Mark Story

Cobb decision right; special teams need change

What I know: Rich Brooks announced Monday that Randall Cobb will replace Mike Hartline as starting quarterback for Kentucky's game at Mississippi State.

What I think: Far too much of the blame for UK's dreary 2008 offensive performance has fallen on Hartline — nevertheless this quarterback switch is the right move at the right time for three main reasons.

1.) Confidence. When the true freshman Cobb has entered games at quarterback, the other Kentucky offensive players have visibly seemed to have an extra bit of pep in their step.

That suggests that Cobb's teammates believe he is the player that gives UK the best chance to move the ball.

For me, that impression has been reinforced several times this fall when I've heard various Wildcat players go out of their way to praise Cobb's quarterbacking skills — even when the premise of the question they'd been asked had nothing to do with that.

After the goring at Gainesville, UK needs all the confidence boost it can find.

2.) Slow starts. Kentucky has not scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter of an SEC game this season. It's scored only one offensive TD in the first half (South Carolina) of a conference game.

If Cobb can bring the same energy to the UK offense at the start of games he's brought in relief, it could help alleviate a persistent problem.

3.) Playmaking. If Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derrick Locke had not gotten injured, the need for this quarterback change might not have become so acute.

A game-management type of QB — which Hartline presently is — requires weapons around him. Now without its two most explosive offensive playmakers, Kentucky needs to have the ball in the hands of its best remaining skill player as much as possible.

At quarterback, Randall Cobb touches the ball on every play.

What I know: Kentucky had three kicks — two punts and a field goal — blocked at Florida.

What I think: A nuclear plant meltdown wouldn't yield as much radioactivity as the UK special teams have in the past two seasons.

Let us review the mess:

Counting a botched punt in last season's Mississippi State game, UK has now had eight kicks — four punts and four field goals — blocked in its last 13 games.

In 2007, the Cats had a 10-7 second-half lead at Georgia, only to see the Bulldogs set up the game-winning TD off a blocked punt.

It is seared into the soul of every Long-Suffering University of Kentucky Football Fan what happened to the 34-yard game-winning field-goal attempt UK had in the second overtime last year against Tennessee.

This year, Kentucky nearly blew a 20-14 lead in the game's final seconds when Middle Tennessee blocked a field goal and almost returned it for a touchdown.

South Carolina did take back a blocked UK field goal for a crucial TD. Then came the debacle at Florida.

I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen an SEC football game where a team had two consecutive punts blocked?

Kick blocks have not been Kentucky's only special teams issue. Last year, UK allowed two kickoff-return touchdowns (one off a free kick). This season, Kentucky gave up an 84-yard kickoff return against South Carolina, which set up a Gamecocks TD.

Now, there have been some positive special-teams plays in big situations for UK. Keenan Burton's long kickoff return in the fourth quarter set up the winning score last year at Vanderbilt.

Tim Masthay's booming free kick was a pivotal play this year at Louisville. Derrick Locke had a kickoff return for touchdown against Western Kentucky.

Still, at a school where the margin of error for winning football is thinner than Tayshaun Prince, UK's special-teams meltdowns over the past two seasons have made success even more difficult.

During his Monday news conference, Brooks took the blame over the eight botched kicks in the past 13 games.

"All of them are my fault," the UK coach said.

The Kentucky head man is adamantly loyal to subordinates. Incumbent UK special teams coach Steve Ortmayer goes way back with Brooks.

Yet, after two years filled with persistent kicking-game follies, UK needs to borrow from the current political season in regard to its special-teams coaching.

It's time for a change.