John Clay

Cats must be green before they can go

A decade or so ago, I saw Jackson Browne playing an outdoor theatre when between newer material, fans in the audience kept shouting out requests for old favorites.

Finally, in a flash of anger, the musician shot back, "They were all new songs once."

We should keep that in mind about the UK offense.

Did you know that as a redshirt freshman back in 2004, Jacob Tamme caught all of 16 passes?

As a true freshman, Rafael Little rushed for a grand total of 265 yards. His first season, Keenan Burton made a whopping 20 grabs.

When Andre Woodson became the full-time starter at UK in 2005, his sophomore season, the former North Hardin star ended the year having thrown exactly six interceptions and six touchdown passes.

Yet that foursome formed the nucleus that led the Cats out of the wilderness and into the post-season spotlight as the winners of back-to-back Music City Bowls.

This isn't to say quarterback Mike Hartline is the next Andre Woodson, or running back Derrick Locke is the next Rafael Little, or wideout Aaron Boyd is the next Keenan Burton.

But it is to say that as the Cats have struggled their way to an 0-2 Southeastern Conference start and a No. 96 ranking among the nation's offenses, it's easy to forget that much of this group is as green as the stadium grass. That's a tough way to make headway in the SEC.

The heart of the offense was supposed to be a more experienced offensive line, but because of injuries and underperformance, the line has been a mid-season disappointment, failing to open the holes needed to establish a consistent running game.

That's put the pressure right back on Hartline, the first-year starter who averaged just more than three yards per pass attempt in Saturday's loss to South Carolina. As UK was converting just one of 16 third-down situations, many of Hartline's throws were off the mark. Some were on the mark, but a bit high. Some were on the mark, but dropped.

But then it's easy to forget the youth of the receiving corps. With senior Dicky Lyons Jr. out indefinitely thanks to a knee injury, the Cats will have to depend even more on a group that includes Eric Adeyemi (true freshman), Matt Roark (true freshman), Aaron Boyd (true freshman), Gene McCaskill (true freshman) and Randall Cobb (true freshman).

And yes, many believe Cobb should be the one making the throws, not catching them. But consider that of Hartline's 43 passes on Saturday, 10 were thrown Cobb's way. If Cobb takes the quarterback spot, and Hart line takes the bench, where do those throws go?

That's why offensive coordinator Joker Phillips gets paid the big bucks, with the head-coaching job his in waiting.

He needs to find answers soon, i.e., this week. Arkansas comes to town Saturday not as the reeling Razorbacks, but as a club with momentum, thanks to a 25-22 win Saturday over the train wreck that is now Auburn.

Bobby Petrino is 4-0 vs. Rich Brooks and Co. The former Louisville coach's last win over the Cats came in 2006, the year Woodson, Little, Burton and Tamme were all juniors.

That foursome survived the loss to forge better days. This current group might one day do the same, even if it's later rather than sooner. Maybe not.

We just need to remember, they were all new players once.