Cats’ offense has historic day

By Alex Forkner

[email protected]

Different week. Different result. Different looking team altogether.

It may have taken a week longer than most would’ve liked for UK’s “Air Raid” offense to get off the ground, but when it did, the Cats practically broke the sound barrier.

UK racked up 675 yards of offense on Saturday, good for the third-highest total in school history. The two higher totals came in 1998, when some guy named Tim Couch was slinging passes in Commonwealth Stadium (and a freshman wide receiver named Neal Brown was standing on the sidelines).

“That was actually the first game of my career,” Brown said of the 1998 game against Louisville when UK gained 801 yards on offense. “I even caught one or two passes in that game.”

After Brown’s return to Commonwealth, now wearing a headset instead of a helmet, he felt his team played with the tempo and physicality they lacked last weekend in Nashville.

“I was probably worried a little bit too much about confidence going into that opener,” Brown said. “I should’ve coached them harder. But we got that corrected this week and I thought the guys came out and executed and played with a lot more energy.”

UK needed a game like this one to figure things out. Sure, the opponent was a weaker one, but sometimes it’s useful to dial down the difficulty to show yourself you’re capable. You know, go to the tee-ball field and crank out home runs, or lower the rim to seven feet and throw down tomahawks.

Just ask the players.

“It wasn’t really looking for confidence,” said quarterback Maxwell Smith, who threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns. “We just needed to come out and do what we knew we could do, and we did that.”

“We needed this game a lot, and you know, we got it, so we have to put that in the past and worry about the future,” said defensive end Za’Darius Smith, who led the revitalized defense with three sacks.

The RedHawks managed only 122 total yards and never found the endzone (Miami’s touchdown came on a fumbled punt return returned for a touchdown). Is that a far cry from the shredding UK received last week or what?

“A step forward,” defensive coordinator DJ Eliot said. “They came out to practice on Monday and didn’t fret. They looked past that game last week and did an excellent job all week in practice, then went out and played well.”

UK wasn’t without its flaws. Multiple hiccups on punt returns are a cause for concern. Smith missed some throws. The offense’s production slowed in the middle quarters. And again, the level of opponent must be considered.

But Mark Stoops is happy his team can learn after a victory instead of the alternative.

“It’s always good when you can win a game and not be happy about a lot of situations,” he said. “We’re always going to appreciate wins. That’s the bottom line. We’re in a bottom-line business — you need to win. But there’s plenty to learn from.”

Stoops won’t spend long basking in the glory of his first win as a head coach: Only one night to celebrate before getting back to work. Next week’s game against Louisville is sort of a big deal.

“Big rivalry. We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s going to be a big challenge. They’re a good team, well-coached team. We’re going to be excited.”

We’ve seen two UK teams so far this season. What will next week’s team look like?