Big 12

Lessons Learned About Kentucky Football After 2 Weeks

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After two games Kentucky is exactly where they needed to be, 2-0. They rode an explosive start and then hung on to beat Louisville in Week 1 and then on Saturday the offense exploded for 63 points against an overmatched Western Kentucky defense.

Since 1950, 63 points is the fifth most points scored in a game by the Wildcats. The record is 83, in an 83-0 blowout of North Dakota on November 18, 1950. I don’t remember that one. The games that come to mind for me when thinking of Kentucky going off point-wise is the 77-17 thrashing of UTEP in 2002 under Guy Morriss and when Tim Couch and Craig Yeast went off on Louisville for 68 points in 1998.

I haven’t heard many grumblings about Mike Hartline’s play the first two weeks. In two games the often maligned senior is 33-of-46 for 430 yards and three touchdowns. He has yet to throw a pick. Against WKU he went 16-for-20 for 213 and all three touches, and yesterday was named honorable mention as National Quarterback of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards.

I know it’s early. I know he hasn’t felt much pressure yet. I realize this. But, through two games Hartline has a pass efficiency rating of 171.78, which is good for 13th nationally.

How good is Randall Cobb and how fun is he to watch? The kid does it all. On Saturday, Cobb accounted for 207 yards and three touchdowns, including a 52-yard punt return TD, five catches for a career-high 98 yards, a 15-yard touchdown pass and four rushes for 26 yards. You’d be hard pressed to find a player who means more to his team that Cobb does to the Wildcats.

Derrick Locke has been beastly and the young tailbacks do not look to bad, either. Granted most of their damage was done against a WKU team that allowed nearly 40 points-per-game this year. In two games Locke has rushed for 206 yards, good for 4.7 a pop, and three touchdowns.

However, it isn’t all roses after two wins to start the season. Kentucky’s special teams have been, uh, dare I say, not so good. Victor Anderson returned two kicks against Kentucky for 91 yards, including a 67-yard scamper, and then on Saturday Willie McNeal returned seven kicks for 204 yards, including 90-yard return that he took to the house.

While he has been effective punting the football, Ryan Tydlacka, or Todd Lochka as the CSS crew called him on Saturday, has not been quite as successful kicking field goals. Through two games he is 1-for-3. After missing his first extra point of the season, he has made ten strait.

Before the season is over, I say Joe Mansour is your kicker and Tydlacka will handle the punting duties.

The defense has to find a way to prevent big plays and shore up their run defense.

Western put the ball in the end zone four times, three times on big plays. A 59-yard run by Bobby Rainey, who is beast by the way, put the ‘Toppers up 7-0 early and then they scored on a 90-yard kickoff return by McNeal and a 34-yard touchdown pass from Kawuan Jakes to Marcus Vasquez. The defense can’t allow big plays and easy scores.

Through two games the UK run defense is allowing 188.5 yards-per-game, which ranks 94th nationally. Louisville averaged nearly six yards a pop and WKU followed that by getting 5.5 yards every time they ran the ball. This is a continuing problem. Remember, Kentucky couldn’t stop the run in their final two losses last season to Tennessee and Clemson. We knew Kentucky might struggle a bit with their front seven, but the young guys need to step up and the secondary, while they are great in coverage, need to find ways to wrap guys up when they get into the third level.

Bottom line is the Cats are 2-0. Their obvious goal was to be at 3-0 entering SEC play and with a win over Akron on Saturday they will accomplish that. But, there is a lot of work to do on defense and special teams if they want to make noise in the SEC East race.