Cats offensive playmakers struggle in loss to Cardinals

AlexForknerBy Alex Forkner | Football Columnist

When Neal Brown was hired to run the offense, UK fans probably expected a quick turnaround. Commonwealth Stadium is the cradle of the Air Raid, after all, with Hal Mumme honing the system here in the ‘90s.

But Saturday’s performance in the loss to Louisville shows that muscle memory doesn’t transcend coaches, players and decades.

The Cats could only muster 214 passing yards and a single touchdown and failed to convert a single third down (0-for-13).

“I felt like we fought, played tough at times, had our opportunities,” Stoops said. “Disappointed that we didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”

A great offense doesn’t necessarily need to make big play after big play. Stacking positive plays on top of each other builds a drive. Drives result in scores. Scores decide games. Simple, right?

But UK’s offense has yet to master the building basics.

Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow combined to pass for just 214 yards. Their completion percentage? Only 45.9 percent.

Whitlow turned the ball over twice. He fumbled to give Louisville its first points of the game. Later, with the Cats in the red zone, Whitlow heaved an under thrown pass to the end zone, where a Cardinal defender eagerly welcomed the ball into his arms. Louisville would go on to score another field goal off that turnover.

But they weren’t the only ones to struggle. UK’s receiving corps had more drops than a throat lozenge factory. Screens set up for monster gains ended before they began with the ball bouncing off hands. Open seams went unexploited, first downs unconverted.

The Cats can’t seem to avoid drive killers. They start to build a drive, play by play, then a pass is dropped or a penalty is called, and a toddler comes in and kicks down their Lego castle.

“Everybody thinks you have to make great plays on offense; all you got to do is make consistent routine plays,” Brown said. “Routine throws, routine catches, routine blocking in the run game early, especially in the first half. We’ve got to pay more attention to detail.”

What must be particularly frustrating for the coaches and fans is how UK’s offense fell flat on a day when the defense played well enough to give the Cats a chance to win. Most might’ve imagined Louisville having 27 points by halftime, not as a final total.

What must be remembered is this season is one of rebuilding for UK. A two touchdown loss to the No. 7 team in the nation isn’t so bad, considering plenty of people pictured this game as a surefire blowout.

The Cats just need a bricklayer’s mentality — to focus on stacking until they’ve built one wall, then the next. At least there seems to be a foundation of young talent in place, with guys like Jojo Kemp, Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet all looking like future stars.

“We’re going to continue to make strides and move in the right direction,” Stoops said. “Honestly, I think we’re getting better, I do.  We have a ways to go.  We’re going to continue to fight.”

Stoops and his staff have the tall task of turning UK into a winning program, and it all starts with the small successes being built into larger ones.

The next step after that? Building a bigger trophy case.