There was lots of talk about how well this system fits Smith and his incredibly accurate arm. There was talk about how it was a great fit for the smaller, quicker receivers.

But it turns out that it's also a good fit for the Cats' offensive linemen, who have managed to keep Smith safe so far this season, giving up three sacks in two games.

Coach Joker Phillips said the group has been a positive this season. "They have done really well protecting our quarterback, opening up running lanes, communicating."

That's not to say the no-huddle style makes it easier on the big guys.

Having less time to think doesn't make it simpler, red-shirt freshman Zach West assured.

"The plays are still complicated and you still have to know what's going on," he said. "It's not like high school where you've just got to block the man in front of you anymore. You still have to know the play. I'm not the strongest or the biggest guy out there, but I know what I'm doing and that's the part that gives me a little comfort."

The offensive linemen spend an inordinate amount of time together studying film. They study opposing team's blitzes and patterns. They work together to diagram what will happen, what can happen and statistically what should happen.

On the field, sometimes it's difficult to know — especially in the short seconds between plays — exactly what a defense that isn't lined up yet is going to do.

"Whatever play is called you have to know how to block for that play against any defense," Warford explained.

That's where all of the film work comes in.

But more than anything, that's where the high IQ comes in.

"Other than height and weight, I'm not sure there's another thing that's that important in my linemen," offensive line coach Mike Summers said on Tuesday.

After a few seconds of his own pontificating, Summers corrects himself.

"Well, maybe it's more important than height and weight because at this level of football, you can't operate unless you can think on the run, unless you can assimilate information, unless you can deduce from pieces of the puzzle what the whole picture should look like," he said. "You just can't do that and not be mentally sharp."

It's why he's recruiting for book smarts as well as offensive line skill.

"He doesn't want you to be a dumb football player," West said of Summers. "That stereotype is gone. He wants you to be able to analyze things before they happen."

UK's two recent classes of offensive linemen paint an accurate picture. Sophomore Darrian Miller said his dream job is biologist. Of the five players UK signed for the offensive line this season, four were honor roll members.

Jordan Swindle, the only true freshman who has seen action so far this season, wants to go to dental or medical school. Jordan Watson said he's planning to go to law school or maybe attend UK's business school or the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

"That's who I want," Summers said when asked about the smart young players. "There are two, three criteria. I want height, toughness and I want intelligence. If we stick to those recruiting attributes we'll have success."

Kentucky's line will get a big test against Western Kentucky on Saturday night. Against top-ranked Alabama, the Hilltoppers managed to get six sacks and eight tackles for loss.

Quanterus Smith had three of those sacks. Smith and Andrew Jackson, who had 17 tackles for loss last season (and four already this season), help lead a Tops defense that is 12th in the nation.

WKU held Alabama to just 103 yards on 31 attempts (an average of 3.3 yards per carry).

"That's a very good defense," Phillips said of Western this week. "They do a really good job of playing physical, stopping the run, and getting after people. "

But UK is confident it has the braun — and the brains — to compete.

Williams practicing again

Kentucky starting running back CoShik Williams, who missed last week's game against Kent State with back spasms, likely will be ready to go against WKU.

The senior, who had 168 all-purpose yards (62 running, 21 receiving and 85 on kickoff returns) against Louisville in the first game, practiced on Tuesday and seems close to full strength, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said after practice.

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