published Friday, July 27th, 2012

Cats clawing back: Kentucky looks to improve after struggling last season

University of Kentucky offensive lineman Larry Warford (67) blocks against Jacksonville State.
University of Kentucky offensive lineman Larry Warford (67) blocks against Jacksonville State.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KENTUCKY

Camp start: Aug. 3

Opener: Louisville at Louisville (Sept. 2 on ESPN at 3:30 p.m.)

Fun fact: Kentucky has posted consecutive 2-6 records in SEC play under coach Joker Phillips, and the Wildcats haven't had a winning league season since going 6-0 in 1977, when they were on NCAA probation.

Saturday's preview: LSU

Kentucky's offense went as expected last football season, which wasn't a good thing at all.

The Wildcats had been formidable with the ball in 2010, when quarterback Mike Hartline had the option of handing off to Derrick Locke or throwing to Randall Cobb or Chris Matthews. Of course, Cobb had the ability to line up at quarterback and make plays however he wanted before being a second-round selection of the Green Bay Packers.

None of those players were around last season, and the Wildcats plummeted to 117th nationally in scoring offense with 15.83 points a game and 118th in total offense with 259.75 yards a game.

"Those were really great players, but people can't stay in college forever," offensive tackle Larry Warford said last week at SEC media days. "We had to get the younger guys going. The transition was tough, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I think we're doing a good job of getting ready for the season."

Kentucky endured a 54-3 shellacking at South Carolina and a 38-8 humbling at Vanderbilt, and its offensive woes were evident from the start. In the opener against Western Kentucky, the Wildcats managed a meager 190 yards in a 14-3 escape of the Hilltoppers.

"It surprised us when we came out to play and realized we weren't as good as we thought we would be," center Matt Smith said. "It was just kind of eye-opening. We had worked hard, but things just happen, and we were not able to get our feet under us through the rest of the season."

The Wildcats registered November wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee -- their first victory over the Volunteers since 1984 — but it wasn't enough to secure a sixth straight bowl bid. Kentucky's 5-7 record was its first losing regular season since 2005.

Joker Phillips is beginning his third season with an 11-14 record, and he is appearing on his share of "hot seat" lists after predecessor Rich Brooks produced four winning records in his final four years.

"I try not to pay attention to the preseason stuff because I don't want it to get in my head, and I don't want to be focusing on things I don't need to focus on," said Warford, who graded out at 87.5 percent last season and gave up just one sack. "When we're in the locker room and out on the practice field, it's something we don't talk about. If we want these coaches to stay around, we know it's up to us.

"Coach Phillips loves this program and has done so much for this program, so we need to take care of what we can take care of. We want to do our part to keep him around."

Kentucky held its own defensively late last season, losing 19-10 at Georgia before holding the Vols to the lone touchdown, but veteran defenders Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy have moved on.

So now it's back on the offense, which will be headed by a veteran line and also returns quarterback Morgan Newton, tailbacks CoShik Williams and Josh Clemons and receiver La'Rod King. Newton completed 83 of 147 passes last season for 793 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, all while battling shoulder problems that led to offseason surgery.

Clemons had a 126-yard rushing performance against Central Michigan, which was his second college game, and was leading the team with 279 yards when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game at South Carolina.

"As an offensive line, we know we have a lot of experience coming back," Smith said. "We didn't exactly have the season that we wanted to, but we had some strong games that we played throughout the season, and we definitely ended the season on the right note. It kind of seemed like the Tennessee game was our bowl game, because we were so happy to win.

"It was so great for the program and the state, but it wasn't fun being home for Christmas. You want to be home for Christmas, but not for that long."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement

Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.