Breaking Bad: UK D-line needs improvement prior to SEC play

UL freshman cornerback Andrew Johnson tackles UK senior wide receiver La'Rod King during the first half of the UK vs. UL football game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., on Sunday, September 2, 2012. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

By Cody Porter
cporter@kykernel.com

Sunday’s game against Louisville was a letdown for UK football. A relapse of sorts. It was far from any renaissance that may have been thought to come.

Again, the defensive line was said to be not only the strength of the defense, but of the team.

The result was 200-plus yards being posted by two of the Cards’ lesser-known running backs from recent years.

UK’s offense flipped the script, much like Louisville did to them. The only problem with sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith’s 35-for-50 performance was the fallback into old playcalling habits.

Smith averaged just more than 5 yards per completion due to many of those passes being thrown underneath on the dreaded screens that fans have lambasted Phillips and Co. for since his first season at the helm.

Opening this week’s edition of Breaking Bad, though, will be the defensive line. The offense finally gets off the hook despite managing just 14 points.

1. Defensive Line
It’s probably safe to say Arkansas running back Knile Davis, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy are licking their chops to get a go at the UK defense. If Louisville’s duo could manage more than 200 yards against it, then it’s unimaginable what the quality of those backs could do. It could’ve been dumb luck. Or it could be a forwarning of what’s to come, as UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter alluded to after Sunday’s display. The question still remains as to what coaches saw that made this defense a strength. Seeing four veterans on paper, two of which likely have NFL potential, would make you think success would correlate.

2. Secondary
Louisville sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is supposed to be a dual threat. While he did use his legs to shift around the pocket, on Sunday, he reflected Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. His choice given the situation was to pass against the Cats. Backed up against the Cardinals’ end zone, Bridgewater planted a pass directly into the hands of his wide receiver, who had UK senior cornerback Martavius Neloms posed as his shadow. That pass set the tone for the Cardinals quarterback. He would go onto lead a drive that comprised several more lengthy passes. At game’s end, Bridgewater had set a Louisville completion percentage record in going 19-for-21 for 232 yards. Many of those completions had the UK secondary everywhere but blanketing a Cardinals wideout.

3. Playcalling
UK’s spring game saw an offense, although against its second-team defense, take a 360-degree turn from last season’s run and screen-pass oriented play. But, like the rain that overcame Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, moods were dampened with the return of a short passing game. If more shots were taken down the field to the point that it became evident no success was in sight, then understandable. However, nothing like that was witnessed. The Cats attempted only a few passes down the field against the Cards. While the defense wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain, the Cats did find success on those short pass attempts, thanks to an improved receiving corps, but think of how things will go against a speedy and strong SEC defense. The running game, which wasn’t established despite the overhwhelming praise it received prior to the season’s arrival, will need to be mixed in more often. Senior running back CoShik Williams and junior Raymond Sanders proved to be opportunistic when given the chance. The two Cats combined for 100 yards on 13 carries. It will work. Simply expand on it.