John Clay

Far too early for snap judgments on UK season

Randall Cobb was the spark they'd heard about, all right, a little lefty with a quick set of wheels.

But so anxious were Kentucky fans to get excited about their offense, maybe they got a little too excited.

The good: His first snap at quarterback last night, Cobb, the tiny Tennessean, flew straight up the middle on a quarterback draw for 16 yards. Two snaps later, he took off around left end, dodged a couple of Norfolk State Spartans and nimbly skipped into the end zone for an 18-yard score, the first of three straight he helped engineer.

The bad: Many of those same fans classlessly booed when starter Mike Hartline returned to take over the offense at the start of the second half.

Head coach Rich Brooks heard them, and didn't like it. Not one bit.

"I'm going to get this off my chest," Brooks said. "I am sick to my stomach that our fans in Commonwealth Stadium would boo Mike Hartline when he came out to start the second half. There is no place for that in our stadium."

It was a lowlight on a night of mainly positives, as you might expect given the Cats were playing a nice but overmatched Football Championship Subdivision foe, in what ended up a 38-3 Kentucky victory.

The defense was dynamite again, holding an opponent without an offensive touchdown for the second straight game. That's the first time that's happened since the 1978 UK defenders beat Virginia Tech 28-0 and Vanderbilt 53-2 back-to-back.

But after last Sunday's 27-2 win at Louisville, the attention — too much probably — had been centered on the punchless offense. After all, 14 of the winner's 27 points were from defensive scores — Asthon Cobb's 28-yard fumble return; Myron Pryor's now-famous 72-yard rumble with a fumble for another score. The only offensive touchdown, Tony Dixon's 7-yard run, came after a Trevard Lindley interception that gave the Cats the ball at the — you guessed it — U of L 7.

So when Brooks was asked what he was looking for last week, he said simply, "Offense."

He got flashes. Cobb was the flashiest. Until now, his quarterback skills had been a rumbling of glowing reviews from behind the closed doors of the Kentucky practices. He played just one series last Sunday, the final one, the victory series.

He entered on the third series Saturday night and engineered three straight scores. His 1-yard sneak into the end zone capped the second possession. Cobb tossed a 14-yard scoring strike to Dicky Lyons Jr. — "I thought Dicky made a great catch," said Brooks — to end the third.

After that, however, he looked more like a true freshman. Blindsided on a sack, he fumbled away the football. Second half, he quarterbacked just two possessions, the first of which he tossed a telegraphed interception directly to Norfolk's Terrell Whitehead.

Hartline returned after that, and looked better. His passes had more zip. He moved the team. Derrick Locke ripped off a 68-yard dash to the end zone, reminding us of the speedster we saw a year ago. In the fourth quarter, Moncel Allen ripped off a 38-yard run.

Overall, there was improvement, yes, but the competition wasn't the best. The next two games bring better foes. Middle Tennessee beat Maryland 24-14 Saturday. Western Kentucky beat Eastern Kentucky 37-13 in Richmond.

This is still an inexperienced offense. It will take time. Cobb is a freshman. Locke is a sophomore. Kyrus Lanxter, who made a nice catch and run on a key third-and-9, is a sophomore. Plus, the Cats were without Garry Williams, their veteran starting left tackle, out two to three weeks after knee surgery.

Afterward, Brooks used the term "manage our inexperience," then said, "Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we'll figure out who should be getting the lion's share."

That's the target date. With the SEC opener (Oct. 4 at Alabama) three games away, the UK offense showed a spark or two Saturday night. But it's still a ways to a consistent glow.