A year ago Randy Sanders attempted to subtly prepare everyone associated with Kentucky's football team that a significant drop in offensive production could be in the offing for the 2011 season. Replacing Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline, Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews and others was proving to be more difficult than expected and it showed in a dismal offensive season.
Freshmen DeMarcus Sweat (left) and Dyshawn Mobley have impressed coaches in camp
While the Cats aren't likely to suddenly become a juggernaut there have been signs of marked improvement during training camp, and Sanders continues to be more optimistic about his attack as the team steamrolls towards its Sept. 2 season opener at Louisville.
“I definitely feel better,” Sanders said. “That doesn't mean we're ready to go out there, kick everybody's butt and score a lot of points but I definitely feel way better about us right now than I did last year.”
The evidence of improvement continued to mount through Saturday's second – and final – live scrimmage, culminating in a 98-yard scoring drive that was rooted in old-fashioned, smash-mouth football. The Cats didn't use a big play to advance down the field in large chunks, but rather a hard-nosed running game that churned out yards and tired out the defense.
It was exactly the type of drive the offense couldn't sustain at any point in 2011.
“It was very satisfying to see, number one, just to go 98 yards without a 30 or 40-yard play mixed in there means you had a lot of guys doing the right things a number of plays in a row,” Sanders said. “It's nice to have ability.You have to have ability to win but you've also got to have ability doing the right things and not messing up.
“Just seeing that and having a drive where you go 98 yards and don't have a big play mixed in – and I think there were only two runs, it was just a lot of those four and five-yard runs over and over – says a lot about how the offensive line went about their business. We didn't have an penalties, nobody jumping offsides and going the wrong way and sometimes those things are overlooked.”
The coaching staff has also been pleased with the emergence of young playmakers on offense. Freshmen running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor have continually moved the pile when the Cats have needed extra yards, while freshmen receivers DeMarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree have proven to be viable options for this season. Add sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson, redshirt freshman receiver Daryl Collins, and old standbys La'Rod King and CoShik Williams, plus an improving and healthy offensive line and there is a lot to be exited about.
The one question that remains is who is under center when the Cats take the field at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. It appears sophomore Maxwell Smith has the inside track and both Sanders and head coach Joker Phillips sounded as if a public announcement on the starter could come as early as Monday.
“I'm looking forward to watching this tape and hopefully coming out of this thing with a decision (Sunday),” Phillips said. “I think we have to make sure we take a look at this thing and be fair to everybody involved. It's hard to say now we've come up with a decision we know. I think to be fair we have to go look at the film because sometimes out here with the naked eye it's hard to evaluate. We'll go look at the film and come up with a decision.”
Sanders praised the work Smith, Morgan Newton, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow have done at quarterback to this point in camp. Although the staff spoke positively about Newton during last season's training camp it often harped on consistency, which appears to have been much better this year.
“I thought they're progressing as they should progress,” Sanders said. “Usually you make a lot of improvements from your first scrimmage to your second and I'm not watching their drop, I'm watching downfield to see what they're seeing and for the most part the ball was coming out to who it should have been coming out to when it should have been coming out of their hand. That tells me their drops were probably pretty good and their eyes were in the right place.
“The one thing we're doing right now is throwing the ball accurately. Most of the time they're throwing the ball where they want to, which usually correlates back to your fundamentals.”
As for a decision sooner rather than later on the starting quarterback, Sanders deferred to Phillips, while acknowledging it's probably time to move forward with one player as the team begins preparations for that Louisville game.
“I think the sooner we can do it the better off we'll be because the team will know,” Sanders said. “We need to sit down and talk. Whenever Joker is ready I'm ready. He's my boss so we'll do it when he says we'll do it.”
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