UK Football

UK football: Cats need to get back to going on attack

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, right, looks on as Mississippi State University scores a touchdown in the third quarter, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, right, looks on as Mississippi State University scores a touchdown in the third quarter, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

They say it's not how you start, but how you finish.

But for Kentucky, so much of how it finishes has been dependent on how it has started.

And lately things haven't started well on either side of the ball.

In the first four games this season, UK outscored opponents 35-0 in the first quarter and 72-10 by halftime.

In the past five games, Cats have been outscored 69-13 in first quarter, including being held scoreless in the past two.

It's not an offensive problem; it's not a defensive problem.

It's a team problem.

At some point, the Cats stopped attacking, Coach Mark Stoops said. He wants to see UK go into the game at Tennessee on Saturday with the same attacking mentality it had at Florida.

"Just like to see our guys compete at that level across the board," he said. "We could all live with the results if we play the very best we can. So that's what we're striving to do."

The Cats have punted on their first possession in four straight games, amassing just 30 yards on 16 plays in those games.

There was a hefty improvement in competition in those games, but it's more than that, coaches and players said.

At Florida, Kentucky came out and "played like our hair was on fire," quarterback Patrick Towles said, noting that offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants his group to find a way to go back on the attack.

"Really just getting after people, playing really physical," Towles said. "We need to go down and duplicate that on Saturday if we want a chance."

For his part, Brown said he's made some alterations in practice this week, hoping to get the team off to a faster start against a Volunteers team that jumped on UK 20-0 last season before winning 27-14 in Lexington.

"We'll change some things, how we go about calling the game early, and I think that will help," he said.

Part of that has been going back to the quick tempo, aggressive play the Cats used earlier in the season, fullback D.J. Warren said.

"Just from looking at all the film, when we are moving fast how well it benefitted us, just getting back to playing that way," he said. "When you're playing fast, that puts you in a really good position. ... We're just getting back to that, that's what we're doing."

In their first four games of the year, Kentucky's opening drives went for a combined 259 yards. In its last six games, the Cats have gone a combined 47 total yards in 25 plays on opening drives.

Tennessee's defense isn't going to do much to help the Cats get started off on the right cleat. After allowing opponents to score on their first possessions in two of their first three games, the Volunteers have allowed just one score in each of the last six games.

The good news for the UK defense is that Tennessee's offense has been sputtering early in games, too. The Vols haven't been amazingly successful on their opening drives, getting points just twice in 10 opening drives, a field goal versus Georgia and a touchdown against Chattanooga.

They would love to change that against the Kentucky defense, which has given up touchdowns in three of its last four opening stands after forcing punts to start the first four games this season.

In the past three games, UK's defense has allowed double-digit plays on opponents' first scoring drives.

"The beginning of the season we've had some fast starts, and now I think it's been the other way," Stoops said. "That's been troublesome here lately. It's hard to put my finger on it exactly why."

Senior defensive linemen Mike Douglas and Alvin "Bud" Dupree both said there's a certain feeling out process for the defense, trying to see what wrinkles were added and how to respond to them.

The players all know that getting that first stop is an important factor. They're just trying to get it done.

"We just have to be better at responding and stopping the first drive because that creates a lot of momentum," Douglas said.

The defense needs to play faster as a group and make better plays individually.

"It just plays hand in hand," Dupree said. "But it's mostly on us, we just gotta go out no matter what's happening and just win our one-on-ones."