UK Football

UK football notebook: Kentucky searching for consistent play-makers

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Demarco Robinson (9) stayed in bounds on the way to a touch down as the host University of Kentucky lost 31-45 to Mississippi State University football team at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Mahan
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Demarco Robinson (9) stayed in bounds on the way to a touch down as the host University of Kentucky lost 31-45 to Mississippi State University football team at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

Early in the season when Kentucky was riding a winning streak, it was called balance.

The fact that the Cats didn't have a dominant running back or a single go-to wide receiver was seen as a positive.

"It makes us harder to defend," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said before Kentucky went to Louisiana State in October.

"People can't push their coverage to a certain guy. And then running back, we've been by committee a little bit, and each one of those guys has at different times really, really shown the ability to make big plays."

What once felt like balance now seems like a casting call for play-makers for UK, which has lost three in a row as it prepares to take on Georgia on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Yes, Kentucky has four different running backs with at least two touchdowns, but it doesn't have a dominant one that can do all things well. Not one UK back has rushed for more than 315 yards nine games into the season.

Yes, Kentucky has eight different players with double-digit catches, but only one, senior Javess Blue, has more than two touchdowns this season, and he only has four scores. None has reached 500 yards yet.

So does UK have a guy that it can count on to get tough yards at crunch time?

"I think that's still a work in progress, honestly," Brown said Tuesday. "There's some guys on offense that I know what to expect of every week, and there's a lot of guys that I honestly don't know what to expect. Some guys that have played really well some weeks and some guys that haven't."

A lot of that can be attributed to Kentucky's youth offensively, with five of those pass catchers being sophomores or younger. Two of the four backs are true freshmen.

Throw in that UK is dealing with a sophomore quarterback starting his first full season and it's never clear what you're going to get, not just from week to week but from play to play, Brown said.

"That's not an excuse or whatever; I'm just telling you the truth," Brown continued. "When you're playing some young guys, you just don't know."

The Cats' most consistent player offensively has been senior wide receiver Demarco Robinson, who has 25 catches for 395 yards but just one touchdown. Knowing what he will do from game to game means he probably will be targeted more often.

"He's a guy that we can do a better job of getting him the ball when things kind of go bad," Brown said. "That's something, when we were sitting around talking on Sunday, that's one point that I think we made and I think we'll try to do a better job of."

Quarterback Patrick Towles had been fairly consistent for Kentucky this season, but the last two weeks have shown what life often is like for a first-year starter against good Southeastern Conference defenses.

After playing the game of his life against top-rated Mississippi State, he struggled at Missouri until late in the game.

"We need to play the guys who are more consistent, but it's hard to find that when you've got guys who are hit and miss like myself so we've just got to be more consistent is all," Towles said.

Kentucky needs to find a consistent play-maker at running back, a position that has shown promise with two huge scoring plays from Braylon Heard in the season opener, then a game-winning Wildcat formation flurry against South Carolina from Jojo Kemp, and some impressive flashes from freshmen Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton.

"You'd like to be able to have a guy when it's crunch time, you'll be able to say, 'Hey, you go in there and you ride it out,'" UK running backs coach Chad Scott said.

"I could easily say we have that guy, but the truth's in the pudding. We haven't had that guy who has gone on the football field and shown he's the guy who can do it."

Kentucky's search for consistent play-makers could continue to be clouded against a Bulldogs defense that is holding opponents to 22.3 points and just 336.1 yards a game.

Home sweet home

Kentucky will take the field for the final time at old Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. The final time before it goes to turf, the final time before the renovations are completed.

Playing at home has been much better for the Cats this season, especially on offense. The numbers are eye popping.

On the road, the Cats' offense is averaging more than three touchdowns fewer than it is at home, with UK's 14.3 points on the road are among the worst in the nation (115th). The Cats' 36.7 points a game at home are in the top 50 nationally.

Kentucky is averaging nearly 150 yards more per game at home, putting up 457.5 at Commonwealth Stadium versus 308.3 on the road.

The Cats' ground game is a big reason for the discrepancy, gaining 187.8 yards per game at home compared to 84 while away.

Senior moments

The Cats will send off 22 players during a pre-game ceremony, including offensive lineman John Gruenschlaeger and cornerback Rodney Cox, juniors in eligibility, but forgoing their senior seasons.

"I love them," Stoops said of his seniors on Monday. "They're a special group. They're a very good group to coach."

The coach said it's been a difficult transition for many of them, who were recruited by the previous staff.

"They didn't ask for a coaching change, but they've handled it very well," Stoops continued. "They've been very good leaders for us, and they've made a very big difference in this year's team."

It's been a whirlwind few years for senior leader Alvin "Bud" Dupree. As a freshman, he remembers seniors telling him that it would fly by. They didn't lie.

"I kind of just brushed it off, just thinking they were talking," Dupree said. "But now that I'm in their shoes, I'm telling the freshmen now everything's gonna fly by. ... It's just real crazy. Been through a lot of down times and some fun times, but just got to finish it off with a win."

Dupree didn't want to predict whether he would cry before his home finale playing against the team from his home state.

"I try not to think about it, because I don't want to get soft, you know?" he said. "It's going to be a lot of emotions flying around, but we just gotta bottle all that up and focus on the win."

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