Breaking Bad: Inexperience catching up to Cats

University of Kentucky freshman Jared Whitlow gets a pass off before the University of South Carolina's defense closes in on him in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September, 29, 2012. Photo by James Holt | Staff

By Cody Porter

A lightning-like start for the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday was the worst possible scenario for the week-in, week-out slow starting UK football team.

The Cats’ young talent, replacing the squad plaqued by injuries, should be to the point that SEC seasoning has them up to the task of performing against such a low-ranked defense that is Arkansas’.

On Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs will be bringing a similar offense with a vastly superior defense, which includes what UK head coach Joker Phillips believes to be the conference’s best defensive player.

“Defensively, probably have the best player in the league in Jarvis Jones. They have two 350-pound, 50-plus … nose guards.”

The areas for Phillips’ team to improve is reaching a point of consistency, and with a handful of very good teams still on the schedule, things don’t look as if they will change.

1. Inexperience

Names such as freshmen Zack and Daron Blaylock, J.D. Harmon, Cody Quinn and Khalid Henderson have littered the defense for much of the 2012 football season. And with those circumstances come the blame game. UK’s secondary, which has accounted for four of the five previously listed freshmen, has had problems maintaining their pass protection. Like Arkansas, Georgia’s ability to air it out will expose the UK secondary. Don’t be surprised to see another blowout.

Offensively, freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow’s passing skills have been questionable in the limited number attempts he has recently got off. Arkansas’ defense is just bad. UK’s offense is evidently worse. The situation could be different if sophomore Maxwell Smith was still under center, but either the plays for the freshman aren’t clicking, or his pass protection isn’t enabling him time to complete plays as designed. Both notions have seemed to hold true at different points.

2. Defensive line

The Cats’ team strength that is the defensive line didn’t hold up to its labeling Saturday. Arkansas had 533 total offensive yards through two and a half quarters of play (372 passing, 161 rushing). The front seven of the UK defense didn’t manage a sack, let alone a hit on the quarterback, Tyler Wilson. In recent weeks against Mississippi State and South Carolina, the Cats’ defense was successful in sacking the quarterbacks and getting stops in the backfield. Georgia may have the biggest offensive threats in the conference. Quarterback Aaron Murray is flanked by an explosive running duo of freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Those backs are know as Gerschel, in homage to legendary Bulldog rusher Herschel Walker. The pace Arkansas was scoring Saturday could provide an equivalent four-quarter result by Georgia if pressure isn’t applied.

3. Quarterback play

Two quarterbacks are down, and two remain — well, one if everyone in the Bluegrass insists on not allowing senior quarterback Morgan Newton to see the field. If Whitlow’s lack of success in the passing game continues, freshman walk-on Jeff Witthuhn may deserve his own chance to run the offense. How much worse could it get? Whitlow has been using his mobility to scour about the field, but it hasn’t helped in the scoring department. UK now has receivers; while it is on them to get open, UK must trust in a quarterback to attempt to get them the ball. If Whitlow’s limited run at the position in high school doesn’t qualify him for that, then manipulate the offense in his favor, or that of another quarterback. UK has gone from one of the most exciting offenses in the past 15 years to now having the nation’s most stagnant.